Barack Obama's Book Choices

Which books kept the ex president sane in the White House?
Obama in an NYT interview, says the works of Jumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz speaks “to a very particular contemporary immigration experience,” but at the same time tell stories about “longing for this better place but also feeling displaced”.

The Namesake has a story spanning three decades and crossing continents, with themes of immigration, identity and loss. Brought up as an Indian in suburban America, Gogol Ganguli soon finds himself itching to cast off his awkward name, just as he longs to leave behind the inherited values of his Bengali parents.
Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad was among Obama's top picks but his earlier John Henry Days is also equally powerful.

This novel of extraordinary scope and mythic power is recognised as one of the novels of 2001, and established Colson Whitehead as one of the pre-eminent young American writers of our time.
Barbara Kingsolver is among one of Obama's favourite authors, and when you read her works about American life, it's easy to tell why.

Flight Behavior is a brilliant and suspenseful novel set in present day Appalachia; a breathtaking parable of catastrophe and denial that explores how the complexities we inevitably encounter in life lead us to believe in our particular chosen truths.
Doris Lessing's work inspired him so much that when he gave Malia a kindle full of books he loved, he also added this one in for her.

"The Golden Notebook" refers to the protagonist's compilation of notes. Her black one -- her African experience of her earlier years. Red, a record of her political life and disillusionment with communism. Yellow, a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in a blue one she keeps a personal diary. It's Lessing's best known and most influential novel, and it's no wonder Obama loved it.
Here's what Obama had to say about this pheomenal book in an interview with the NYT. “The scope of it was immense. 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!”
Obama counts Dave Eggers as one of his favourite authors, and even invited him over to the White House for a meal. The writer, editor, and publisher is the founder of satire website McSweeney's and has used wit, satire, and blunt humour to often get his point across.

In A Hologram for the King, Eggers takes us around the world to show how one man fights to hold himself and his splintering family together in the face of the global economy’s gale-force winds. This taut, richly layered, and elegiac novel is a powerful evocation of our contemporary moment — and a moving story of how we got here.
According to the New York Times, books like The Sixth Extinction "were a way for the president to shift mental gears from the briefs and policy papers he studied during the day, a way “to get out of my own head,” a way to escape the White House bubble."

In a sense, while you can say that The Sixth Extinction might help with policy and decision making, the book is really an insight into the world in the really near future. Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species“ including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino some already gone, others at the point of vanishing. lizabeth Kolbert's book urgently compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.
Changing My Mind finds Zadie Smith casting an acute eye over material both personal and cultural. This engaging collection of essays reveals Smith as a passionate and precise essayist, equally at home in the world of great books and bad movies, family and philosophy, British comedians and Italian divas.
Obama puts writers like Roth and Saul Bellow in one category, that is your quintessential American writer that you cannot ignore.

He says their books are “steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up.” And with Operation Shylock, he's not wrong. Philip Roth takes on the subject of the writer’s double, which for Roth is inevitably bound up in Jewishness and identity. This is a bold, inventive and energetic departure from his past novels, a meta-novel, and, like all of his writing, full of ideas, wit, humor and startling observation.
Paranoid, jealous, and profoundly gifted, Bellow wrote “Herzog” as an act of revenge. For his ex-wife. The titular character writes these series of letters—to enemies and friends, the living and the dead, politicians and philosophers—and even to God, though this last, along with the others, remains undelivered.

As Herzog’s comic predicament unfolds, we enter a mind as dazzling and brilliant as it is turbulent and confused, and we come away from the encounter surprisingly moved and satisfied.
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