Reading Lists

State of Wonder

State of Wonder

Ann Patchett

  • "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett, which is part adventure, travelogue, and science project, with a dash of romantic realism thrown in. Patchett loves to throw unlikely characters into unlikely situations, as she did with Bel Canto The writing is so lyrical that you don't mind going along for the ride.
Unlikely Brothers

Unlikely Brothers: Our Story of Adventure Loss and Redemption

John Prendergast, Michael Mattocks

  • An engaging dual memoir of two men who have nothing, but everything in common. One, an activist who travels the world with the likes of George Clooney and Angelina Jolie, the other, a reformed crack dealer who grew up on the hard streets of Washington, DC. Their stories intertwine in a way that lets you understand how much more alike we all are than different.
Bloodmoney

Bloodmoney

David Ignatius

  • "Bloodmoney" is the new espionage thriller by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, a novel that takes you inside not only the world of U.S. intelligence but also of Pakistan's and underscores the tensions and distrust that are at the heart of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. It's a terrific read.
  • A great novel on the CIA in Pakistan.
Caleb's Crossing

Caleb's Crossing

Geraldine Brooks

  • ...
Citizens of London

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour

Lynne Olson

  • "Citizens of London," by Lynne Olson, It is the story of the relationship between the United States and Great Britain during World War 2, told through three characters: CBS's Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman, who ran the Lend Lease program, and John Gilbert Winant, the U.S. Ambassador. It is a richly told and wonderfully written history.
Clarence Darrow

Clarence Darrow :Attorney for the Dammed

John A. Farrell

  • "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned," a new biography of the 20th century’s most famous criminal lawyer by John A. Farrell.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary

Collected by: Steven Weisman

  • A terrific collection of prescient letters written by an extraordinary senator and thinker.
  • "Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of An American Visionary (edited by Steven Weisman)" Tne former New York senator tapped Sonia Sotomayor for her first spot on the federal bench. His missives reflect his passion on issues of the day, yet have a lively, even gossipy, tone. They reveal the delight he took in simply sitting down and writing a letter.
Demon Fish

Demon Fish

Juliet Eilperin

  • A perfect-for-summer examination of our friends, the sharks (the part about how sharks have sex by itself is worth the read, if a little disturbing)
Doc

Doc

Mary Doria Russell

  • A novel about Doc Holliday and his friendship with Wyatt Earp. Perfect for a vacation out West.
Founders

Founders

Ray Raphael

  • It's on the origins of the revolution and the Constitution.
Hard Revolution

Hard Revolution

George Pelecanos

  • I can’t resist detective and crime fiction penned by talented journalists and ex-reporters who know how to imagine ripped-from-the-headlines plots, characters and dialogue. Here are works by three of my favorite writers, all of whom skillfully drop readers into some of the rawest and unresolved situations confronting cities and communities we love. Pelecanos writes vividly about Washington, D.C., in ways most residents and visitors rarely experience the nation’s capital. Lippman, a clear-eyed champion for Baltimore, startles with her deft blend of innocence and evil in female characters exceptional only in their normalcy. And Connelly sketches Los Angeles police, attorneys and journalists accurately enough to fool the reader into imagining that the entertainment quotient is a bonus.
Heat Wave

Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters

Donald Bogle

  • It is a biography of the first great black female entertainment superstar of the 20th Century, and it is a fascinating, if often painful, study of the price of being a pioneer.
Hero

Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

Michael Korda

  • “Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia,” by Michael Korda. A very readable biography of T.E. Lawrence, who led the Arab uprising against the Ottoman Turks during World War I.
In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Erik Larson

  • A carefully documented account of the life of the U.S. ambassador to pre-WWII Germany and his promiscuous daughter that reads like a novel. Not only a great read, but a thought-provoking examination of how U.S. diplomats to autocratic, repressive regimes should conduct themselves. On the top of the New York Times best-seller list for good reason.
  • It's a fascinating non-fiction look at the life and times of the US ambassador to Berlin and his family in the run up to World War 2. The Ambassador's daughter scandalizes Berlin society by carrying on indiscreet affairs with high ranking Nazis even as the Americans slowly began to realize that they are dealing with something far more sinister than just your typical rogue regime in Adolf Hitler's Germany. Gripping stuff.
Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare

  • Re-reading Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which is the free Shakespeare production this summer at Washington’s Carter Barron Amphitheatre. Readers and critics still disagree sharply on whether Caesar’s murder was justified. I intend to find out.
Long Walk to Freedom

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

  • On a long flight back from South Africa, where I was covering First Lady Michelle Obama I read Nelson Mandela's autobiography, which I had never read when it came out some 16 years ago. It's great.
Master and Commander

Master and Commander

Patrick O'Brien

  • The first in O’Brian’s series on the sea-faring adventures of Captain Jack (Lucky Jack) Aubrey and naval surgeon Stephen Maturin.
On China

On China

Henry Kissinger

  • ...
Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor

John le Carre

  • It opens with an unusual Caribbean tennis match between a young English academic and an aging Russian oligarch.
Sword and Honor

Sword and Honor

Mike Ashley

  • A chronicle of 19th century wars in Europe, Africa and America; battles fought by cavalry and infantry without the menacing efficiency of mechanization.
The American Heiress

The American Heiress: A Novel

Daisy Goodwin

  • ...
The Audacity to Win

The Audacity to Win

David Plouffe

  • An inside look at the strategy and campaign that led to the election of Barack Obama.
The Eichmann Trial

