Summer 2014 Reading List

Warm weather, family vacations, good food.... what could be better than summer? Grabbing a book from the Washington Week Summer Reading List! Whether you're travelling to the beach or staying closer to home, our panelists' recommendations are sure to brighten your summer plans.

Gwen Ifill: For me, summer reading usually means fiction. But my bedside table is overburdened this year. Before fall arrives, I will have dug through two books that won't be published until autumn -- one a biography, the other an autobiography, plus Hillary Clinton's globetrotting memoir of her time as Secretary of State. That leaves room for one wonderful novel.

Here's what I'm reading:

"Americanah" by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie
(Random House)

I am often drawn to stories about fish out of water, especially immigrants making their way through the complications of assimilation. The fictional Ifemelu sounds like someone I would know, like and understand. I suppose my own background as the child of immigrants -- although not from Nigeria -- makes me get her vibe.

- Gwen Ifill, Washington Week

"Hard Choices" by Hillary Rodham Clinton
(Simon & Schuster) 

I have to confess I did not intend to read this book until I had to bone up for a NewsHour interview with her. It has disappointed some reviewers who hoped for more dish and less diplomacy. But once I picked it up, I found myself drawn into her tales of handshakes with shiekhs, faceoffs with Pakistani students and her professional rapprochement with the man who beat her to the presidency.

- Gwen Ifill, Washington Week

“Fire Shut Up in My Bones”
by Charles Blow
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Publication Date: September 23

The New York Times columnist tells the story of his astonishing progression from poverty-stricken boy from the backwoods of Louisiana to one of the nation's most celebrated writers. Along the way, he tells a courageously honest story about a man who fits into no one's mold.

 - Gwen Ifill, Washington Week

“An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964” by Todd S. Purdum
(MacMillan)

From a great Washington reporter and master storyteller, a compelling reconstruction of the long struggle to pass the 1964 civil rights act — from its tentative origins under President John F. Kennedy to the legislative wizardry of Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and Everett Dirksen.

- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

“American Romantic” by Ward Just
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Ward Just's newest novel, his 18th, is one of his best: the story of an American diplomat whose career takes him from Vietnam to Africa to Washington — but as with all Ward Just stories, that’s just the starting point.

- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

I’ve been enthusiastically reading Ward Just’s novels (and his earlier non-fiction) for decades. His new novel is the story of an American diplomat forever affected by his experiences as a young Foreign Service officer in what is obviously Vietnam and who is left to ponder his and his country’s limitations through a series of later ambassadorial postings and personal relationships. Jonathan Yardley said in the Washington Post this “may well be the best” novel that Ward Just has written.

- Dan Balz, The Washington Post

“Triumph and Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years” by Joseph A. Califano
(Touchstone)

As we mark the 50th anniversaries of so much that Lyndon B. Johnson attempted and achieved, this year seems to have brought about a nostalgia for all things LBJ. In researching a project I did recently for the Washington Post on the impact of the Great Society, I read Joseph A. Califano’s great memoir. All these decades later, it holds up well as a vivid account of what it all looked like from the inside.

- Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post

“The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book” by Peter Finn and Petra Couvee
(Random) 

Can’t wait to read this one. Peter Finn and Petra Couvee have uncovered the never-before-told story of how the CIA helped orchestrate the publication of Boris Pasternak’s classic “Doctor Zhivago” and smuggle it into the Soviet Union as part of a drive to undermine a totalitarian state that wasn’t honest with its own people. Looks like the best Cold War spy thriller of the summer – and it’s fact not fiction.

 - Peter Baker, The New York Times

“The Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China” by Evan Osnos
(MacMillan)

Really looking forward to taking this to the beach. Evan Osnos is one of the most talented writers of his generation and he spent seven years taking us on his journey through China in the pages of the New Yorker. Now he’s written his first book, chronicling the rise of a modern giant through the stories of the vivid characters he encountered along the way.

- Peter Baker, The New York Times

“Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War” by Ken Adelman
(Harper Collins)

A look back at the famous “failed summit” in Iceland when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev came close to agreeing to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Adelman was there as Reagan’s arms control chief and he supplements his own memories with secret notes and documents that bring the drama to life. He argues that Reykjavik, rather than a failure, was actually a pivotal moment that drove an effort to rid the world of its most destructive weapons that continues to this day.

- Peter Baker, The New York Times

“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid
(Riverhead)

An amazingly inventive novel that takes readers inside the breathtaking changes in a country that could be India or Pakistan.

- Michael Fletcher, The Washington Post

“Independence Day” by Richard Ford
(Knopf)

Anyone who has taken a summer road trip with a teenager (or as a teenager) will take great pleasure in this Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner award-winning novel about a reflective real estate agent on a Fourth of July jaunt to basketball and baseball halls of fame with his moody 15-year-old son. Ford's descriptions of stereotypical home buyers in a wavering New Jersey market are priceless, and the 1988 setting will make the reader realize that other than cell phones and e-mail, not much has changed in the way of how humans deal with life. And that's comforting.

- Fawn Johnson, National Journal

"James Madison: A Life Reconsidered" by Lynne Cheney
(Penguin)

Reading Lynne Cheney's new book on James Madison, a vivid and fluid narrative of an under-appreciated founder, featuring a sensitive explanation of his lifelong grappling with periodic bouts of epileptic symptoms. Cheney makes Madison's world come alive.

 - Todd Purdum, Politico/Vanity Fair


"The Trident: The Forging and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader" by Jason Redman with John Bruning
(Harper Collins)

This SEAL book is about a young man's humbling, early in his career, realizing his outsized, egotistical behavior made him hard to work with and almost lost him the love of his life -- and built the character that helped him overcome a devastating injury that destroyed half his face and crippled one of his arms. It's also one of the only SEAL books U.S. defense officials were glad to see being published, with a forward by former Defense Secretary Bob Gates.

- Kimberly Dozier, The Daily Beast

"Cuba in Splinters: Eleven Stories from the New Cuba" Edited by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
(OR Books)

Americans are understandably eager to explore Cuba, a country long off-limits to them. The music, the architecture, the sea, and the liveliness of the Cuban people charm almost all who visit. But for many Cubans, daily life is dirty and difficult. These short stories, by Cuban writers who work on the thin edge of official disapproval, recall the authenticity of Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller and vividly portray the grittiness of the Cuban experience.

 - Tom Gjelten, NPR

"The Good Spy: the life and death of Robert Ames" by Kai Bird
(Crown)

Fans of David Ignatius's spy novels can now read the absorbing true story of the CIA officer who helped inspire them, an American master spy who opened a clandestine back-channel to the Palestine Liberation Organization when they were considered terrorists -- only to die at the hand of terrorists himself.

- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times

"The Son" by Philipp Meyer
(Harper Collins)

This is the follow-up novel to this under-appreciated author's highly acclaimed debut "American Rust." It's a sweeping, multi-generational epic that charts the evolution of Texas from an independent Republic to today through the eyes of a single, powerful family. The patriarch, Colonel Eli McCullough is one of the truly fascinating characters in modern lit -- a book that ensnares the reader, and won't let go.

- James Kitfield, National Journal/ Defense One

“Bloodmoney” by David Ignatius
(W.W. Norton & Company)

In this thriller, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius brings to dramatic life the fundamental duplicity at the heart of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, and the dangers that lurk behind each reflection in what some have called Pakistan's “wilderness of mirrors.”

- James Kitfield, National Journal/ Defense One  

"How the Irish Saved Civilization" by Thomas Cahill
(Random House)

In anticipation of an upcoming trip, re-reading this favorite non-fiction look at the critical role Ireland's Catholic priests (in particular St. Patrick) played in saving the literary legacy of the Roman Empire from the barbarian hordes during the Dark Ages.

- James Kitfield, National Journal/ Defense One

“Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty” by Daniel Schulman
(Grand Central Publishing)

Even if you have little interest in the arcana of money and politics, you’ll be riveted by Schulman’s deeply researched book about the Koch family and their fraught dynamics. At its heart, this is the story about the unlikely progenitor of a conservative political dynasty and the four sons who have fought bitterly over his legacy. A fascinating back story about some of the figures with a huge imprint on our politics.

- Matea Gold, The Washington Post

“The Director” by David Ignatius
(W.W. Norton & Company)

Ignatius is a friend and Post colleague and a superb foreign affairs columnist. In his spare time, he finds a way to turn out compelling espionage novels. This year’s offering is called “The Director,” and like all of Ignatius’s fiction, it is timely and bears the ring of absolute authenticity. It is the story of a new CIA director groping through the post-Snowden, post-Wikileaks world of hackers and cyber-espionage. Nobody is better at taking us inside the intelligence world.

                                            - Dan Balz, The Washington Post

"Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall" by Elizabeth Drew
(Overlook Press

It will be 40 years in August when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. In time for that anniversary, Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal has been brought back to life in a new edition with a new Afterword that looks at Nixon’s life after the White House. Drew’s book does what she set out to do, which is to recreate what it was like in Washington during the stunning year of when America faced a constitutional crisis that led to Nixon’s near impeachment and eventual resignation.

- Dan Balz, The Washington Post

"The Sixth Extinction" by Elizabeth Kolbert
(MacMillan

This summer I’m reading “The Sixth Extinction,” about the environmental threats to the planet.

- Charles Babington, Associated Press

“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
(Dover)

I’m also, gradually, re-reading some of the classics.

Now it’s Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” which knocked me out in college.

Curiously, “Heart of Darkness” and “The Great Gatsby” seemed less impressive on subsequent readings, but “Pride and Prejudice” was better than ever.

- Charles Babington, Associated Press

"Catch-22" by Joseph Heller
(Simon & Schuster)

Struck by how constantly I hear this phrase in conversation and read it in legal briefs, I picked up Heller's "Catch 22" again this spring. The 1961 novel is even more relevant in today's bureaucratically crazed world.

- Joan Biskupic, Reuters

"The Second Amendment: A Biography" by Michael Waldman
(Simon & Schuster)
A deeply researched history of the Second Amendment and gun rights, a topic that becomes more salient every day.

-
Joan Biskupic, Reuters

 

"TransAtlantic" by Colum McCann
(Random House)

[McCann is the] author of one of my favorite books ever ("Let the Great World Spin"). His emotional renderings of connected lives and history are unforgettable.

- Joan Biskupic, Reuters

"New Life, No Instructions" by Gail Caldwell
(Random House) 

- Gloria Borger, CNN

"The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown
(Penguin) 

- Gloria Borger, CNN

Check out our past reading lists:

- Winter 2013
- Summer 2013
- Winter 2012
- Summer 2012

What are you reading this summer?