Former President Barack Obama recommended many books during his two-term presidency. Business Insider culled through his top picks and found 21 titles that deal directly with race relations. Thanks to Margarite Ward who wrote the article. This adds more books to my I-need-to-read list.
“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In it’s [sic] most basic form, this intimate, powerful book is a letter from Coates to his 15-year-old son, Samori, on how to live in a black body in the US and how to reckon with the country’s past.
Toni Morrison said the book should be required reading.
Warren Bull: I found it be truly illuminating. The book that gave me the clearest idea od what it is like to be black.
“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” by David W. Blight
From the Associated Press:
In this historical biography, Blight examines the impact Fredrick Douglass had on the US. Douglass was a slave who escaped from his slave owners in Baltimore, Maryland, to become an influential orator and author after publishing the history-making “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”
Warren Bull: Douglass’ eulogy about Abraham Lincoln is insightful about how black Americans perceived the “Great Emancipator.”
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
From Barack Obama:
“From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the US and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity, and a home.”
“The World As It Is” by Ben Rhodes
From Barack Obama:
“It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.
“Lost Children Archive” by Valeria Luiselli
Luiselli’s best-selling novel follows a family on a road trip from New York to Arizona that grows increasingly tense as issues between the parents and children emerge. Meanwhile, the immigration crisis on the US-Mexico border unfolds, putting the family’s crisis in the context of a larger national one.
“The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present” by David Treuer
Academic and author Treuer combines in-depth reporting with storytelling in this best-selling piece on the history of the Native American people. The book covers everything from the rise of different tribal cultures to the seizure of their people’s land, forced assimilation, and resistance.
“The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kingston
In “The Woman Warrior,” Chinese-American author Kingston weaves together her family’s stories, her experience growing up, and ancient Chinese myths in a book that makes powerful statements on American identity.
“Lot: Stories” by Bryan Washington
Set in the bustling city of Houston, “Lot: Stories,” follows an eclectic group of characters on their individual journeys to find a place called home, including a young boy coming to terms with his gay identity, a family in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and a drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing.
“The Yellow House” by Sarah M. Broom
“The Yellow House” isn’t just a story about the author’s home in a neglected area of New Orleans, but a commentary on race and inequality in the US.
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama
“Obviously my favorite!” Barack Obama wrote in a 2018 Facebook post on his top books, which included his wife’s bestselling memoir.
Warren Bull: An articulate account of the Obama family by a wonderful writer and a woman who is, rightly, greatly admired.
“Solitary” by Albert Woodfox
Albert Woodfox shares his story of surviving more than 40 years confined to a cramped cell in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s “Angola” prison — for a crime he says he didn’t commit. The story is a powerful commentary on the prison and judicial system.
“The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead’s fiction piece follows a girl named Cora, a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia who faces brutal treatment. One day, she learns about the Underground Railroad from a friend, and the pair makes the life-changing decision to attempt an escape.
Warren Bull: Gripping and searing. Although this is a novel, sometimes fiction can give a greater emotional understanding than history books.
“Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison
Morrison, beloved African American novelist and essayist, won the 1993 Nobel Prize in literature for this work of fiction, which follows the story of the first African-American child to be born in the hospital.
“You can’t go wrong by reading or re-reading the collected works of Toni Morrison. Beloved, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye, Sula, everything else — they’re transcendent, all of them. You’ll be glad you read them,” Obama writes in his August 2019 book list.
“Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth” by Sarah Smarsh
Like the popular books “Janesville” and “Hillbilly Elegy,” “Heartland” paints a beautiful, but troubling, picture of America’s postindustrial decline.
“The Nickel Boys: A Novel” by Colson Whitehead
Set in the Jim Crow era, and based on a real school for boys that closed in 2011, Whitehead’s novel follows a young black man sent to a school that claims it turns bad boys into good men.
Obama calls the book “a necessary read.”
“The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” by Isabel Wilkerson
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author details one of the most important, but little-known stories in US history, the 1915 to 1970 migration of black citizens to the North and West from the South.