Winter Reading List

Looking for some good winter reading options? Tis the season to stay in with a great book and some of your favorite Washington Week panelists are sharing their recommendations. If you're interested in politics, history, biographies or fiction, you're sure to find an interesting title to add to your library or give as a holiday gift.

"The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee
(Scribner)

Convinced this would be a bummer, I put off reading this amazing 2010 book until now, fearing it would be too daunting, too depressing. And although it can be depressing, Mukherjee has such a gift for storytelling, that he has managed to make a scientific exploration read like a mystery novel.

- Gwen Ifill, Washington Week
"On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star" by John Dickerson
(Simon & Schuster)

Embarrassingly, I am just now getting around to reading Washington Week panelist John Dickerson's lovely and personal story of his mother Nancy, who was television news' first female star. Deeply affecting, I learn something on every page about the news business, the people who populated it, and about my friend John.

- Gwen Ifill, Washington Week
"Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year" by David Von Drehle
(Henry Holt and Co.)

Did Steven Spielberg leave you longing for more? Did you get the feeling that Lincolns' Presidency was operating on parallel tracks that a holiday movie could only glance at? You're right. TIME correspondent David Von Drehle -- one of the best writers in the business -- fills in the blanks.

-Gwen Ifill, Washington Week

After seeing "Lincoln" the movie, looking forward to reading Lincoln the history by David von Drehle, one of America's most talented writers, who looks at the critical year of 1862.

- Peter Baker, The New York Times

- Michael Duffy, TIME Magazine
"The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity" by Michael Duffy and Nancy Gibbs
(Simon & Schuster)


I bought the audiobook to listen while I jogged on weekends along the C&O Canal and when I finished, I started it a 2nd time. Though I’m a life-long reader of history, for three decades a chronicler of presidents and personally familiar with three, I did not appreciate how many fascinating and consequential relationships had formed between and among the past and current holders of the world’s most powerful office, from Hoover to Obama.

- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times
"Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague" by Geraldine Brooks
(Penguin)


I was more than a decade late to this 2001 best-seller, but I made up for it by finishing it in a single weekend, pulled along by the story of the central character, Anna Frith. I favor non-fiction, histories and biographies, but this is fiction based on history – of a 17th century English village that quarantines itself to prevent spread of the plague in its midst, exposing the best and worst we humans are capable of.

- Jackie Calmes, The New York Times
"Why Read Moby-Dick?" by Nathaniel Philbrick
(Viking Adult)


As a Moby-Dick fan who has read the book three times, I came to this slim volume almost as a lark. What a find! Philbrick’s enthusiasm, insight and joy remind me of the reasons I love the novel, and he points out innumerable subtleties and allusions I had missed. Inspired, I’m going to read Moby-Dick, yes, again. With joy.

- Charles Babington, Associated Press
"Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary, How It Works" by Jonathan Gruber; illustrated by Nathan Schreiber
(Hill and Wang)


Obamacare (as everyone including Mr. Obama now calls it) is complicated. Hardly anyone understands what’s in it. So MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, an Obamacare enthusiast and one of its architects, explains it in an easy-to-follow comic book that captures the basics without avoiding the subtleties.

- David Wessel, Wall Street Journal
"Cronkite" by Douglas Brinkley
(Harper)


- John Harwood, CNBC
"Oddly Normal: One Family's Struggle to Help Their Teenage Son Come to Terms with His Sexuality" by John Schwartz
(Gotham)


With same-sex marriage and broader issues of gay rights now before the Supreme Court, John Schwartz’s personal tale is especially timely. Yet he offers much more: this is a wrenching, timeless story about parents desperately trying to do right by a child who is different.

- Joan Biskupic, Reuters
"The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden" by Mark Bowden
(Atlantic Monthly Press)


A fast and compelling account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden by the acclaimed author of "Black Hawk Down," who takes readers through the events of last year with cinematic drama.

- Peter Baker, The New York Times
"The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace" by H.W. Brands
(Doubleday)


Long respected more as a general than as a president, Ulysses Grant comes across as a much better White House occupant as well as battlefield commander in this narrative reassessment by a premier historian.

- Peter Baker, The New York Times
"Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World" by Evan Thomas
(Little, Brown and Company)


A thoughtful reexamination of Dwight Eisenhower as a president who essentially made nuclear war unthinkable at the dawn of the atomic era when that was not necessarily certain at first, as rendered by the author of other gripping American histories.

- Peter Baker, The New York Times
"After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead" by Alan S. Blinder
(Penguin
)
January 2013


Five years after the onset of the global financial crisis which provoked the worst recession in generations and a recovery so painful it doesn’t feel like one, a lot of people ask: What the heck just happened? In “After the Music Stopped,” to be published January 28, Princeton’s Alan Blinder, one of the most gifted writers among his generation of academic economists, offers a long (443 pages), but lucid and comprehensive, answer for non-experts. Blinders sums up the reporting of scores of others, makes clear his own views while acknowledging alternative views and concludes with a seven-step rehab program for policymakers.

- David Wessel, Wall Street Journal
"The White Queen" by Philippa Gregory
(Simon & Schuster)


I have spent much of this year escaping from the presidential campaign by indulging in the meaner and more deadly realm of European monarchies. I started with the "War of the Roses" Philippa Gregory's trilogy focusing on the three central female characters.

"The White Queen," which focuses on Elizabeth Woodville, a extraordinary beauty and commoner who marries young King Edward in secret and, ultimately, sees her two sons die mysteriously in the tower while under the care of her brother-in-law King Richard III.

- Jeanne Cummings, Bloomberg News
"The Red Queen" by Philippa Gregory
(Simon & Schuster)

The second book I've read is "The Red Queen," the story of Lady Margaret Beaufort, the keeper of the Lancastrian line's royal dreams, who manipulates husbands, adversaries, and events to secure the throne for her son, Henry VII and establish decades of Tudor rule.

- Jeanne Cummings, Bloomberg News
"The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns" by Sasha Issenberg
(Crown)

An absorbing history of the new (and, until now, almost unknown) science of persuading and mobilizing voters -- a factor that turned out to be one of the keys to Obama's impressive victory in November.

- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times
"Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman--from World War to Cold War" by Michael Dobbs
(Knopf)


Catnip for 20th century history buffs: a beautifully-written narrative of the negotiations between FDR, Stalin, Churchill and Truman at the end of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War.

- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times
"Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity" by Katherine Boo
(Random House)


- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times
"The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War" by Fred Kaplan
(Simon & Schuster)
January 2013

A history of David Petraeus and the revival of counterinsurgency doctrine by Slate's national security columnist.

- Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times
"The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today" By Thomas E. Ricks
(Penguin)


I’ve been reading “The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today,” by long-time defense correspondent Tom Ricks, formerly of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. It’s not exactly uplifting holiday reading, but the book is a fascinating examination of the apparent deterioration in the quality of U.S. military leadership from the lions of World War II (George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, et al), to the generals who stumbled badly during the past decade (with David Petraeus singled out as an exception that proves the rule). Ricks points to a lack of accountability as the chief culprit, noting that many generals were fired for ineffectiveness during World War II, while no general was relieved for the myriad failures of Afghanistan and Iraq.

- James Kitfield, National Journal

A masterful and critical study of the art of generalship from World War II through Iraq and Afghanistan by one of the smartest military experts out there, made all the more relevant by the recent scandal involving David Petraeus and John Allen.

- Peter Baker, The New York Times
"The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration" by Isabel Wilkerson
(Vintage)

It is the story of the six million black Americans who left the South for the North and West. The stories in this book are heartbreaking, moving and give you a deep sense of the personal bravery and anguish of the Americans who took the leap to move.

- John Dickerson, Slate Magazine/CBS News

Check out our past reading lists:

What are you reading this winter?