So far as I can tell, people living in what has become my home town of Berkeley, California, have been writing an inordinate number of really good books in recent years. That’s probably because the town attracts creative people like . . . well, should I say, like flies? No, that wouldn’t fit. For example, we have our own famous “Three Michaels” — Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), Michael Lewis (Liar’s Poker), and Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma). They’re hardly alone. It’s tough to stumble into any corner coffee shop here and not find some future Pulitzer-winner hunched over a laptop and the coffee cup by her side that’s been empty all day.
Though I do have a certain affection for the products of the town I call home, and am thus more likely to pick up a locally grown effort than one labeled Brand X, I can’t possibly keep up with all the collective literary output of my landsmen. So, what I’ve read is just a smattering of what’s on offer. And it all arrived on my Kindle only after squeezing through the finely meshed sieve of my idiosyncratic reading taste.
Here, then, are ten Berkeley-sourced books I’ve read and reviewed in the last few years that I can still wholeheartedly recommend.
Grounded in thirty years of dogged research, including mountains of documents from Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, an investigative journalist reveals the close collaboration between J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan that brought violence to a generation of college students and the Right Wing to the White House.
With sparkling dialogue and finely honed psychological insight, the celebrated screenwriter and novelist explores the town’s historical obsessions with sex, drugs, and revolution in this brilliant novel about six friends whose lives and loves intersect and overlap over the course of four decades.
MacArthur Fellow Peter Gleick, one of the world’s reigning experts on water resources, exposes the scandalous practices of the bottled-water industry and its unfortunate environmental impact.
Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party, by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin III
Two scholars probe the tragic, short-lived history of the Black Panther Party, which flourished in Berkeley and Oakland in the late 1960s, spread through African-American ghettos nationwide in the 1970s, and collapsed early in the 1980s under the pressure of violent FBI and police suppression as well as internal conflicts.
Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, by Michael Lewis
In his latest foray into the canyons of the contemporary Wild West we call Wall Street, Michael Lewis takes on the notorious high-velocity traders who have come to dominate — and distort — large swaths of the stock market, raising profound questions about the fairness of the venerable institutions that manage the world’s most-watched markets.
A science journalist explores the prospects for human survival in the face of the wrenching changes already underway as a result of human-initiated climate disruption — and prescribes what our species must do to avoid extinction.
A leading UC Berkeley social scientist explores the extreme Right Wing’s latter-day rise in American politics in an anthology of scholarly articles drawn from a diverse range of experts, dispelling myths right and left along the way.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s latest book spotlights his own neighborhood with illuminating portraits of the diverse characters who populate the North Oakland-South Berkeley borderland, showcasing Chabon’s showmanship with words, which cascade down the page in glorious profusion, evoking image after image.
The long-time Berkeley memoirist (Class Dismissed) ventures into the realm of love and the true nature of family in their many dimensions in a story of relationships tested by the tumultuous events of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The celebrated financial journalist gets to know the fascinating and eccentric investors and speculators who dared to buck the tide of ebullience that enveloped Wall Street and Main Street alike in the heady days of 2007-8, as the Great Recession took hold.