We Asked, You Answered: What Books Would You Recommend for the Presidential Candidates?

We’re making it pretty clear who we are supporting this election cycle: books. Co-opting a familiar campaign slogan, we’ve been trumpeting #MakeAmericaReadAgain for months and recommending book after book to catch up on current events. But then we had a great question: what if we could make a reading list for our presidential candidates? What books should they be reading? So, we crowd-sourced your responses and collected our favorites below. Is there an overwhelming theme, you ask? