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President Obama

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Whether he was reading to kids at the White House, hitting up local bookstores on Black Friday, or giving recommendations to his daughters, former President Barack Obama may as well have been known as the Commander in Books.

Obama has long been an avid reader: Last year, he spoke to the New York Times about the significant, informative and inspirational role literature played in his presidency, crediting books for allowing him to “slow down and get perspective.” EW previously looked back at Obama’s lit picks last year, as his presidency came to an end, and given that he’s decided to keep up the year-end book recommendation tradition post-presidency, we’ve decided to update this post to reflect his newest picks.

See a comprehensive list of every book Obama has recommended during his presidency, and beyond:

Obama’s Summer Reads of 2019:

Toni Morrison
Credit: Deborah Feingold/Corbis via Getty Images

Obama’s summer 2019 list came in just under the wire, in mid-August. He announced his picks just a few days after the death of Toni Morrison; her work topped a field that also included lauded new novels by Colson Whitehead and Ted Chiang.

  • The Collected Works of Toni Morrison
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
  • American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
  • Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  • Inland by Téa Obreht
  • How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
  • Maid by Stephanie Land

Obama’s Summer Reads of 2018:

Credit: Random House

In July 2018, Obama recommended a series of titles which reflected Africa’s “extraordinary literary tradition,” in anticipation of his trip to the continent:

  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Return by Hisham Matar
  • The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes

And the next month, the former POTUS continued in his annual tradition of revealing his top summer reads.

  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  • A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Obama’s Best of 2017:

Credit: Penguin Random House

Obama noted that in his first year out of office, he had a little bit more time to read than usual — and as a result provided, via Facebook, an old-fashioned top 10 that mixed literary fiction, hard-hitting memoirs, and revealing nonfiction. (Notice the occasional overlap with the choices of EW critic Leah Greenblatt.)

  1. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  2. Grant by Ron Chernow
  3. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
  4. Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
  5. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
  6. Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
  7. Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
  8. Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
  9. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  10. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  11. *Bonus for hoops fans: Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

Books for Daughters:


When asked what books he recommended to his 18-year-old daughter Malia, Obama gave the Times a list that included The Naked and the Dead and One Hundred Years of Solitude. “I think some of them were sort of the usual suspects […] I think she hadn’t read yet. Then there were some books that are not on everybody’s reading list these days, but I remembered as being interesting.” Here’s what he included:

1. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
3. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
4. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston

Independent Bookstore Purchases:


In November 2014, Obama took a trip to D.C. independent bookstore Politics and Prose to honor small businesses and add to his personal library. Accompanied by daughters Malia and Sasha, POTUS picked up novels from the Redwall fantasy series by Brian Jacques, as well as some from the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park. He also added these titles to his heavy bags:

1. Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
2. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
3. Nora Webster, Colm Toibin
4. The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson
5. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos
6. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande
7. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell
8. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
9. Redwall series, Brian Jacques
10. Junie B. Jones series, Barbara Park
11. Nuts To You, Lynn Rae Perkins

Summer Reads 2016:


Just like us, the president enjoys a good beach read while relaxing in the sun. In 2016, he released his list of summer vacation books:

Summer Reads 2015:


He also released a list of his summer favorites back in 2015:

1. All That Is, James Salter
2. The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert
3. The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri
4. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
5. Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
6. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Childhood Classics:


During a trip to a public library in Washington’s Anacostia neighborhood in 2015, Obama shared some of his childhood favorites with a group of young students. Healso read (and acted out) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak to kids at the White House in 2014.

1. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
2. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
3. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
4. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

All-time Favorites:


According to the president’s Facebook page and a 2008 interview with the New York Times, these titles are among his most influential forever favorites:

1. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
2. Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. Song Of Solomon, Toni Morrison
4. Parting The Waters, Taylor Branch
5. Gilead, Marylinne Robinson
6. Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam
7. The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton
8. Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
9. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
10. The Quiet American, Graham Greene
11. Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
12. Gandhi’s autobiography
13. Working, Studs Terkel
14. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
15. Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith
16. All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

Excellent Novels and Poetry collections:


As a devoted reader, the president has been linked to a lengthy list of novels and poetry collections over the years — but he admits he enjoys a thriller: “I thought Gone Girl was a well-constructed, well-written book,” he told the Times. Obama is also a fan of sci-fi titles like Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem for the escapism they provide. “The scope of it was immense,” he said. “So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty — not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade!”

1. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
2. To the End of the Land, David Grossman
3. Purity, Jonathan Franzen
4. A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipau
5. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
6. Lush Life, Richard Price
7. Netherland, Joseph O’Neill
8. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie
9. Redeployment, Phil Klay
10. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
11. Plainsong, Kent Haruf
12. The Way Home, George Pelecanos
13. What Is the What, Dave Eggers
14. Philosophy & Literature, Peter S Thompson
15. Collected Poems, Derek Walcott
16. In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
17. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
18. The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin
19. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

Books About Other Presidents:


The Oval office can be a lonely place, so reading about your forefather’s experience could only help. “The biographies have been useful, because I do think that there’s a tendency, understandable, to think that whatever’s going on right now is uniquely disastrous or amazing or difficult,” said President Obama in an interview. He’s turned to these books for advice:

Informative Reads:


He may have the country’s finest experts at his fingertips, but it still doesn’t hurt to read up on environmental and economic issues.

Non-Fiction Titles:


Fact or fiction, the president knows that reading keeps the mind sharp. He also delved into these non-fiction reads:

Additional Authors and Philosophers

Throughout his time in office, Obama has also recommended a dozen other authors and literary figures of note, even though he might not have named specific books. Check them out below:

1. Langston Hughes
2. Richard Wright
3. Mark Twain
4. Malcolm X
5. Philip Roth
6. Saul Bellow
7. Junot Díaz
8. Dave Eggers
9. Zadie Smith
10. Barbara Kingsolver
11. St. Augustine
12. Friedrich Nietzsche
13. Jean-Paul Sartre
14. Thomas Jefferson
15. Ralph Waldo Emerson
16. Abraham Lincoln
17. Paul Tillich
18. E.L. Doctorow

President Obama
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