The Eichmann Trial

Deborah E. Lipstadt

  • This brilliant non-fiction book has reams of information I have never seen before about the tensions within the Israeli government about whether to OK the high-stakes raid to capture Eichmann, the immediate pressure for him to be returned to Argentina for trial, and the tough choices Israeli prosecutors had to make in deciding how to present their case against him.
The Fifth Witness

The Fifth Witness

Michael Connelly

  • ...
The Great Stagnation

The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better

Tyler Cowen

  • I believe in the inexorable progress of economic man but in this refreshingly concise (128 pages, with notes) book, I had the horrible feeling that Tyler Cowen, a widely read blogger and economist, might be right: for the last 30 years we haven't gone anywhere.
The Imperfectionist

The Imperfectionists: A Novel

Tom Rachman

  • “The Imperfectionists,” a novel by Tom Rachman. It’s about a struggling newspaper (is there any other kind these days?) based in Rome.
Last Gunfight

The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral—and How it Changed the American West

Jeff Guinn

  • This is a detailed, vivid look at one of the most oft-told, and often exaggerated, stories in American history. It brings characters like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday to life, showing how the confrontation grew into a legend that in many respects strays from the reality of that day in 1881.
The Mirage Man

The Mirage Man

David Willman

  • The Mirage Man" by David Willman, the inside story of the government’s bungled investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, which initially suspected Saddam Hussein, then fingered the wrong suspect before finally finding the apparent perpetrator – but not soon enough to prevent him from killing himself.
The Polish Officer

The Polish Officer

Alan Furst

  • The novel vividly captures the experience of living under occupation during a largely forgotten era of World War II and looking for ways, no matter how small, of fighting back. I find books dealing with insurgencies, regardless of the specific conflict, to be invaluable in trying to better understand why people in places like Afghanistan or Libya pick up weapons in the face of almost certain death.
The Threat Matrix

The Threat Matrix

Garrett Graff

  • It is so good and action-packed I’d almost describe it as a summer beach read for its enthralling behind-the-scenes look inside the FBI and how the agency has evolved from the J. Edgar Hoover era to the present day under Robert Mueller. The reporting is rich and it is exceedingly well-written. I’m all the more impressed by the book because Garrett is so young, but he has such sophistication for story-telling.
The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife

Tea Obreht

  • ...
The Woman Behind the New Deal

The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life and Legacy of Frances Perkins

Kirstin Downey

  • An engaging and important biography about FDR’s secretary of labor, Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member and a woman who successfully pressed the powerful men who controlled Washington to adopt the economic security and jobs programs that helped Americans after the Great Depression. As Franklin Roosevelt prepared for his inauguration, Perkins urged him to consider her ideas for tough worker safety regulations in the states; a national labor policy to support compensation for workers hurt on the job; a new national system of unemployment insurance; and an old-age pension system that eventually became Social Security. What better summer than 2011 to learn more about a skilled negotiator who got things done in Washington during a period of tremendous economic hardship?
The Wrong War

The Wrong War

Bing West

  • "The Wrong War" by Bing West, a biting critique of the war in Afghanistan by an ex-Marine who has spent serious time on the ground there.
Triumph of the City

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

Edward Glaeser

  • Are skyscrapers the antidote to global warming? That's just one of the arguments Edward Glaeser makes in this synthesis of his lifelong study of urban economics. Senators and poets may romanticize rural living but Glaeser convincingly demonstrates that life is healthier, better paying, and less harmful to the environment in cities, and the denser they are, the better.
Tsunami

Tsunami

Foreign Policy Magazine

  • A new grim-but-gripping e-book by Foreign Policy magazine on the Japanese crises from earlier this year.
Ulysses

Ulysses

James Joyce

  • ...
What the Dead Know

What the Dead Know

Laura Lippman

  • ...
What There is to Say We Have Said

What There Is To Say We Have Said

edited by: Suzanne Marrs

  • Among the books I'm reading this summer are two collections of letters that capture the sheer joy of writing -- and reading -- thoughtful letters. My favorite is the newly published correspondence between writer Eudora Welty and William Maxwell: What There Is To Say We Have Said (edited by Suzanne Marrs). I turned to this as a longtime fan of Maxwell, a former New Yorker editor with a gentle Midwestern sensibility whose novella So Long, See You Tomorrow affected me deeply. I'm finding the correspondence to reflect these two writers' interest in each other's work but mostly in each other's lives. And there are surprising references to Washington and politics throughout. Eudora Welty followed the Iran-contra hearings!
You Are What You Speak

You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity

Robert Lane Greene

  • It is an irreverent and provocative look at the myths and politics of language. It turns out that the prohibition on ending sentences with a preposition, like many rules of grammar, lacks any rational basis and that George Orwell, in his famous essay "Politics and the English Language", got it completely wrong: language doesn't circumscribe our thoughts.
Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep

S.J. Watson

  • Part mystery part thriller, this debut novel is both easy to read and hard to put down once you begin. In the vein of the film "Momento," it is about a woman who suffers from a rare form of amnesia that erases every memory of what happened during the day when she goes to sleep. Apparently an accident nearly twenty years earlier caused the amnesia.and now the main character Christine can only recall flashes of memories from her past. Her husband, Ben, has to remind her every day of the details of her life. She begins to keep a daily journal in an attempt to reconstruct her past which serves as the narrative structure of the book. As she reviews her journal, Christine discovers that she may not be able to trust people close to her to tell her everything about her forgotten past.
Lenin's Tomb

Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire

David Remnick

  • In the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was falling apart, David Remnick was a young reporter for the Washington Post living in Moscow. Through his interactions with several Soviets he tells the story of glasnost and perestroika. Remnick’s most touching moments are when average, middle-of-the-road Soviets come to terms with the millions killed during Stalin’s reign.