Reading Lists | Washington Week

Reading Lists

All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr

  • I'm reading this against the backdrop of us talking about going to war and fighting an amorphous enemy. In World War II, the lines were clear and the enemy was clear. Things are much different now.

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal

Ben Macintyre

  • A riveting story of Cold War intrigue, centered on one of history’s most infamous spies, which  doubles as a fascinating look at class and culture in mid-century England.  

A Strangeness in my Mind

Orhan Pamuk

  • He's one of my favorite authors. It's a great tale of memory and identity.

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

Viv Albertine

  • My favorite of the recent (and welcome!) slew of female rocker memoirs. Albertine, the guitarist in the seminal all-women punk band The Slits, was at the center of the birth of punk in 1970s London. She pioneered a punk-reggae guitar sound, roamed the streets of London (literally) handcuffed to her friend Sid Vicious, and inspired the Clash song "Train in Vain". In some ways more amazing and heartbreaking is the story of what happened after she left the band and became a country housewife -- only to have a triumphant comeback after decades in obscurity.

Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence

Bryan Burrough

  • This detailed history of the political violence of the 1970s shines a light on a chaotic, bloody period I knew virtually nothing about despite the fact that it was only a few decades ago. The book also couldn't be timelier given the unrest in Baltimore and Ferguson.

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

Jon Meacham

  • The master of presidential biography uses contemporaneous diary entries to change the way we think about "41,'' and wonder what American might have looked like if he had been president on 9/11.
  • Jon Meacham's compelling biography of George H.W. Bush will stand as the definitive work on the 41st president for many years to come. Not only did he get Bush to open up in retirement, he mines his White House diaries in a way that really takes you inside the private thoughts of a president through war, peace and politics.

Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama

Dennis Ross

  • Dennis Ross, who has spent a career trying to bring peace to the Middle East, looks back at how the last 12 presidents grappled with the issues confronting Israel.

Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years

Thomas Mallon

  • Mallon is a marvelous at turning historical events into fiction. His last novel was about Richard Nixon and Watergate and was a great read. His newest, Finale, turns to Ronald Reagan for its focus. Having loved his book, Watergate, I am eager to read this one, if there is any slackening of activity in Campaign 2016!

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Jill Leovy

  • Written and paced like a thriller, and filled with the deep insights of a working reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Ghettoside chronicles the epidemic of violence against young black men in Los Angeles County, and what homicide detectives there are doing about it. In this account, the lives of victims and their families are treated as richly as the police who investigate crimes. This book is a must-read to understanding an uptick in urban violence this year in many major cities, and how law enforcement and communities might respond.
  • A masterpiece of crime reporting by a Los Angeles Times reporter who has spent more than a decade in LA’s most dangerous neighborhoods. It’s built around a single story, the murder of a black police detective’s son. But it illuminates, better than anything else I’ve ever read, how and why big-city policing has failed to protect so many big-city residents.

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War

P.W. Singer, August Cole

  • If you want to know what America’s generals and admirals (and colonels, captains and majors) were reading last summer, this is it: a Tom Clancyesque technothriller about a future war between the U.S. and China. It’s a classic page-turner – not great literature, but a fun read with a bonus: endnotes that document the real-world technologies it describes. The authors are a leading scholar of military technology and a former defense reporter, so they know what they’re writing about.

Infinite Jest

David Foster Wallace

  • Yes, this book is an all-out dare to readers. Clocking in at 981 pages plus 96 pages of must-read “Notes and Errata” (and some of those endnotes are pages long and come with their own footnotes), it’s tempting to dismiss it as a Master’s degree ego project by a self-indulgent guy who flirted with suicide for decades. But read 50 pages, 90 tops, and don’t skip the endnotes. After that, you’ll want to keep going. But at your own pace. It’ll take a while. You’ll find that Wallace has playfully, almost lovingly, put a funhouse mirror up to society and twisted it just enough so that we recognize the absurdity of ourselves and can still laugh (and sometimes cry) at the image. His pre-Internet vision of where we are going looks prophetic 19 years after publication. If you really need help on the way in, James Pondsoldt’s 2015 film about Wallace and Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky, "The End of the Tour,” offers some introductory explanations of what Wallace was going for. For my money, anyone who loves crisp prose should pick the book up anywhere and start reading. You can’t go wrong with sentences like this one: “His mustache always looked like it was getting ready to crawl off his lip."

Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist

Niall Ferguson

  • A fascinating look at the man who remade American foreign policy. It stops at 1968 -- just when things get interesting -- but that makes readers focus on his early life in Germany, his service in the war, and his remarkable intellectual journey at Harvard.
  • So much is known about Henry Kissinger, statesman. But his path to power and the way his worldview developed earlier in career is less understood and Niall Ferguson, in a compelling volume, shows how Kissinger came to be “Henry Kissinger, the realist at Richard Nixon’s side.” With documents and research, he paints a picture of a young Harvard professor concerned about nuclear war, working for Nelson Rockefeller, and later moving toward Nixon as the Vietnam conflict unfolded.

Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath

Ted Koppel

  • A scary look at what a massive cyber attack could do to the power grid. A book that is all the better because it comes from the pen of a journalist who does not get lost in the technology, but has an acute sense of the vulnerability of the systems that run our lives.

Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith: In London, Washington and Moscow

Charles Moore

  • Charles Moore was selected by Margaret Thatcher to be her authorized biographer. His second of three volumes was released in the late fall and covers the crucial years of 1982-87 [???] when Thatcher was at the height of her powers. The book chronicles her battles with… and includes perhaps the most detailed look at her relationship with Ronald Reagan.

No. 4 Imperial Lane

Jonathan Weisman

  • A riveting debut novel, rich in character and story, toggling back and forth between Margaret Thatcher's Britain of the 1980s and wartorn colonial Africa of the 1970s.

Objective Troy: A Terrorist, a President, and the Rise of the Drone

Scott Shane

  • The inside story of President Obama's decision to authorize the drone killing of an Anwar al-Awlaki, an American leader of al Qaeda, and a gripping portrait of how a once-moderate American Muslim cleric goes from denouncing the 9/11 attacks to joining the group that orchestrated it.

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story

David Maraniss

  • My Washington Post colleague has produced another compelling book, this time about the rise and seeds of decline in one of America’s great cities. Set in the early 1960s, at the height of Detroit’s power and influence, the book looks at Detroit through the prisms of the economy (autos), culture (Motown) and politics. The New York Times called it “elegiac and richly detailed,” written with authoritative and adrenaline-laced flair.”

One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War

Michael Dobbs

  • Now that Barack Obama has normalized diplomatic relations with the Cold War, revisit the most dangerous moment in the US-Cuba relationship. You may think it’s a familiar story—until you start reading and find yourself amazed at astounding subplots from Havana to Washington to Moscow, not to mention the sheer terrifying lunacy of it all.

Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems

Jules Evans

  • I was not a very good student when it came to philosophy in university. But it's a great, lively way to see how philosophy applies to your modern life -- being resilient, being stoic, enjoying life as an Epicurean. It's quite nice.

Power Wars: Inside Obama's Post-9/11 Presidency

Charlie Savage

  • Few were more critical of George W. Bush's approach to the war on terror than candidate Barack Obama. So why did President Barack Obama adopt some of the same legal reasonings and strategies? Charlie Savage, who deconstructed the legal fights of the Bush era, now examines what happened once Obama took over.

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

  • This is a post-apocalyptic novel about the power of art and the need to do more than simply survive that manages to be strangely uplifting despite its incredibly dark subject matter. It's also beautifully written.

The Last of the President's Men

Bob Woodward

  • Richard Nixon and Watergate have been mined for decades but Woodward’s latest provides fascinating insights and fresh reporting about one of the drama’s little known but central players: Alexander Butterfield. Woodward delves into boxes of files that have been kept from public view for years and gives us a portrait of Nixon that is as telling and as damning as any, due to the details provided by one of his closest White House aides.

The Last Season: A Father, A Son and a Lifetime of College Football

Stuart Stevens

  • A wise, lovingly-rendered look at race, politics, and the South through the prism of shared love for college football.

The Neapolitan Novels

Elena Ferrante

  • These gritty, passionate operatic novels trace the story of two women's friendship from the slums of post-war Naples to the present day. It's a dark and truthful look at friendship told over a period of dramatic social, cultural and political change.

The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin

Steven Lee Myers

  • With Russia now playing a larger role on the world stage again, this new biography of Vladimir Putin couldn't be more timely. No one has dug into the life of the master of the Kremlin more deeply than Steve Myers.

The Odd Woman and the City: a memoir

Vivian Gornick

  • This beautiful little book absorbed with New York City and the literary life captures the value of ordinary friends and conversation -- real, in-person conversation that is sustaining.

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

Joseph J. Ellis

  • I’d picked up this book before I saw Broadway’s "Hamilton," wanting to read the Bill of Rights tale. But now, because of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop portrayal of the founding fathers, it’s even more interesting to explore how we got the Constitution we got.

The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

David Quammen

  • It takes a special gift for narrative to turn a topic like island biogeography into an approachable topic for someone, like me, who didn't take a lot of science classes in college. It's a goal Quammen accomplished 20 years ago in his landmark exploration of the yin and yang of extinction and evolution, through the lenses of both the scientists who developed our modern understanding of how species find their ecological niches and the landscapes that best foster the evolutionary process. The details are partly tragic: None of the Dutch or Portuguese sailors who helped the Dodo go extinct ever bothered to record what it sounded like. They are partly optimistic: From many doomed species, new ones evolve. Together, they make for a story that is entirely engaging.

The Time of Our Lives

Peggy Noonan

  • She began her career at CBS News, then went on to work as a presidential speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. Ever since, Peggy Noonan has been one of the best essayists on the scene, blending her understanding of the political game with a nuanced and deeply felt view of the country and its people. Since she lives in New York, she also writes like an insider abroad and that perch lifts her writing above the polemic fray. This is a comprehensive collection and a keeper for anyone who enjoys her Wall Street Journal column.

The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters

Karl Rove

  • The architect of one turn-of-the-century White House campaign looks back at the architect of a previous one in a story that's fascinating for students of presidential history.

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

  • The perfect long cold winters' read. It has everything: a love triangle, dashing men, beautiful women, sweeping historic drama, epic battles, fabulous royal balls and outfits, Napoleon marching on Moscow. Don't be deterred by the length -- there's just more to love.

Whose Broad Stripes and Bright Stars: The Trivial Pursuit of the Presidency

Jack Germond, Jules Wicover

  • This book came out years ago but its reporting on the 1988 presidential election is worth rereading in light of the 2016 race. Calling the contest the “trivial pursuit of the presidency,” the authors show how the modern presidential campaign in many ways has devolved into a flurry of sound bites and personality clashes. If only they knew that it was only the beginning.