6 Books Every Journalist Should Read
Fall is officially here and with it comes flannel shirts, pumpkin-everything, hayrides, leaf-blowing, and — most importantly — National Book Month.
On October 8, the National Book Foundation will announce the finalists for the National Book Awards. Finalists will include all types of literature: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.
While we don’t have any insights into which books to bet on for the finalists here at Cision, we can do our part to participate in #NationalBookMonth with some recommendations on worthwhile nonfiction literature journalists should keep on their bookshelves — in case any guests at your Halloween party decide to judge your library.
1. WORKING – Studs Terkel
This nine-part book, written by oral historian and radio broadcaster Studs Terkel, is a collection of personal stories, with no overarching narrative or plot, that explores the meaning of work. Terkel traveled the country interviewing over 100 laborers: waitresses, sex workers, gravediggers, stonemasons, accountants, bookbinders, and more, recording their thoughts on meaning in work.
Since this book was published in the 1970s, these first-person accounts display some stark contrasts to today’s working world. Switching jobs every few years to build a career portfolio, the concept of work-life balance, even fear of automation — these things weren’t factors to the laborer the way they are today.
What makes this book compelling is not just the diversity of experiences relayed, but the commonalities found within those experiences. For a great example of what Terkel calls “guerrilla journalism,” and a view into what has–and has not–changed about work, this is an excellent read.
2. BAD BLOOD: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyrou
Published in 2018, this debut book from a Wall Street Journal reporter with a history of exposing corporate scandals in America relays the investigation of blood-testing startup Theranos.
The story of a manic, hostile CEO full of delusions of Steve Jobs-like grandeur and fraudulent claims that fooled some of the biggest investors in the world would be more believable as a Hollywood thriller. As it happens, a film adaptation starring Jennifer Lawrence is in the works, and an HBO documentary, The Inventor, was released in March 2019.
As a book, Carreyrou’s Bad Blood offers not only a chilling narrative of the rise of one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and the company’s downfall, but also a personal look into Carreyrou’s involvement in following tips and tracking down sources.
3. THE SHALLOWS: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains – Nicholas Carr
The Shallows is a 2011 Pulitzer prize finalist by journalist Nicholas Carr that addresses the question of how the digital age has affected the way we read and process information.
Far from a curmudgeonly railing against inevitable technological changes, Carr first details an interesting history of our modes of reading — from the alphabet to maps, the printing press, the clock, and the computer — and then dives into compelling studies highlighting the plasticity of the human brain.
Carr believes the internet’s encouragement of multitasking, of skimming and scanning, is causing us to lose our abilities of close-reading, contemplation, and reflection. Whether or not you’re as much a fatalist about our supposed intellectual regression as Carr, The Shallows is bound to provoke some thought about how we package and digest our digital news.
4. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
The investigation of the Watergate scandal is considered by many to be the single greatest reporting effort of the 20th century. The story is relayed by the two Washington Post reporters who spearheaded the story in a 3rd person detective novel fashion. The book was published just months after the investigation’s conclusion in 1974 and only a month and a half before articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon were approved by the House Judiciary Committee.
The account is a fast-paced one, filled with so many riveting events that there isn’t room to include much philosophizing or introspection. The essential story is more than enough, however, especially the dramatic accounts of the inner workings of the Washington Post.
5. IN COLD BLOOD – Truman Capote
While critiqued on the veracity of some dialogue and factual discrepancies, Capote’s classic is more than worth the read as the gold standard of true crime writing.
In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder of a small-town Kansas farmer and his family, along with the investigation and execution of the two murderers. Through over 8,000 pages of notes taken from interviews with local residents and law enforcement, as well as a self-proclaimed ability to perfectly remember every word of even a six-hour-long conversation, Capote creates an incredibly vivid narrative.
It’s not a who-done-it or will-they-be-caught, as that information is made clear from the start, but that is partly what makes the book so impressive. Through the recollections of those connected to the murder, as well as the chillingly human portrayal of the murderers’ perspectives, the story manages to be incredibly gripping without needing the crutch of a twist ending.
6. THE ALMOST NEARLY PERFECT PEOPLE: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia – Michael Booth
This list has gone a bit dark in subject matter, so let’s end with a book about the happiest countries on Earth. The title may point to a grim conclusion, but it belies a narrative that is incredibly humorous.
Booth, an English journalist and self-proclaimed “cynical misanthrope” to whom Scandinavian folksiness is kryptonite, sets out to investigate the ubiquitous reports and surveys that list these countries as having the happiest citizens in the world, despite their high taxes, cold weather, etc. The book takes readers through Scandinavian history, culture, and psychology, leaving them with a mix of memorable anecdotes and fascinating research.
Despite the journalist’s initial objective of demonstrating the serious and seldom-mentioned challenges and flaws of the region, the author admits his belief that for all its problems, Scandinavia is “still the enviably rich, peaceful, harmonious, and progressive place it has long been.”
Do you have another book recommendation? Let us know in the comments!
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Louis Eyerman is a Customer Content Specialist in PR Newswire’s editorial department. Outside of proofreading press releases, he can be found writing music and playing drums, or rambling about Cleveland sports.