Best Nonfiction Beach Reads: Books on Happiness, Style, Science, and Success

Best Nonfiction Beach Reads: Books on Happiness, Style, Science, and Success

I say “beach read,” you say “fiction.” Beach read, romance. Beach read, mystery. Beach read, gay dystopian erotica. These are the genres that come to mind when plans for a shore excursion are in the works. But are we perhaps too limited in our conception of what makes for a good sun-and-surf pageturner? Are there not nonfiction books that strike that same Goldilocks zone as their fictional counterparts? You know the sweet spot I’m talking about: edifying but accessible, quick-paced but substantial, attention-grabbing but also easy to put down and pick back up again.

Plenty of self-improvement, business, and psychology books fit this bill. And nonfiction beach titles, in addition to be equally entertaining, offer an extra benefit: they educate! From an advice-filled memoir by fashion model Kim Stolz to books on how design influences our feelings, we’re rounding up this season’s nonfiction books that provide guidance, diversion, and shade (should you need it) in abundance.

Plus, to make clear each book’s unique appeal, we’re pairing each title with a different beach-time activity. So, rub on some sunscreen, throw on some sunglasses, lay out your towel, and get reading (and learning).

Beach activity: Learning your lesson (finally) and putting on sunscreen

James Joyce wrote in Ulysses that a “man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.” Dr. Henry Cloud would agree. In his forthcoming book, Never Go Back, the clinical psychologist and leadership consultant lays out 10 steps for converting mistakes into lessons and, better yet, opportunities. Drawing on spiritual wisdom and scientific research, he advises readers on how to not let the past determine the present and how to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly.

On shelves: June 3

Beach activity: Yoga at sunrise

In Life by the Cup, Zhena Muzyka describes how, at the age of 24, she managed to extricate herself from a lifetime low—she had no money and her young son was in need of an expensive surgery—by following her passion for tea and founding Zhena’s Gypsy Tea Company. She discusses the influence of her gypsy grandmother as well as the struggles she faced as she worked to launch her now highly successful business. In many ways a classic rags-to-riches story, the book is especially relevant to women who face additional hurdles on the road to success.

On shelves: June 17

Beach activity: A grueling volleyball match

In this welcome counterpoint to established ideas about the power of positive thinking, psychology researchers David B. Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetzargue that struggle and trauma may be elemental to success, and that realistic goals and “grounded hope” may be more productive than unbridled confidence. Supersurvivors offers advice for people trying to transform a negative experience into a tool for personal growth.

On shelves: June 24

Beach activity: Leaving your phone at the hotel

MTV VJ and former America’s Next Top Model contestant Kim Stolz’s memoir focuses on that classic Millennial dilemma: the Internet, and how all its means of connection tend to make us feel more disconnected than ever. While giving readers an account of her own social media obsession, Stolz brings her characteristic humor and bluntness to bear on the pitfalls, paradoxes, and strange pleasures of life online. If Unfriending My Ex promises to poke fun at the digital age, though, it also aims to alert readers to the very real emotional and psychological costs of being umbilically attached to one’s devices. Ken Auletta, author of Googled, says the book is “a punch in the nose, meant not to knock out technology, but to jolt us to seek more balance in our lives.”

On shelves: June 24

Beach activity: Swimming in the ocean

Ishmael, the protagonist of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, understood well the allure of water: “Almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings toward the ocean with me.” But why exactly does water—drinking it, swimming in it, being near it—make us feel so good? In Blue Mind, scientist, wild water advocate, and possibly the handsomest author ever Wallace J. Nichols attempts to answer this question by exploring the neurological effects and cultural significance of water. His book combines hard science with personal anecdotes from athletes and artists to make a case for H2O as the Earth’s natural easer of anxiety and driver of success.

On shelves: July 22

Beach activity: Jogging in the sand

Low-carb, we’ve heard of. High-fat, not so much. But in their new book Keto Clarity, health blogger Jimmy Moore and internist Eric Westman advise just that. It’s called the “ketogenic diet,” and it involves “carbohydrate restriction, moderation of protein intake, and real food-based fats.” In addition to paving the way to weight loss and physical fitness, the authors argue, the diet also addresses a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Type 2 diabetes.

On shelves: August 5

Beach activity: People-watching

While this book by Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman is technically aimed at businesspeople, its advice on how to be more observant in daily life is relevant for everyone. In The Power of Noticing, Bazerman takes readers through a variety of real-world examples—including the Madoff scandal and the Challenger space shuttle crash—in which the overlooking of important information and details led to disastrous outcomes. He also provides tips on assessing your own cognitive blind spots and learning identify things you’re “programmed to miss.”

On shelves: August 5

Beach activity: Unveiling your bright red Baywatch swimsuit

Longtime stylist and image consultant George Brescia describes his book Change Your Clothes, Change Your Life as the guide “that’s like The Secret—but for you wardrobe”: Insights include how your clothing choices can affect not only how others perceive you, but, more importantly, how you perceive yourself. Building on a philosophy he calls “conscious dressing,” Brescia aims to help readers see fashion as a kind of spiritual, inside-out phenomenon, instead of just a matter of following trends and searching for bargains.

On shelves: August 19

Beach activity: Packing a stellar beach bag

In The Organized Mind, psychology professor Daniel J. Levitin argues that digital-age ADD—that dispersion of attention and loss of focus that, in the presence of so much information, we are all, to a certain extent, experiencing—has extended into our “real” lives. The result is an uptick in car key losses, missed appointments, inefficient workflows, and a general feelings of exhaustion. His book aims to help readers organize their lives—online and off—by exploring the neuroscience of attention and memory. Readers who liked Levitin’s previous book, This is Your Brain on Music, shouldn’t miss this follow-up.

On shelves: August 19

Beach activity: Relaxing in the sun

Many books about happiness work off the assumption that, in order to be happy, one must first and foremost think happy. Paul Dolan disagrees. In Happiness by Design, the behavioral science professor argues that happiness can be tackled from the outside in—which is to say that changing one’s behavior, and not just thoughts, can significantly improve emotional well-being. While offering examples of behavioral changes that increase happiness (having kids, curtailing ambition, choosing a quiet neighborhood over a big house, etc.), Dolan digs into recent findings from the fields of economics and psychology. His action-oriented book will likely appeal to anyone for whom positive thinking is a headache.

On shelves: August 28

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