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.
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: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, 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:
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.
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
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert – I’ve been intrigued by this one for awhile.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates – I’ve heard only excellent things about this, plus super-cheap ebook deal alert at the link!
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
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 Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi
His picks in presidential biographies:
Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, Jonathan Alter
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
John Adams, David McCullough
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Fred Kaplan
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin
Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
Favorite general nonfiction / 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.
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
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
Moral Man And Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr
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
The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria
Well, that made me feel inadequately read. Compared to his reading choices, I can’t help but feel a little uncultured and unaware. He really has some hefty, heavy ones amongst his favorites. Although, some were his summer 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?