A presidential reading list

20 January 2017

This week President Obama named V. S. Naipaul’s A Bend In The River, published by Picador, as one of the novels which had helped him during his time in the White House.

In an interview with The New York Times, Obama described how ‘the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalise — is more important than ever’.

With this in mind we’ve put together a recommended reading list, covering immigration, politics, war, love, and race, for the next President of the United States and self-proclaimed non-reader, Donald Trump.


Daily Rituals
Mason Currey

From Marx to Murakami and Beethoven to Bacon, Daily Rituals examines the working routines of more than a hundred and sixty of the greatest philosophers, writers, composers and artists ever to have lived. Might help to convince Trump to find the time to read all of the books on our list.

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou’s astonishingly beautiful and memoir detailing the racism and abuse she endured as child growing up in the American south of the 1930s should be compulsory reading for everyone, but especially for a US President. Her focus is unfalteringly on what unites rather than divides people, as Maya herself describes ‘I write about being a Black American woman, however, I am always talking about what it's like to be a human being’.

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The Nix
Nathan Hill

This gloriously ambitious, sprawling, hilarious, moving and acidly satirical debut novel explores fifty years of America and of American radical protest. Opens with an assault on Governor Packer, a right-wing, anti-immigration presidential candidate, described by one reviewer as coming ‘close to out-Trumping Trump’ (Observer).

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Letters to a Young Muslim
Omar Saif Ghobash

From the Ambassador of the UAE to Russia, comes a bold and intimate exploration of what it means to be a Muslim in the twenty-first century. This series of personal letters to his sons, reveal an intimate glimpse into a world many are unfamiliar with and offer to provide an understanding of the everyday struggles Muslims face around the globe.

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The Woman Warrior
Maxine Hong Kingston

Complex and beautiful, angry and adoring, Maxine Hong Kingston’s story of growing up in a changing America, surrounded by Chinese myth and memory is a feminist classic and provides a unique insight into the life of an immigrant in the USA. This was one of the books President Obama recommended to his 18-year-old daughter, Malia, before she left for college.

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The Crucible
Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller's classic parable of mass hysteria draws a chilling parallel between the Salem witch-hunt of 1692 and the American anti-communist purges led by Senator McCarthy in the 1950s. The story of how the small community is stirred into madness by paranoia and malice, culminating in a violent climax, is a savage attack on the evils of mindless persecution and the terrifying power of false accusations.

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The Good Lieutenant
Whitney Terrell

A very different kind of war novel which follows a female officer in Iraq: a gripping, insightful, necessary novel about the war that is proving to be the defining tragedy of our time. Terrell reveals what can happen when good intentions destroy, experience distorts, and survival becomes everything.

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 The Little Prince
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

After crash-landing in the Sahara Desert, a pilot encounters a little prince who is visiting Earth from his own planet. Heart-breaking, funny and thought-provoking, it is an enchanting and endlessly wise fable about the human condition.

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Scottsboro
Ellen Feldman

A novel inspired by the shocking true story of the Scottsboro boys, whose legacy has shaped the course of modern American history. Stirring racism, sexism and the politics of a divided America into an explosive brew, Scottsboro gives voice to the victims – black and white – of this infamous case and charts a fight for justice during the burgeoning civil-rights movement.

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Wish Lanterns
Young Lives in New China
Alec Ash

There are 320 million Chinese citizens in their teens and twenties, more than the population of the USA. Born after Mao, with no memory of Tiananmen, they are destined to transform both their nation and the world. Through individual stories, Wish Lanterns shows with empathy and insight the challenges and dreams that will define China's future global impact.

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Macbeth
William Shakespeare

Promised a golden future as ruler of Scotland by three sinister witches, and spurred on by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan to ensure his ambitions come true. But he soon learns that it’s not always easy at the top. Dark and violent, Shakespeare’s tragedy warns of the dangers of excessive ambition.

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The Road
Cormac McCarthy

An American classic and a cautionary tale for the globally warmed. A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothing but a pistol to defend themselves against the men who stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food - and each other.

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