The Books that Barack Obama Reads and Recommends

Based on comments and photos from the campaign trail, I compiled a list of a dozen books that then-Senator Obama recommended or was seen reading during the 2008 campaign.


Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

A brilliant work by the very readable Doris Kearns Goodwin. Not so much a biography as a study of how Lincoln put together his team of advisers, four of whom contended for the 1860 Republican presidential nomination against Lincoln. That Lincoln was able to bring his opponents to his side during such trying times says volumes about the man.


For Whom the Bell Tolls

by Ernest Hemingway

Jamie White from Tacoma, WA says:

If you never read another Hemingway, this is the one. It is typical in the terse narrative that allows the reader to fill in both the adventure and horrors of war. The long spaces of intense interaction before the three actual major events allow the reader to invest themselves in the writing. It is a truly classic and glorious book..



by Marilynne Robinson

Amy from San Francisco, CA says:

Gilead is the literary equivalent of the slow food movement. It's rich in language and needs to be savored. The best way to enjoy this book is to head over to your most comfortable reading place with a cup of tea or glass of wine and immerse yourself. It's good. And it'll stay with you.


Song of Solomon

by Toni Morrison

Jorge Borrani from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico says:

It's a very cool story with a lot of action and it's full of magic-realism... it's like Gabriel Garcia Marquez but with Southern U.S. slaves. It's inspiring and funny and also a little sad.

This book also appears on Oprah's Book Club


The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version, Indexed

edited by Carol A. Newsom, Pheme Perkins, Michael D. Coogan, Marc Z. Brettler

Katrina Naugle says:

I'm not Christian, so I'm more interested in the history of the religion, and this book was absolutely fantastic in that regard — VERY objective! If the Bible has ever seemed perverse to you (the animal was made of flames and had how many horns? that kindathing), this is a great way to read it because the notes at the bottom of each page basically translate the language of the day for you. You'll know what they're referring to (like, if they say "cut his hair," they'll tell you what that phrase meant to them back then). It becomes a story steeped in culture and history instead of an obscure religious text! It makes the stories readable, understandable (!), and interesting (in most cases... some places, no amount of annotating is going to help).

This book also appears on What New Yorkers Read on the Subway


Shakespeare's Tragedies: Volume 1

by William Shakespeare

Jamie White from Tacoma, WA says:

It's Shakespeare. If you haven't read them all. Shame on you.


Collected Poems, 1948-1984

by Derek Walcott

Flashlight Worthy says:
A little bonus item we added to Amazon's list. Apparently Obama was spotted carrying a copy of this volume of Walcott's poetry just a day or so after the election. It's nice to see him relax with a little poetry after what must have been a grueling 2 years of campaigning. (Thanks to Flashlight Worthy fan Marjorie for pointing out the news mention to us.)


Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001

by Steve Coll

Flashlight Worthy says:
UPDATE: Thanks to Meredith Megaw for this update to the list. The New York Times ran a story on November 2, 2008 stating: "In the last days on the trail, Obama is finishing "Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the C.I.A., Afghanistan and Bin Laden," and taking an occasional glance at US Weekly."

This book also appears on Facing Unpleasant Facts (And Fictions)


Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet

by Jeffrey D. Sachs

Flashlight Worthy says:
UPDATE: Thanks to Meredith Megaw for this 2nd update to the list. The New York Times ran a story on December 15, 2008 stating: "But even as Mr. Obama moves to the center, some classic liberalism has also become a part of his study program. Mr. Obama, having finished Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars," is now reading "Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet," by the economist Jeffrey D. Sachs. Mr. Sachs argues that big governments like the United States could successfully tackle global warming, environmental destruction and extreme poverty by refocusing just a small fraction of global income toward those issues."


Moby-Dick: or, The Whale

by Herman Melville, introduction by Nathaniel Philbrick

Katrina Naugle says:

Oh my bejeezus, Herman Melville has a great sense of humor. I put off reading this book 'cause I thought it was slow-going; turns out, I just wasn't catching his dry, witty sense of humor, and once I did, he just kept getting better and more clever! Ishmael is a truly funny character, in a dark way, which makes me wonder why they haven't made a movie yet (don't get any ideas! Don't ruin it! Just kidding — a little).