The 38 books Barack Obama recommended in 2019

I love when Barack Obama puts out his list of favourite books on Facebook – as do hundreds of thousands of others around the world. There’s usually a good number of books I recognise, as well as plenty of new material for my reading list. The 2019 list is no exception.

Here’s what was on Obama’s reading list in 2019:

1. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

Goodreads 4.12 avg rating

“Everyone needs to read this book as an act of digital self-defense.” – Naomi Klein

2. The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple

Goodreads 4.30 avg rating

William Dalrymple tells the story of the East India Company as it has never been told before, unfolding a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power.

3. Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Goodreads 3.82 avg rating

The stunning story of an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the story Harper Lee wanted to write. This is the story of why she couldn’t.

4. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Goodreads 4.42 avg rating

“A must-read about modern Britain and womanhood . . . An impressive, fierce novel about the lives of black British families, their struggles, pains, laughter, longings and loves . . . Her style is passionate, razor-sharp, brimming with energy and humor.”–Booker Prize Judges

5. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer

Goodreads 4.18 avg rating

A sweeping history–and counter-narrative–of Native American life from the Wounded Knee massacre to the present. It’s the essential, intimate story of a resilient people in a transformative era.

6. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Goodreads 3.98 avg rating

Nothing is harder than doing nothing. Here’s Jenny Odell’s story of overstimulation and disorientation, plus her action plan for resistance.

7. Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Goodreads 3.87 avg rating

From the two-time NBCC Finalist, an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border–an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity.

8. Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

Goodreads 3.74 avg rating

Stories of a young man finding his place among family and community in Houston, from a powerful, emerging American voice.

9. Normal People by Sally Rooney

Goodreads 3.89 avg rating

Longlisted for more prizes than I can list here, Normal People is a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love. It takes us from that first conversation to the years beyond, in the company of two people who try to stay apart but find they can’t.

10. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

Goodreads 4.07 avg rating

The Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling novel of North Korea: an epic journey into the heart of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship.

“Imagine Charles Dickens paying a visit to Pyongyang, and you see the canvas on which [Adam] Johnson is painting here.”–The Washington Post

11. The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Goodreads 4.07 avg rating

The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority and power.

“A major book that I suspect will come to be considered among the essential memoirs of this vexing decade” – New York Times Book Review

12. Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

Goodreads 4.48 avg rating

One night in December 1972, Jean McConville, a mother of ten, was abducted from her home in Belfast and never seen alive again. Her disappearance would haunt her orphaned children, the perpetrators of the brutal crime and a whole society in Northern Ireland for decades.

Times #1 Best Nonfiction Book of 2019, Shortlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction 2019, and Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019.

13. Solitary by Albert Woodfox

Goodreads 4.41 avg rating

Solitary is the unforgettable life story of a man who served more than four decades in solitary confinement – in a 6-foot by 9-foot cell, 23 hours a day, in notorious Angola prison in Louisiana – all for a crime he did not commit. It’s a memoir of extraordinary endurance, injustice, and triumph of the human spirit.

14. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner

Goodreads 3.75 avg rating

The Topeka School is a riveting story about the challenges of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a startling prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the tyranny of trolls and the new right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men.

15. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

Goodreads 4.32 avg rating

From one of the brightest young chroniclers of US culture comes this dazzling collection of essays on the internet, the self, feminism and politics. The Times Literary Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

16. Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

Goodreads 3.16 avg rating

Trust Exercise is a novel about what we lose, gain and never get over as we’re initiated into adulthood’s mysterious structures of sex and power. Winner of the 2019 National Book Award.

17. We Live in Water: Stories by Jess Walter

Goodreads 3.91 avg rating

We Live in Water brings to vivid life a world of lost fathers and redemptive con men, of personal struggles and diminished dreams, a world marked by the wry wit and generosity of spirit that has made Jess Walter one of America’s most talked-about writers.

As well as two books for sports fans:

18. A Different Way to Win: Dan Rooney’s Story from the Super Bowl to the Rooney Rule by Jim Rooney

19. The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

And a reminder of books that he recommended earlier this year:

20. American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
21. The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power
22. Exhalation by Ted Chiang
23. Finding My Voice by Valerie Jarrett
24. Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh
25. How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
26. Inland by Téa Obreht
27. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
28. Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
29. Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
30. The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates
31. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
32. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
33. The Shadow of Sirius by W. S. Merwin
34. The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
35. Toni Morrison’s collected works
36. Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For by Susan Rice
37. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
38. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


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