The Ultimate Guide to Reading Like Barack Obama

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Rebecca Hussey

Staff Writer

Rebecca holds a PhD in English and is a professor at Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. She teaches courses in composition, literature, and the arts. When she’s not reading or grading papers, she’s hanging out with her husband and son and/or riding her bike and/or buying books. She can't get enough of reading and writing about books, so she writes the bookish newsletter "Reading Indie," focusing on small press books and translations. Newsletter: Reading Indie Twitter: @ofbooksandbikes

It seems fair to say that a good president is going to be a good reader. The reverse isn’t necessarily true—lots and lots of great readers would make terrible presidents—but surely a good president is going to be one who appreciates books? What better way is there to learn about the current state of the world, to absorb the lessons of history, and to understand the varieties of human experience than to be a reader?

Barack Obama was by no means a perfect president, but he was still pretty damn good, and he was and is a great reader as well. We have been treated to stories about the Obama family’s bookstore visits, to reading lists and book recommendations, and to Obama’s own books, both of which show not only Obama’s writing talent, but also how books and reading shaped his life and his presidency.

Given Obama’s status as an A+ bookworm, I thought it might be valuable to gather his reading lists and book recommendations into one big post so anybody who wants to read like Barack Obama would know how to get started. The books mentioned below show how widely Obama reads: you’ll find history, current events, sociology, political science, and philosophy alongside memoirs, literary fiction, thrillers, and science fiction. As Obama knows, every genre has its place and time and every book can teach us something about the world or can make living in the world a little bit easier. Or both. So here are Obama’s recommended books, in reverse chronological order:

On October 12, 2018, Obama posted a list of books that speak to our current political climate:

Here is what he recommended:

On August 19th, 2018, Obama posted a list of his favorite reading from the summer:

Here’s what he recommended:

On July 13th, 2018, Obama posted a list of recommended reading about Africa in anticipation of his first trip to Africa since his presidency:

Here’s what he recommended:

On June 16th, 2018, Obama posted a list of recent favorite reading:

Here’s what he recommended:

On December 31, 2017, Obama posted a list of his favorite books (and songs) from 2017:

Here’s what he recommended:

woman warrior maxine hong kingston cover magical realism short storiesObama’s book recommendations from earlier years come from sources other than Facebook. On January 16, 2017, The New York Times published a transcript of an interview with Michiko Kakutani entitled “President Obama on What Books Mean to Him.” Here are the books he mentions (the first four were given as a gift to Malia):

The Fire Next Time by James BaldwinOn October 21, 2016, Wired published a piece called “Get Ready to Carve Out 89 Hours for President Obama’s Essential Reads.” Here are the books on that list:

The Underground Railroad Colson Whitehead coverOn August 12th, 2016, the Obama White House website published Obama’s Summer 2016 reading list:

Alongside his Summer 2016 reading list, Obama listed his Summer 2015 book list as well:


song of solomon toni morrison coverFinally, here are the books currently listed as Obama’s favorites on his Facebook profile:

Want to read more about Obama? Check out this guide to Obama memoirs and books and this round-up of memoirs from Obama staffers.