Featured photo: President Barack Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia shop for books at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., on Small Business Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Obama published a list on his Facebook page of his favorite books and music of 2017 and it’s pretty wonderful. As I’ve said, I love lists, especially of others’ favorites (these year end best-of lists make me so happy!) I couldn’t wait to see what had impressed him most from his past year’s reading.
Unlike his successor, Obama actually enjoys and has the attention span for reading materials longer than a double spaced half page. He’s known to be an avid reader and has released some thoughtful, insightful entries for the traditional presidential summer reading lists throughout his terms.
These are his nonfiction favorites from 2017. I took the liberty of highlighting ones that piqued my interest:
Janesville: An American Story, Amy Goldstein – it’s been on my radar, and I was trying to decide if I wanted to read it. His recommendation clinched that decision for me.
Grant, Ron Chernow
Dying: A Memoir, Cory Taylor – Merely reading the description of this book made me sad, so I’ve avoided it. I’m not sure I’m emotionally robust enough to tackle it, meaningful as it sounds.
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond – Sounds excellent, if scary.
His “bonus for hoops fans” picks:
Coach Wooden and Me, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Basketball (and Other Things), Shea Serrano
I loved his list so much, and I think I just miss having a well-read, intellectually curious president, so I started combing through older lists and recommendations he’s made.
Here are his nonfiction picks from earlier times, including recommendations for his daughters, purchases at DC independent bookstore Politics and Prose, annual summer reading lists, the presidential biographies that inspired him, favorite classics and all-time favorites.
The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
This memoir of growing up Chinese-American in California was recommended for his daughters. It was required reading for a college class of mine, and I remembered liking but not loving it. I think I’d have a different appreciation for it now, with the passage of time.
Summer reading lists:
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America, Thomas L. Friedman
Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald – I’ve seen such extreme reviews of this one, it seems a case of love it or hate it. Anyone read it?
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, Isabel Wilkerson
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert – I’ve been intrigued by this one for awhile.
His favorite classics:
Self-Reliance and Other Essays, Ralph Waldo Emerson
Parting The Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63, Taylor Branch
The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam
The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton
The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do, Studs Terkel – This sounds intriguing but the length is somewhat daunting.
The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith
My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi
His picks in presidential biographies:
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
John Adams, David McCullough
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Fred Kaplan
Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, Jonathan Alter
FDR, Jean Edward Smith
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
Favorite nonfiction and informational picks:
Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, Steve Coll – I’ve heard a lot about this one, sounds completely fascinating.
Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, Larry Bartels
A Kind And Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court, William Ayers
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert A. Caro
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
Moral Man And Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, Gordon Goldstein
The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American, Richard S. Tedlow
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo
The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria
Well, that made me feel inadequate! Compared to his reading choices, I feel a little uncultured and unaware. He really has some hefty, heavy ones amongst his favorites. Although, some were his summer to-reads, so I guess they’re not necessarily favorites. Regardless, I’m very impressed by the selections and where his mind goes when choosing reading material.
Have you read any of Obama’s favorite reads or recommendations? Are you planning to? Do you miss having a president who reads something more than McDonald’s wrappers and the tweets of white supremacists?