Back in the days when political leaders actually read books, US President Barack Obama established a tradition of sharing his favourite titles. And while he might no longer hold office, the man still pursues his reading habit with admirable consistency and passion. That brings us to Obama’s Facebook post from back in August, in which he shared his summer reading list. As usual, the list consists of books that are as engaging as they are relevant, and rife with a variety of social, political and economic themes.
Kicking off the Obama summer reading list is Education by Tara Westover. This “remarkable” memoir comes to us from a young woman who grew up among radical survivalist Mormons in the mountains of Idaho, and didn’t step foot in a classroom until the age of 17. Because Westover’s decision to pursue an education only came to fruition after she abandoned her abusive family, she subsequently experienced harrowing emotional conflict. As the book itself goes to show, however, Westover made the right decision in the long run, even if she does retain a degree of “great understanding and love for the world she left behind”, according to Obama.
Next up is Warlight, a novel by Canada’s Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient. Interweaving mystery and drama, the book takes place in London directly after WWII, and centers on a pair of siblings, Nathaniel and Rachel. After their parents move to Singapore, the brother and sister stay behind, falling under the care of The Moth, an enigmatic figure who might very well be a criminal. Obama describes the novel as a “meditation on the lingering effects of war on family”.
With the recent passing of writer Sir V. S. Naipaul fresh on his mind, Obama revisited A House for Mr Biswas, the author’s “first great novel about growing up in Trinidad and the challenge of post-colonial identity”. Published in 1961, the book is credited with launching Naipaul’s career on the worldwide stage. The author would ultimately publish a slew of acclaimed classics–and accordingly win a range of awards–before snagging the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2001.
Obama’s next recommendation, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, follows newlyweds Celestial and Roy as they pursue the American dream in the New South. However, the young couple’s plans are abruptly dismantled when Roy is falsely imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. With her husband behind bars, Celestial loses her grip on the relationship, and seeks comfort in the arms of another man. As one might imagine, it all goes down against the backdrop of a corrupt justice system. In addition to being favourited by Obama, the novel was an Oprah’s Book Club Selection.
The last title to appear on Obama’s summer reading list was Factfulness, by “outstanding international public health expert” Hans Rosling. In Obama’s opinion, the book provides an optimistic forecast in terms of how human beings from different walks of life can communicate with one another moving forward, working “off facts rather than our inherent biases”. To call the subject matter timely would be an understatement. This is 2018, after all.
During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists. It was a nice way to reflect on…
As always, Obama’s latest reading list covers a range of prescient themes and topics, making it clear that the former US President likes to keep his fingers on as many societal pulses as possible. It’s then no surprise that each book offers a window into another world, such as that of Mormon survivalists, post-war Londoners, or falsely accused African-Americans.
As per tradition, Obama will likely return at the end of the year with his complete list of favourite books and songs from 2018. Until then, you have plenty of recommendations to keep you busy.