Summer 2013 Reading List

The scent of summer is in the air! As you head to the beach or fire up that barbecue, grab a book recommended by Gwen Ifill and some of your favorite Washington Week panelists. Here's the 2013 Summer Reading List.

"Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America"
by Dan Balz

(Viking Adult)
Release date: August 6, 2013

She is one of my favorite authors, in part because she climbs inside the immigrant experiment so completely, and delivers such fully-realized female characters. In this book, she fleshes out the men as well, telling the story of two brothers who chose drastically different paths. And along the way, I learned about Indian revolutionary history in a way I would never have considered.
- Gwen Ifill, Washington Week

 This is more than a look back at the last presidential race. It is a close look into the campaign. I lived it every day, but I’m already learning a lot from Dan’s deep reporting. It will go on my shelf as a Bible of the great 2012 race.
- Jeff Zeleny, ABC News

"This Is How You Lose Her" by Junot Diaz (Riverhead Hardcover)

Electronically, I'm reading two of my favorite fiction writers -- Junot Diaz's This Is How Your Lose Her, and Elinor Lipman's The View From Penthouse B.

Both books are about relationships -- romantic and filial -- and explore the ways in which we connect and disconnect from one another. The authors' backgrounds and writing styles are wildly different, but the lessons about risk and love end up being roughly the same.

 "The View from Penthouse B" by Elinor Lipman
(Henry Holt and Co.)

-Gwen Ifill, Washington Week

"The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth" by Mark Mazzetti
(Penguin Press HC)

It's an in-depth look at the "shadow war" the US has been waging against Al Qaeda and affiliates for the past decade, which has included secret, private armies of spies and would-be assassins hired by both the Pentagon and CIA in their desperation to draw a bead on elusive terrorists. It's an interesting and obviously well-sourced look at an important chapter in modern US history, with lots of implications about the dangers of cutting corners in the execution of a nation's most weighty responsibility: killing in the name of the state.
-James Kitfield, National Journal

The best look yet at one of the most fascinating chapters of recent American history. A president who rode a wave of anti-war sentiment to office ultimately embraces the drone program. Mazzetti’s compelling description of the “killing spree” puts it atop my summer reading list.
- Jeff Zeleny, ABC News

"My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor

While not the best-written memoir of our time, offers a revealing, occasionally poignant look into what drove a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx with an alcoholic father to Yale Law School and now to the Supreme Court. At a time when the U.S. seems afflicted by bouts of national self-doubt, this book is a reminder of all our strengths.
- David Wessel, The Wall Street Journal

"The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made" by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas
(Simon & Schuster)

Published in 1986, this book is the up-close-and-personal story of the architects of the American century, the amateurs (Acheson, Bohlen, Harriman, Kennan, Lovett, McCloy) who shaped U.S. foreign policy from World War II through Vietnam and got more accomplished than the legions of professionals who now fill Washington think tanks and government offices. It leaves one wondering: Why are there no equals in our generation?
- David Wessel, The Wallstreet Journal

"The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945"
by Rick Atkinson

(Henry Holt and Co.)

This is the final volume of Atkinson’s brilliant Liberation Trilogy about the U.S. Army in Europe in World War 2. This volume covers D-Day forward to the end of the war and is a sweeping narrative told with rich detail. Atkinson’s accomplishment, 14 years in the making, is simply awesome.
- Dan Balz, The Washington Post

The final volume of Atkinson's masterful "liberation trilogy" on the U.S. Army in Europe in World War II. You don't need to read volumes one and two first -- but if you start with this one, you'll probably want to go back and start at the beginning again.
- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

Been waiting for years for the third volume of Atkinson's amazing Liberation Trilogy about the American army in Europe and North Africa in World War II, this one taking us from D-Day to the fall of Berlin. If you think you know the story of the Greatest Generation, think again. Atkinson harvests the accounts of everyone from the most famous generals to the lowliest privates to recreate the war in gripping, can't-put-it-down detail. If the third is anything like the first two, it's sure to be a masterpiece.
- Peter Baker, The New York Times

"Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't"
by Robert G. Kaiser


Veteran Washington Post editor and reporter Bob Kaiser tells the inside story of the making of the Dodd-Frank bill told with the perspective of someone who has reported on and analyzed Congress for more than four decades. In so doing, he highlights how and why Congress has become a broken institution.
- Dan Balz, The Washington Post

"Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941" by Lynne Olson
(Random House)

This is another work by an author who has illuminated life in Britain and the United States before and during World War 2. Her latest focuses on the raging debate here at home between interventionists and isolationists before the United States entered the war.
- Dan Balz, The Washington Post

"Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands" by Charles Moore

This is the first volume of the authorized biography of the most significant British prime minister of the second half of the 20th Century. Moore, a former editor of the Daily Telegraph, had exclusive access to Thatcher’s papers, letters and other materials and in this volume tells the story of her rise to power and her early years as a prime minister who ultimately changed her nation.
- Dan Balz, The Washington Post

"The English Girl: A Novel" by Daniel Silva

I always look forward to the latest works of Daniel Silva and this summer is no exception. His new book is due out in July, another fast-paced thriller with the inestimable Gabriel Allon as the protagonist. If you haven’t been introduced to Silva or Allon and enjoy the genre, you’ll definitely find this and his other books well worthwhile.
- Dan Balz, The Washington Post

"The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration"
by Isabel Wilkerson


I missed this book when it first came out, but I’m fully absorbed in it now. The richness of the narrative is surpassed only by the unforgettable characters Isabel used to tell the story of the great migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the 20th century. What a chapter in American history.
- Tom Gjelten, NPR

"Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President" by Eli Saslow


- Ed O'Keefe, The Washington Post

"Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation " by Steve Vogel
(Random House)


- Ed O'Keefe, The Washington Post

"The Great Gatsby" F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is my pleasure read for summer!
- Ed O'Keefe, The Washington Post

"What It Takes: The Way to the White House" by Richard Ben Cramer

Ever since he died, I’ve been going back and reading parts mostly to marvel at the thought that a political journalist once had the time to amass that kind of information and keep it under wraps to publish in a single book.
- Ed O'Keefe, The Washington Post

"The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I" by Stephen Alford
(Bloomsbury Press)

Based on historic letters and records, the book explores the darker side of Elizabeth's reign -- the spies, interrogations, and torture that kept her on the throne despite being isolated by religion from all of Europe. Alford notes that Elizabeth's time is generally remembered for its worldwide exploration and nurturing of the arts, including the rise of Shakespeare. This is the darker side.
- Jeanne Cummings, Bloomberg

"My Share of the Task: A Memoir"
by General Stanley McChrystal


More than any other single official or officer, McChrystal is responsible for developing and honing the "find, fix, finish, exploit (intelligence)" cycle of counter-terrorism operations that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden and nearly all of the top 20 Al Qaeda leaders in the last few years. A fascinating look behind the veil of secrecy that covers US counter-terrorism operations.
- James Kitfield, National Journal

"Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity" by Katherine Boo
(Random House)

The book is a tour de force of fabulous writing and intense reporting on a community in the slums of Mumbai.
- Janet Hook, Wall Street Journal

"The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA" by Scott C. Johnson
(W. W. Norton & Company)

The story of a boy who discovered at age 14 that his father was a CIA spy and his lifelong quest to understand what that really meant. Johnson grew up to become a foreign correspondent in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, where his father too ended up. Along the way, Johnson found that journalism and spying are two sides of a coin, and by the end, he found out as much about himself as he did his father.
- Peter Baker, The New York Times

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"
by Ben Fountain


This a well told tale of a band of U.S. soldiers who come home from Iraq, and Billy casts a fresh eye on American culture and the war.
- Janet Hook, Wall Street Journal

"The World is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village" by Anna Badkhen

For most Americans, Afghanistan is a place they would like to forget, eager to end a war that has not worked out like anyone had hoped it would. For Anna Badkhen, it's not an issue in the news but a real, three-dimensional place, filled with people we do not meet otherwise. Badkhen poetically takes us into their lives, focusing particularly on the tribal women who earn pennies weaving the carpets that Afghanistan is known for around the globe.
- Peter Baker, The New York Times

"Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century" by Christian Caryl
(Basic Books)

While others point to 1945 or 1989 or other critical years in modern history, Caryl identifies 1979 as the unlikely moment that set the stage for our current world order. He traces the rise of Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian hostage crisis and the market revolution in China, drawing together these seemingly disparate stories into a deeper narrative that resonates even today.
- Peter Baker, The New York Times

"Gone Girl: A Novel" by Gillian Flynn

Definitely a page turner.
- Beth Reinhard, National Journal
- Gloria Borger, CNN

"Old Filth" by Jane Gardam
(Europa Editions)

This 2006 book is by octogenarian author Jane Gardam, who is hugely popular in England, less well known in this country. The title refers to the main character, a retired lawyer, Sir Edward Feathers, whose nickname is an acronym for “Failed in London Try Hong Kong.” As is often the case with wonderful novels, I was sorry to see this one end, because I mourn the characters who have come to feel like friends.

