INSA Summer Reading List

August 17, 2023

Whether heading to the beach or relaxing in your backyard, Summer is the perfect time to settle down with a good book or podcast! Our staff recommendations range from thrilling dramas to insightful memoirs to helpful life advice!   

What's on your Summer Reading List? We would love to know what book/podcast has grabbed your attention. Please share with us (title, author and 2-3 sentences about what makes it special) and we will add to our compilation! 


Demon Copperhead
By Barbara Kingsolver

Recommended by Suzanne Wilson Heckenberg, President

I listened to this one on Audible and it is one of those books that you actually hope for traffic, so you can extend your listening time. I would highly recommend the Audible version, as the narrator’s accent puts context to the protagonist’s voice. And I also suggest following binge watching the “Dopesick“ series on Hulu starring Michael Keaton. Both the book and the movie will drive home what a true global crisis the opioid epidemic is.


Lessons in Chemistry
By Bonnie Garmus

Recommended by Suzanne Wilson Heckenberg, President

The summer is not over yet nor or beach reads. This book is about a woman in STEM who defies societal norms during the 50’s and 60’s. Though it addresses some serious issues such as discrimination and sexism, the authors witty humor makes it an enticing read that you won’t want to put down. 



97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
by Jane Ziegelman

Recommended by John Doyon, Executive Vice President

My daughter lives in an apartment on Orchard Street, which is in the Lower East Side of NYC. Immigrants from over 20 nations lived in this part of the city, and 97 Orchard Street is now part of the world famous Tenement Museum.  This book tells the stories of families who lived in this tenement by celebrating what they ate, and includes dozens of recipes.  It’s a great combination of history and food, and I love the connection that it has with my daughter (who gave it to me for Father’s Day).

It Ends With Us
by Colleen Hoover

Recommended by Allie Bailey, Events Coordinator

It Ends With Us is packed with riveting drama of painful truths. This book follows the story of Lily Bloom and her relationship with Ryle Kincaid. Hoover illustrates the devastation of abuse and the strength of survivors.



Salt to the Sea
by Ruta Sepetys

Recommended by Nicole Leung, MarCom Manager

There are many forgotten or unheard stories from WWII that exemplify why this was one of the worst atrocities to take place in the past century. Salt to the Sea is a historical fiction novel that follows the story of 4 refugees looking to flee the conflict in Europe by means of boarding an evacuation ship to the U.S. The main characters in this book come from different places with different experiences and stories of their own. But they join together on a harrowing journey of survival. 

Relentless Strike: The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command
By Sean Naylor

Recommended by Adam Schmitz, SkillBridge Fellow

As a newly commissioned US Army Officer, two books were continually recommended to be added to my reading list, the Army Officer's Guide and Sean Naylor's Relentless Strike. An authentic and detail-oriented book, Naylor describes the lead up to Operation Eagle Claw and in the wake of its failure, the decision to form, what is now known as, the Joint Special Operation Command. Naylor takes the reader chronologically through the expansion of JSOC's capabilities following the events of September 11, 2001, and explains, in depth, the utilization of Special Mission Units (SMUs) throughout the Global War on Terror. This is a must-read for those transitioning into the Intelligence Community, Special Operations, or for those expanding their knowledge of the relationship between the intelligence cycle and direct-action missions.

First Casualty
By Toby Harden

Recommended by Michael Hill, SkillBridge Fellow

First Casualty tells the story of the clandestine team that went into Afghanistan in the weeks following 9/11. It recounts the valiant effort to apprehend members of Al Qaeda who were being harbored by the Taliban and the significant loss our nation under when CIA hero, Michael Spann, was killed during the prisoner uprising. The contributions the covert team and Special Forces made in the collection of information to ensure America would never face another attack on U.S. soil continue to inspire me as well as countless others who remember the terrible events that unfold under a tyrannical mastermind of terror.

Threat Axis
By Jon Olson, USN (Ret.)

Recommended by Shannon Petersen

Having just completed my masters degree at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, I am enjoying recreational reading, and my first read is also from Olson! Threat Axis is in the series of intel/national security thrillers he and a colleague from the US Naval Academy have been writing. I find them thought provoking, entertaining, and sometimes rather terrifying when they hit close to home with what is happening in the world today. 




Host: International Spy Museum

Recommended by Peggy O'Connor, Director of Communications and Policy

Marketed as the 'podcast real spies listen to,' SpyCast features interviews with current and former intel officers, analysts, authors, cyberwarriors, and technologists. I learn something new each episode! The host is knowledgeable, guests are compelling (it's truly a 'who's who of intel and natsec professionals!), and the topics each week keep me engaged. Especially loved the Baseball and Espionage episode and more recently, the interview with The Hon. Mike Vickers.

Normal Gossip
Hosts: Kelsey McKinney and Alex Sujong Laughlin

Recommended by Sydney Williams, Policy Intern

The COVID-era comedy podcast came when the two hosts realized that lockdown diminished their ability to create the usual community and bonding that gossip and storytelling in-person used to enable. For each episode, they share a listener-submitted and carefully anonymized story from strangers around the country. At each step of the gossip, the hosts guess the next moves the story’s subjects will make and discuss the utility of gossip in society.

National Security This Week
Host: Jon Olson, USN (Ret.)

Recommended by Shannon Petersen

My "must listen" podcast year round is National Security This Week with Jon Olson (Commander USN, ret.). Olson has guests from around the world to discuss a wide range of topics affecting US national security. Olson was a CIA-trained case officer in the Navy, and many of his guests are or have been members of the IC. The discussions are always engaging!