Barack Obama is a prolific reader and he made no exception in the final year of his presidency. He recommended a large number of high quality books on a range of topics covering everything from climate change to corrupt politicians. Here are five of the books we think are some of his best recommendations.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
A slightly controversial pick, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is a books that tracks humanity’s path from the Stone Age to modern times. Yuval Harari divides human history into four main ages and argues that what has made human society more successful than animals or anything else is an ability to cooperate at large numbers. This argument harkens back to the idea of Thomas Hobbes’ social contract and the idea that cooperation is what will lead to the best for all of humanity. It is an interesting pick for Obama to put on the list but we enjoy that he has selected it.
The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
Another incredibly spicy pick from President Obama, The Power Broker is a biography about Robert Moses who was a politician in Connecticut and New York. It tells the story of how someone who has principles and integrity can be frustrated by the political process and eventually turn to corruption. It is a sad but powerful story about how one can become corrupt even when not meaning to initially. Robert Moses’ corruption ended up having a big impact on the transportation scene in New York and while the tale is now a couple decades old its is still powerful. Solid pick by the President.
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is a sad and compelling book that argues the planet is in the midst of the sixth major extinction cycle in world history and it is being caused by humanity. Elizabeth Kolbert does an incredible job explaining the cause of all of the various extinctions, leveraging her knowledge as a science writer for the New Yorker. There is no question that at the end of his presidency, climate change was on the mind of President Obama when selecting this book to the list.
In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck
President Obama has shown what a fan of old literature he is with many of his book choices such as In Dubious Battle which was written by John Steinbeck in the 1930s. In Dubious Battle is an interesting tale about California fruit farmers who attempt to organize in order to get better wages and working conditions. The book is a rather sad story where there is constant struggle and little success, as Steinbeck highlights many of the perils of organized labor. Obama was certainly trying to make another political point with this book choice.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad is a story about two slaves who lived on plantations in Georgia in the late 1800s, who attempt to escape to the North on the Underground Railroad. It is a harrowing tale that highlights the plight of slaves and all of the dangers as the protagonists are hunted down in a cruel manner. The protagonists are forces with all sorts of awful choices as Colson Whitehead illuminates some of the many horrors faced at the time.