David Baldacci's 2020 summer reads

Chris Schluep on July 01, 2020
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David Baldacci's 2020 summer reads

David Baldacci has been writing ever since he was a little kid. The story goes that his mother gave him a notebook at an early age—and he hasn't stopped writing since. It wasn't until much later, when he thanked his mother for the inspiration, that he learned she had supplied him with the notebook so that she could have a little quiet.

With over 40 novels under his belt, which have sold more than 150 million copies, we can say the early investment in a notebook paid off. And Baldacci's latest novel, Walk the Wire, has been another big hit. The book is the sixth in his Memory Man series featuring Amos Decker, an FBI consultant with a perfect memory. In Walk the Wire, Amos and his FBI colleague, Alex Jamison, wind up in North Dakota to investigate the case of a woman whose body has been discovered by a hunter. The woman appears to have been murdered and then expertly autopsied before her body was dumped in the brush. Set against the backdrop of a wildcat town in the middle of a fracking boom, Amos and Alex encounter people trying to hit it big fast, as well as the people who hang around those people. It's a town of drugs, property crime, and prostitution. But that's just the start.

What books does David Baldacci recommend? Read on to find out. 



Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster by Adam Higginbotham

I probably should not have read this book in the middle of a pandemic, but Higginbotham’s tale is so riveting I couldn’t help myself. And it is helpful to remind ourselves that terrible things do happen and the world does continue on, changed, humbled, and hopefully better prepared for a future catastrophe. What I liked so much about this work is that the author’s research is so good that he places you right in the moment. I felt like I was there. I felt like I was next to that burning reactor. When someone died, and a lot of people do, I felt grief. It’s a glaring example of bureaucratic incompetence and a disregard by leaders for the lives and safety of their citizens. But it is also a wonderful testament to the resiliency of the human spirit and the caring, sharing, and heroism that ordinary people can show in extraordinary times.


Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide by Tony Horwitz

Like many people I was stunned and saddened when the world lost Tony Horwitz. I had met Tony and his wife, Geraldine Brooks, at several book functions over the years, and I marveled at his comingling of journalism and storytelling, as he traveled the world in search of knowledge. I was introduced to Horwitz, as many were, with Confederates in the Attic. In this, unfortunately his last book, Horwitz travels the south again as he traces the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmsted, who would find fame and fortune as a landscape architect, with perhaps his crowning glory being Central Park in New York. Horwitz travels throughout the south and talks to people from all walks of life in an effort to figure out what has changed in America, or if it’s always been so divided. And if there is a pathway forward to forge a national consensus on anything. Like Bill Bryson has done in his travels, and Mark Twain did well over a century before, Horwitz has not simply written a book chronicling his journey, he has opened the heart of America, its majesty and its darkness for all to see. We all will miss Tony Horwitz and what he has brought to our collective conscience. If you’ve never read him, this would be an ideal place to start.


Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

For fans of To Kill a Mockingbird who always wondered (at least until Go Set a Watchman came out) why Lee never produced another book, this story will answer, at least in part, that question. Willie Maxwell was a preacher and a con man and a murderer. This is an intriguing, though I wouldn’t say totally unique, combination. Well, it was enticing enough for Harper Lee to sit in on the trial and spend years trying to make a book out of it as a follow-up to the sui generis Mockingbird. She never managed to do it, but Cep has brilliantly presented for our reading pleasure the full story here. She does so in lyric prose and concise presentment of facts. Maxwell is enough to justify a book all by himself. When you throw in Harper Lee, perhaps the most enigmatic and reclusive author of modern times (with the possible exception of J.D. Salinger), this is a no-brainer of a read. Enjoy.


The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

I was on a panel at NYU a few years ago with Larson and enjoyed immensely listening to him talk about his craft. I’m also a Winston Churchill junkie, having recently finished Andrew Roberts’ 800-plus-page juggernaut. But this is a Churchill largely unseen in other works. It focuses on a finite time period as Britain, the last country standing after France falls, desperately tries to not just hang on until Churchill can convince the Yanks to join the fray, but to take the fight to Hitler. Larson has drawn on new material, some just recently released, to build upon the legendary status of a man who did enough during his life to justify three lives. The only historical figure who might have rivaled him in the energy and “nine lives of a cat” persona was Theodore Roosevelt. This book will reinforce many things you might have already known about the Second World War and Churchill’s place in it. But you will also learn many new things about that man and that time period that will compel you to find out more. A thoughtful, at times part funny and horrific, and scintillating read that I would recommend to all.


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