But – hooray – the third installment of the “Old Filth” trilogy, which is called “Last Friends,” has just come out. And so I am back again in the English village that feels so real to me. I hope Ms. Gardam is back again writing, because I will soon be finished with this one.
- Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post

"They Don't Dance Much: A Novel"
by James Ross


This novel was first published in 1940, it didn’t make much of a splash, but fans of “Southern noir” have kept its memory alive. Washington Post writer Jonathan Yardley (he, Ross and I all worked, at various times, at the Greensboro Daily News in North Carolina) recently praised the novel, and justly so.
- Charles Babington, Associated Press


"Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers" by Janet Malcolm
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

This is a delicious collection of profiles written by a brilliant interviewer with an eye for the most revealing of details and the well-known mantra that every journalist is “a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness …”
- Joan Biskupic, Reuters

"Father, Son, and Constitution: How Justice Tom Clark and Attorney General Ramsey Clark Shaped American Democracy" by Alexander Wohl
(U of Kansas Press)

This is a fascinating double biography of Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark (1949-1967) and his son Ramsey Clark, who was Attorney General under President Lyndon Johnson.
- Joan Biskupic, Reuters

"The Army of the Potomac Trilogy"
by Bruce Catton


In honor of this sesquicentennial period of the Civil War, this is my choice. With luck it will be supplemented by day trips in Virginia and Maryland to historic sites, inspired by a recent visit to Antietam.
- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

"A Confederacy of Dunces"
by John Kennedy Toole

(Grove Weidenfeld)

The 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner.
- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

"Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family" by Ezekiel J. Emanuel
(Random House)

As a mom, I want to see what the oldest of the over-achieving Emanuel brothers has to say about his parents' experiences in producing and living with the three mega-achievers: the best-known Rahm; Hollywood power Ari, and the eldest, doctor-ethicist-author, Zeke.
- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

"The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era"
by Michael Grunwald
(Simon & Schuster)

The Time Magazine reporter's take on the unfairly maligned 2009-2010 economic stimulus law, getting behind the cable-TV caricature to the details of what the package really did.
- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

"It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism" by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
(Basic Books)

The two political scientists who've been sources to me longer than any of us can believe document just why Congress's approval ratings are so historically low and -- with facts and some courage, frankly -- they conclude that Republicans bear the greater blame.
- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

"Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives"
by Robert Draper

(Free Press)

In depressing detail but with his usual narrative flare, Draper pulls back the curtain on the House of Representatives. (Draper recently told me the paperback may have a new, more marketable title.)
- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

"The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart" by Bill Bishop
(Mariner Books)

My favorite book of the year is not a new one, but I think is a very important one to help understand our current polarized political environment. It's not just politicians who have become less interested in compromise and more dogmatic; the public has too. This book tries to get at the question of how we got to "Red" and "Blue" America. Over the last 30 years, Bishop writes, Americans have "sorted" themselves into these blue and red states and counties and neighborhoods. It wasn't random, but it also wasn't totally conscious either. What this has meant is a country where neighborhoods are now populated exclusively by those who share similar world/political views. And, the lack of diverse opinions and values means an electorate that is more polarized than ever.
- Amy Walter, Cook Political Report

"Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget" by David Wessel
(Crown Business)

Okay, it's wonky. But hey, it's David -- which means this is the clearest and most accessible book you'll ever read about the dominant issue in Washington today.
- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

"Exiles in the Garden" by Ward Just
(Mariner Books)
I've been a Ward Just fan ever since his wonderful 1972 short story, "The Congressman who Loved Flaubert." A former Washington Post reporter, Just captures the inner lives of the Washington elite better than anyone since Henry James. He's written 17 novels, not all about Washington. Political junkies should start with this one, Echo House, In the City of Fear, or any of his short story collections.
- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

Check out our past reading lists:

What are you reading this summer?