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Welcome back, gentle reader, to the second installment of Hitting the Books Quarterly. This time around we’ve got a seven-layer dip of delicious literature for you, starting with a harrowing investigation into the heart of California’s firestorms, followed by some sage advice for best burning your Facebook bridges, and then a chance to wave goodbye to Earth’s billionaire class as they race off for the stars, hopefully never to return. But that’s not all, we’ve got some stellar sci-fi titles to share too, as well as The Dawn of Everything which Engadget Senior Editor Devindra Hardawar describes as “dense, but worth a read for sure.”
California Burning: The Fall of Pacific Gas and Electric—and What It Means for America’s Power Grid – Katherine Blunt (Amazon)
California wildfires caused an estimated $80 billion in property damage in 2021 alone, they’re only getting worse, and the state’s utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric, seems to be doing anything but helping. Following years of neglected maintenance, PG&E’s infrastructure has started numerous deadly blazes in recent years, exacerbating an already existential climate crisis. In California Burning, Pulitzer-nominated WSJ journalist Katherine Blunt dives into the utility’s sordid history of putting profits over public safety. Decades of mismanagement have led California to this point, Blunt’s deeply researched narrative explains why. I had originally looked at this title for the regular excerpt column but the dang thing reads like a Grisham novel. Make sure you block off an afternoon because you won’t be able to put this one down.
With the general level of suck in the world today, we could all probably do with a laugh and to get off the internet for a while — touching grass and whatnot. Comedian James Acaster’s newest book, James Acaster’s Guide to Quitting Social Media, Being the Best You You Can Be and Saving Yourself from Loneliness Vol 1, does both. You will laugh (probably) and get off the internet because you will be reading a book about how he quit social media in 2019 and how you can do the same while still saving yourself from loneliness. Brilliant.
Everything I Need I Get from You – Kaitlyn Tiffany (Amazon)
Fans, stans, and boybands, oh my. Everything I Need I Get from You is a fascinating look at the superfan subculture surrounding modern pop music acts from Atlantic staff writer Kaitlyn Tiffany. Fanclubs have been around since the Roman era but the advent of social media has enabled fandom to a startlingly granular degree. Today’s superfans know what foods the Jonas brothers are allergic to, have lore and inside jokes that only other members of the BTS ARMY will understand, and routinely engage in light subterfuge to game play charts into featuring their favorite stars. Tiffany also explores the influence that these hyper-connected cadres of vivaciously like-minded people have on internet culture as a whole, like why we spent weeks looking for Becky with the good hair.
Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires – Douglas Rushkoff (Amazon)
Let’s not kid ourselves. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk aren’t developing space flight for the good of humanity, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t pushing his vision of a metaverse for anything resembling altruistic intent. They just want a bolt hole for when things really start going downhill, argues theorist Douglas Rushkoff. In his new book, Survival of the Richest, Rushkoff examines what he dubs “the Mindset,” wherein the world’s ultra-wealthy believe that they and theirs will somehow be able to spend their way out of the coming climate crisis — we plebes be damned — as well as discusses what the rest of us can do while the people with the power to avert it are busy eying the exits.
You Sexy Thing – Cat Rambo (Amazon)
I believe in miracles and you will too with this raucous space opera from sci-fi luminary Cat Rambo. Billed as “Farscape meets The Great British Bake Off,” You Sexy Thing follows the exploits of Niko Larson, the Holy Hive Mind’s disgraced “10-Minute Admiral” as she scrambles to keep her crew of retired-soldiers-turned-kitchen-and-wait-staff safe, together, alive and out of the Hive Mind’s brain jar collective, even as space stations explode around them, sentient bio-ships kidnap them, and vicious space pirates from Larson’s past seek their revenge. Easily some of the best sci-fi I’ve read this year — tightly written with characters you can identify with and a pilot that immediately grabs you by the shorthairs and doesn’t let up. Plus, there are werelions.
Azura Ghost – Essa Hansen (Amazon)
Emma Hansen just won’t stop writing absolute bangers. Following her phenomenal 2020 debut, the heart-wrenching space opera, Nophek Gloss (which was shortlisted for a Stabby that year), Hansen returns to the Graven multiverse with Azura Ghost. Her sophomore effort catches up a decade after the events of the first book where our protagonist Caiden finds himself, and his sentient starship, still hunted across the stars by the Threi — as is wont to happen when one imprisons the the group’s leadership in an impenetrable pocket universe for 10 years. As the plot unfolds and events push his two greatest enemies into possible alliance, Caiden must reunite with family of his own, and a long-lost friend who probably shouldn’t be trusted, to make his escape.
The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity – David Graeber and David Wengrow (Amazon)
Long-held views of early civilizations as either gullible hippies or hulking brutes offer only a monochromatic and shallow understanding of history — one which arose out of an 18th century conservative backlash against brown people asking questions, no less — argue David Graeber and David Wengrow in The Dawn of Everything. They then apparently spend the next 700 or so pages laying out their exhaustive list of evidence drawn from their respective fields of archaeology and anthropology in support of this position.