Washington Week

Friday Nights on PBS

Reading Lists

Collision 2012

Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America

Dan Balz

  • 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.
  • 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.
The View from Penthouse B

The View from Penthouse B

Elinor Lipman

  • 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.
This is How You Lose Her

This Is How You Lose Her

Junot Diaz

  • 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.
A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces

John Kennedy Toole

  • The 1980 Pulitzer Prize winner.
Act of Congress

Act of Congress: How America's Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn't

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.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

Katherine Boo

  • The book is a tour de force of fabulous writing and intense reporting on a community in the slums of Mumbai.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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.
Brothers Emanuel

Brothers Emanuel: A Memoir of an American Family

Ezekiel J. Emanuel

  • 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.
Collision 2012

Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America

Dan Balz

  • 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.
  • 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.
Do Not Ask What Good We Do

Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives

Robert Draper

  • 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.)
Exiles in the Garden

Exiles in the Garden

Ward Just

  • 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.
Father, Son, and Constitution

Father, Son, and Constitution: How Justice Tom Clark and Attorney General Ramsey Clark Shaped American Democracy

Alexander Wohl

  • 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.
Forty-One False Starts

Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers

Janet Malcom

  • 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 …”
Gone Girl

Gone Girl: A Novel

Gillian Flynn

  • Definitely a page turner.
  • ...
It's Even Worse Than It Looks

It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

Thomas E. Mann, Norman J. Ornstein

  • 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.
Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands

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.
My Beloved World

My Beloved World

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.
My Share of the Task

My Share of the Task: A Memoir

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.
Old Filth

Old Filth

Jane Gardam

  • 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.
Red Ink

Red Ink: Inside the High-Stakes Politics of the Federal Budget

David Wessel

  • 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.
Strange Rebels

Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century

Christian Caryl

  • 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.
Ten Letters

Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President

Eli Saslow

  • ...
The Army of the Potomac Trilogy

The Army of the Potomac Trilogy

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.
The Big Sort

The Big Sort: Why Is Clustering of Like-Minded Americans Tearing Us Apart

Bill Bishop

  • 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.
The English Girl

The English Girl: A Novel

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.
The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • This is my pleasure read for the summer!
The Guns at Last Light

The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

Rick Atkinson

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
The New New Deal

The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era

Michael Grunwald

  • 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.
The Warmth of Other Suns

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

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.
The Watchers

The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I

Stephen Alford

  • 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.
The Way of the Knife

The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth

Mark Mazzetti

  • 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
  • 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.
The Wise Men

The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made

Walter Isaacson, Evan Thomas

  • 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?
The Wolf and the Watchman

The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, a Son, and the CIA

Scott C. Johnson

  • 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.
The World is a Carpet

The World is a Carpet: Four Seasons in an Afghan Village

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.
They Don't Dance Much

They Don't Dance Much: A Novel

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.
Those Angry Days

Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941

Lynne Olson

  • 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.
Through the Perilous Fight

Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks that Saved the Nation

Steve Vogel

  • ...
What It Takes

What It Takes: The Way to the White House

Richard Ben Kramer

  • 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