Sara Paretsky’s Blog

What should Barack read?
November 12, 2008, 6:17 pm
Filed under: Books, reading | Tags: , , , , , ,

On November 1, the Chicago Tribune invited its two heavy-hitter writers, Aleksander Hemon, and Garry Wills, to come up with a list of required reading for the new president: five fiction, five non-fiction. You can see therelist here: It includes Thucydides, Al Gore, and Jose Saramago, among others. I have to confess, I was underimpressed with their recommendations.My own list:Non-fiction: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.  Barack will have policy wonks aplenty on specific issues but my physics friends say this should be required reading for anyone having to think seriously about nuclear weapons, proliferation, dirty bombs, and related policy issues.  Ahmed Rashid’s The Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia.  Rashid, a Pakistani journalist who covered the Taliban for years, wrote this important book right before 9/11.  We could have avoided a lot of mistakes in Central Asia if we had listened to him and experts like him.National Security, FBI and CIA Intelligence Briefings.  Given that the nation’s security apparatus had warned Bush and Condoleezza Rice of an imminent attack on U.S. soil in the summer of 2001, a great deal of the mess we’re in now could have been avoided had the president and his aides only read the briefings and acted appropriately.Women’s lives and bodies have been compromised by eight years of the Bush administration, in which access to contraception and abortion have been curtailed both at home and abroad.  Barack has announced support for Griswold and Roe, allowing people to return to the privacy of their  homes and doctors’ offices to make important choices, but the Catholic bishops are demanding that he abandon these views.  There are many books available on reproductive matters; one that is eminently readable is Abortion at Work.Finally, Helen Thomas’s Watchdogs of Democracy? is a timely critique of the way in which the Washington  Press Corps failed to ask the key questions needed for our citizens to understand what the Bush administration intended to do about war, peace, the environment, the economy, and our nation’s health.Fiction, PoetryIrina Ratushinkskaya’s Grey is the Color of Hope.  This memoir from the Soviet-era gulags tells readers about the human cost of power, and the human capacity for survival and hope.  The Brothers Karamazov.  A ripping good yarn about faith, families and murder.Richard II.  What happens when you let power go to your head.Melissa Benn, One of Us.  This novel about ambition and politics, by the daughter of one of England’s important labor leaders, is a gripping novel of the cost to the people who support the big kahuna on his/her quest for power.Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest. Shows what could happen when we let greed rule in the place of justice.
What do you think Barack should be reading?
P.S.  Heman couldn’t come up with any books by women; Wills had one.  Extra points for those who imagine women writers.


7 Comments so far
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Writing in an Age of Silence would be good for anyone to read. Then he could read Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner collection with his daughters. Burn My heart by Beverley Naidoo. Crusade by Elizabeth Laird. These, too, are children’s books that he could read with the girls.
I could probably come up with lots of books in this vein, and I believe that the simplicity of children’s books mustn’t be underrated. There will be many worthwhile political books, as well as adult fiction, but others are better placed to suggest good titles among these.

Comment by bookwitch

I absolutely “Writing in an Age of Silence” should be on everyone’s “to read” list. Hopefully, Barack has already read it.

I think it says a lot about Sarah Palin that she had trouble with Katie Couric’s question about what books she’s read. Her response to Matt Lauer about the question was also very bizzare.

Comment by genny

Like you all I could think of an endless list, indeed B wouldn’t have any time left to do his good work ! However, to add my own two “centimes” I suggest Margaret Atwood’s books – maybe the Edible woman, maybe Cat’s eye which moved me deeply and found an echo in my own life – or how about Oryx and Crake, where human beings have everything but destroyed the planet …

Comment by Pascale

How about Naomi Klein’s powerful “The Shock Doctrine,” which gives an understandable context for our failure to halt the devastation of Iraq and to help the people of New Orleans after Katrina?

Also, he — or you, Sara Paretsky — might find illuminating the blog at, written by an ardent and thoughtful Unitarian in New York City.

Comment by Phoebe Hoss

I’ve never met anyone else who has read Ratushinskaya’s memoir… I read it ages ago, in my teens, and it’s always stuck in my memory. Very moving story.

Comment by bani

Thank you for the book list (for Obama). I’m passing it on to my college-student daughter, too.

While I’m at it, thanks for all your writing. I’ve read most.

Comment by lucee

Only just discovered your blog… My contribution to Obama’s essential reading list: ‘Israel/Palestine : how to end the War of 1948’, by a remarkable woman linguist, academic and activist who died a couple of years ago – Tanya Reinhart.

Comment by Kavita Krishnan

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