The Barack Obama Reading List

Our former POTUS has always been an avid reader—and he's got great taste.


Picture this: you wake up every morning with the weight of millions of people on your shoulders. At work, you dash from important meeting to important meeting, completing a non-stop high-wire act where every decision must be the right decision. There are stubborn foreign diplomats to negotiate with, uncooperative party members, and an entire world watching your every move. Faced with so much pressure, how would you relax at the end of the day?

For former POTUS Barack Obama, the answer has always been a good book. It’s funny to imagine a powerful leader burying his nose in The Girl on the Train or Harry Potter—but that’s exactly what Obama did (and for an hour every night, at that). He may have held our country’s highest office, but as our most bookish president since Lincoln, Obama has always been an advocate for the power of the written word.

Obama reads widely and with empathy, turning to thrillers for escape or Pulitzer Prize winners for knowledge and perspective. He reads to gain greater insight into the human condition, gravitating toward the diverse and global voices of past and present. And as he once told the New York Times, “the role of stories to unify … is more important than ever.” Thus, his bookshelves display lives both similar to and different from his own, which allows him to bridge gaps of misunderstanding and feel a sense of collective belonging. Below, you'll find a list of the books he's recommended over the years so that you, too, can read like Barack Obama.

(This list was last updated on 8/21/2018.)

Related: What Are Joe Biden's Favorite Books?

For the book clubber who's drawn to bestsellers, award-winners, and critically acclaimed authors:


With their masterful prose, edge-of-your-seat thrills, and unforgettable characters, these books have earned more than golden seals and movie deals. They have Obama’s stamp of approval.

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff

Purity, Jonathan Franzen

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan

All That Is, James Salter

Lush Life, Richard Price

The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie

For the bookworm who's looking to add to their literary bucket list (or, y'know, just wants to look impressive on Goodreads):


Here are some of Obama’s favorite classics that everyone should read before they die.

A House for Mr. Biswas, V.S. Naipaul 

The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

Moby Dick, Herman Melville

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

The Quiet American, Graham Greene

A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck

Collected Poems, Derek Walcott

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Related: Why the Lost Generation Writers Still Resonate With Us

For the adult who enjoys passing along childhood favorites—or simply reconnecting with their own inner kid:


These nine chapter books, illustrated novels, and Newbury honorees are sure to please the littles ones and your big kid self. (Malia and Sasha agree!)

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson

Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell

Redwall series, Brian Jacques

Junie B. Jones series, Barbara Park

Nuts to You, Lynn Rae Perkins

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

Harry Potter series , J.K. Rowling

For the POTUS of tomorrow:


Calling the future leaders of the world! Check out these anecdotes and words of wisdom from yesterday and today’s biggest movers and shakers.

Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American, Richard S. Tedlow

Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow

Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton

The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi

Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith

Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris

John Adams, David McCullough

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Fred Kaplan

Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, Jonathan Alter

FDR, Jean Edward Smith

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln

Related: 10 Books for Fans of Hamilton

For the modern guy or gal who wants to get informed:


Take a look at these searing political commentaries on race, class, gender, and more to see where we’ve come from and what more needs to be done. 

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch

Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy and the New Gilded Age, Larry Bartels

A Kind and Just Parent, William Ayers

The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

Moral Man and Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr

Related: Must-Read Books by Black Authors 

For anyone who has felt like an outside or underdog:


Whether they explore the modern immigrant experience, the rigors of family life, or globe-trotting adventures, these stories of self-discovery are here to remind you that you aren’t alone.

Educated, by Tara Westover

The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri

Working, Studs Terkel

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese

To the End of the Land, David Grossman

Netherland, Joseph O’Neill

Plainsong, Kent Haruf

The Way Home, George Pelecanos

What is the What, Dave Eggers

The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan

Nora Webster, Colm Tóibín

For the knowledge-hungry:


Blow your mind with Obama’s eye-opening, "I’ve-never-thought-about-it-like-that" must-reads.

Factfulness, Hans Rosling

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande

The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert

Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America, Thomas L. Friedman

Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari

Philosophy & Literature, Peter S. Thomspon

For the history buff—or the aspiring time traveler:


This collection of fiction and nonfiction titles will take you around the world—and to times, events, and places of the present, present, and future.

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos

Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam

Redeployment, Phil Klay

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

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert A. Caro

The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria

Lessons in Disaster, Gordon Goldstein

The Three-Body Problem, Lui Cixin

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson

Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia