What the 2020 Candidates, James Comey and Other Politicos Are Reading This Summer
From the frenzy of the 2020 presidential field to Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony to the unremitting tweets of @realDonaldTrump, summer 2019 has shown no signs of slowing down. But for those who can pry their eyes away from the news, even briefly, Politico Magazine here presents our annual summer reading list. We asked some of the most interesting people in politics—writers, activists, lawmakers, scholars and more—to tell us what book is at the top of their reading list and what they’re packing as a guilty pleasure on vacation. (We asked all the Democrats currently running for president for their reading recommendations; those not listed below declined to respond.) Ranging from histories of America’s past, like Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming, to poignant modern memoirs like Tara Westover’s Educated, to bestselling novels like Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone, this year’s selections span a variety of genres and forms. If you’re itching to fit in some reading this summer, grab your drink of choice and pair it with one of the following.
James Comey, former director of the FBI:
Right now, I’m reading The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, by Rick Atkinson. As for a guilty pleasure suggestion, I would recommend that Republicans read the Mueller report, maybe concealing it inside the cover of the latest work by a Fox News broadcaster so they aren’t judged negatively by their colleagues.
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice, religious liberty advocate, author and member of President Donald Trump’s legal team:
Gretchen Carlson, journalist, author and advocate for sexual harassment survivors:
These are at the top of my reading list: The Moment of Lift, by Melinda Gates, inspiring stories from around the world about women rising up and the greatness that happens when we do; Educated, by Tara Westover, an unbelievable journey of one woman to educate herself that inspires all of us to rekindle that fire in our belly to make the most of our lives (and it happens to be my son’s required reading this summer with parents!); Maid, by Stephanie Land, an empowering story of a woman determined to pull herself up in life through which we all feel stronger; and The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur, a book of poems, with one of my favorites being:
on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
thinking what can I do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther.
My beach read is The Most Fun We Ever Had, by Claire Lombardo, because every family has its issues, and by acknowledging that, we live truer lives and grow as people.
Beto O’Rourke, former congressman from Texas, currently a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
Ben Shapiro, political commentator, author and editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire:
The Adams-Jefferson Letters, edited by Lester Cappon, is great reminder that despite brutal political disagreements, those who share the founders’ vision are not enemies but brothers. And The Last Pirate of New York is a wild ride through Civil War-era American history from Rich Cohen, one of my favorite authors.
Alan Dershowitz, professor emeritus at Harvard Law School:
Marianne Williamson, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
At the top of my list is War on Peace, by Ronan Farrow. Transitioning from a war economy to a peace economy is high on my list of priorities, which is why as president I plan to establish a U.S. Department of Peace. Our national security agenda should not be guided by corporate profits for defense contractors, but solely by our legitimate security needs. I plan to make that happen. For the lighter read, I’m obsessively rereading anything by Jane Austen.
Alicia Garza, writer, co-founder of Black Lives Matter and special projects director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance:
For nonfiction, at the top of my reading list is How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi, a powerful follow-up to his first book, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. These are two really important books on how race is shaping America and what that means for our future. What’s important to me about these two books is that they not only tell the truth about how racist ideas translate into power, but also provide the counterweight with what we can all do to ensure that everyone gets to live a dignified life.
Unfortunately, my beach read also isn’t light, but it’s excellent nonetheless: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini is a master storyteller, and each one of his characters is so perfectly imperfect and human.
Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
David Petraeus, retired U.S. Army general and former director of the CIA:
I’ve already begun reading Ill Winds, by Larry Diamond, which provides a superb description of the state of democracy in America and around the world—and promises to explain to readers what is needed to shore up democracy at home and abroad. And also at the top of my list is Our Man, by George Packer, which reviewers have praised for its enormous insights not just on Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, with whom I was privileged to partner during his final mission as a diplomat, but also on the three wars in which he played significant roles.
Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago:
At the top of my list is Bluebird, Bluebird of the Highway 59 series. I like mysteries, especially if they deal with complicated issues around intersections of race and class. My guilty pleasure/fun reading is the magazine the Week.
Michael Bennet, senator from Colorado and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
John Delaney, former congressman from Maryland, currently a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House:
Daniel Silva’s The New Girl is at the top of my reading list. Every Daniel Silva novel is at the top of my reading list, and John Sandford novels are a close second!
Shaun King, writer and civil rights activist:
At the top of my summer reading list are two essential reads: The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias, by Dolly Chugh, and How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. Both get to the heart of how we can all actually make this world a much better place.
Alyssa Mastromonaco, author and former deputy chief of staff for operations in the Obama White House:
At the top of my list is Life Will Be the Death of Me, by Chelsea Handler. Chelsea is one of my most supportive friends, and this book is a gift to anyone who is interested in the journey to learn more about yourself, laugh your ass off and cry. Second is How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan. As someone whose life was changed immeasurably by medical marijuana, I am fascinated by the research and discussion of alternative therapies.
My guilty pleasure read is Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson And Learned to Love Being Hated, by Alison Arngrim. I love “Little House on the Prairie” and started rewatching it this year. My friend and I did research and found out that Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim were actually inseparable friends. I wanted to know more.
Ro Khanna, congressman from California:
Trade and rural America are always on my mind, so I’m currently reading Beth Macy’s Factory Man, about how one Virginia town came together to fight for American manufacturing. The book was a gift from that town’s congressional representative, Morgan Griffith. Our political views don’t always align on every subject, but this is a great opportunity to reach across the aisle for a story of American strength. My guilty pleasure for the summer will be following the Phillies. I try to follow the Warriors, but I started my baseball career playing little league in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, so that’s where my loyalties lie.
Gloria Allred, women’s rights attorney:
At the top of my reading list for the summer is the Mueller report. I feel that this is the most important book published this year and that I have a duty to read it in order to understand Russia’s role in the last election for president and why special counsel Robert Mueller felt that he could not exonerate President Donald Trump on charges that he obstructed justice. My guilty pleasure would be to read I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections, by Nora Ephron. I love her wit and honesty, and I know that this book will make me smile, even as I remember that she left this earth too soon.
Neal Katyal, former U.S. acting solicitor general and law professor at Georgetown:
At the top of my list is Tara Westover’s Educated. I recently met Tara and was taken by her brilliance and depth, and everyone I know who has read the book raves about it. My guilty pleasure reading is John Grisham’s The Firm. I’ve got a legal thriller I’ve been dying to write for a dozen years, and I worked out the plot back in 2007. But I want to learn how masters of the genre actually write. Plus, I love books like this.
Donna Brazile, political analyst, author and former chair of the DNC:
My list includes George Will’s The Conservative Sensibility, Henry Louis Gates’ Stony the Road, Jennifer Eberhardt’s Biased and Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage. I also have David Baldacci’s latest, Redemption.
Jay Inslee, governor of Washington and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
Right now, I’m currently reading and enjoying The Feather Thief, a caper about a young man who steals bird feathers from a museum in the United Kingdom. I just finished and highly recommend West with the Night, a memoir by Beryl Markham. It is an incredible adventure story, and one that highlights the power of perseverance. Another book I just finished is Freedom’s Forge, a story about the full-scale mobilization of the U.S. economy to defeat fascism during World War II. This story is especially relevant in this moment we’re in, as we will need that same type of mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.
Colin Powell, retired four-star U.S. Army general and former secretary of State:
Seth Moulton, congressman from Massachusetts and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
I’m looking forward to reading Leadership in Turbulent Times, by my friend Doris Kearns Goodwin. I gave signed copies to my staff for the holiday but haven’t had a chance to read it yet myself.
Dambisa Moyo, economist and author:
At the top of my list is Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, by Alan Eagle, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg. It’s an insightful book on a man with unique talents and attributes that helped shape one of the most important industries today. My guilty pleasure book is Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art, by Michael Shnayerson, a fun read on the key players and vagaries of the fascinating contemporary segment of the art market
Eric Swalwell, congressman from California and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate:
On my list are An American Summer, by Alex Kotlowitz, a chronicle of one summer in Chicago’s South Side and the impact of gun violence on a community, and Ada Twist, Scientist, by Andrea Beaty, a favorite of my daughter, Cricket. It’s even better when her 2-year-old brother tries reading it to her.
William Darity, author, professor of public policy, economics and African and African American studies and director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University:
My recommended serious read for the summer is Tanya Hernández’s book Multiracials and Civil Rights: Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination, a superb critical exploration of the evolution and political consequences of multiracial identities in the United States. My guilty pleasure read is Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha’s edited volume Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, a collection of short stories paying homage to the late Octavia Butler.
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