President Obama

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: In 2017, 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 in 2017, 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 2022:

Continuing his annual series of favorite pop culture works, the former president curated a list of perfect 2022 reads for the balmy season.

'The Candy House,' by Jennifer Egan
'The Candy House,' by Jennifer Egan
| Credit: Scribner
  • Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Why We're Polarized by Ezra Klein
  • The Candy House by Jennifer Egan
  • A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib
  • To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara
  • Silverview by John le Carré
  • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
  • The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
  • Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
  • The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure by Yascha Mounk
  • The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
  • Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby
  • *Bonus for hoops fans: Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of The 1990s New York Knicks by Chris Herring

Obama's best of 2021:

Crying in H Mart
The cover of 'Crying in H Mart'
| Credit: Knopf

Along with his favorite flicks and tunes, Obama shared his list of best-loved books from 2021.

Obama's summer reads of 2021:

Leave the World Behind
Credit: Ecco
  • At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop
  • Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen
  • Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
  • When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut
  • Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen 
  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris
  • Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Obama's best of 2020:

June Books Gallery
Credit: Riverhead Books

Intentionally excluding his 2020 memoir, A Promised Land, the former president let us in on his favorite titles from that year.

Obama's best of 2019:

Sally Rooney, Normal People Credit: Hogarth
Credit: Hogarth
  • The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff
  • The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple
  • Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer
  • How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
  • Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli 
  • Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
  • The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom
  • Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Solitary by Albert Woodfox
  • The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
  • Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
  • Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
  • We Live in Water: Stories by Jess Walter 
  • *Bonus for sports fans: A Different Way to Win: Dan Rooney's Story From the Super Bowl to the Rooney Rule by Jim Rooney and The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

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.

Obama's summer reads of 2018:

Credit: Random House

In July 2018, Obama recommended a series of titles that reflected Africa's "extraordinary literary tradition," in anticipation of his trip to the continent:

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

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.)

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

Books for daughters:

Credit: Vintage Espanol/Harper Perennial/Henry Holt and Company/Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

When asked what books he recommended to his then-teenaged 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:

  • The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

Summer reads of 2016:

Credit: HarperCollins/Anchor Books/Grove Atlantic

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 of 2015:

Credit: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/Text Publishing Company/Henry Holt and Company

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

Childhood classics:

Credit: Saddleback Educational Publishing/Wordsworth/Dramatists Play Service

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. He also read (and acted out) Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak to kids at the White House in 2014.

Independent bookstore purchases:

Credit: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers/Puffin Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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:

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

All-time favorites:

Credit: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/Simon & Schuster/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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:

  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • Parting the Waters by Taylor Branch
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  • The Federalist by Alexander Hamilton
  • Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
  • The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  • Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  • Gandhi: An Autobiography by Mohandas K. Gandhi
  • Working by Studs Terkel
  • The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
  • The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith
  • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

Excellent novels and poetry collections:

Credit: Random House Publishers India Pvt. Limited/Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Little, Brown and Company

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 (now a Netflix series) 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!"

  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • To the End of the Land by David Grossman
  • Purity by Jonathan Franzen
  • A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Lush Life by Richard Price
  • Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
  • Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie
  • Redeployment by Phil Klay
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • The Way Home by George Pelecanos
  • What Is the What by Dave Eggers
  • Philosophy & Literature by Peter S Thompson
  • Collected Poems by Derek Walcott
  • In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Books about other presidents: 

Credit: Ballantine Books/HarperCollins/Simon & Schuster

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 a Times interview. He's turned to these books for advice:

  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
  • John Adams by David McCullough
  • Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan
  • Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alte
  • FDR by Jean Edward Smith
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

Informative reads:

Credit: Princeton University Press/Penguin Publishing Group/Picador

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.

  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L Friedman
  • Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll
  • Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age by Larry Bartels
  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro

Non-fiction titles: 

Credit: Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Farrar, Straus and Giroux/W.W. Norton

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

  • Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics by Reinhold Niebuhr
  • A Kind and Just Parent by William Ayers
  • The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria
  • Lessons in Disaster by Gordon Goldstein
  • SapiensA Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard S. Tedlow
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo

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:

President Obama
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