A political reading list

This list used to live in a much-forwarded email, but after 2 different people (a community organizer working for immigrants’ rights in the South Bay and a shiny new scheduler for a member of Congress) asked for it this week, I decided to share it in a more public space.

I have had the privilege of staffing some pretty cool people, but back in 2014 I was looking at my first staffing job and had no idea how to be good at it. So I stress-texted one of my friends from DC who had been a staffer on the Hill.

He told me that the best staffers in our country’s history had staffed our presidents, so I should read presidential biographies, look for how their staff helped them, and then do that.

The ~15 biographies he gave me to read (and that I read in my first few months as a staffer on my evenings in my tiny rental room in Olympia or listened to on my long drives home to Seattle at the end of the week) are the core of this list. I’ve also added political memoirs that have come-out since then.

The rest of the list are books that help staffers understand where people who are not like them are coming from — because one of the joys of public service is helping people who are not like you. These books give me frameworks, new languages, social and historical contexts; probably the simples description of what these books give me is humility, the knowledge that there are worlds to which I have never been and others call home, and my job is to listen to them and try to build bridges between our worlds. I’m an omnivorous reader, so I take that lesson from fiction, poetry, comics, essays and fairytales.

4/5 of these are books I’ve read, and the rest are books I’ve bought are am getting around to reading. I *ed all of the ones which are biographies or memoirs of high-ranking political figures and bolded those which I’ve read at least 2x. I thought about breaking this up into political and not political, but I happen to think A Little Prince has delightful political lessons and On Basilisk Station has advice for leadership I use all the time.

Let me know what other books you would recommend?

  1. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
  2. United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good*
  3. Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History*
  4. The President’s Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America’s Presidents from Kennedy to Obama*
  5. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays
  6. A Thousand Mornings: Poems
  7. New and Selected Poems, Volume One
  8. Upstream: Selected Essays
  9. Uncommon Carriers
  10. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Modern Library Paperbacks) + the Sequel, Theodore Rex*
  11. The Little Prince
  12. 12 of The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances
  13. A Fighting Chance*
  14. Forgetting to Be Afraid: A Memoir*
  15. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
  16. Tropic of Orange
  17. On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington)
  18. Library: An Unquiet History
  19. Campaign Boot Camp: Basic Training for Future Leaders
  20. Dreadnought: Nemesis – Book One
  21. Smart on Crime
  22. An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873
  23. Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction
  24. Annals of the Former World (read the first book and audio-booked the other 4)
  25. Bad Land: An American Romance (Vintage Departures)
  26. Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair
  27. Seveneves: A Novel (every. single. book. by Neal Stephenson. Except for the Baroque trilogy, unless you like them)
  28. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace
  29. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel
  30. The Cold Dish: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 1)
  31. High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never (the essay “Stone Soup” I have re-read a dozen times)
  32. A Fighting Chance*
  33. Hard Choices*
  34. Living History*
  35. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America (So. Helpful. So much hidden history.)
  36. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  37. The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure
  38. Inside a U.S. Embassy: Diplomacy at Work, All-New, Third Edition of the Essential Guide to the Foreign Service
  39. Realities of Foreign Service Life
  40. The Master of Disguise: My Secret Life in the CIA
  41. America’s Other Army: The U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy
  42. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (so many good geopolitical analogies)
  43. Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing
  44. Chalice (everything by this author, particularly Sunshine)
  45. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power*
  46. The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope Paperback *
  47. Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey Paperback*
  48. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II*
  49. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln*
  50. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt and the Golden Age of Journalism*
  51. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963*
  52. Faith of My Fathers: A Family Memoir Paperback*


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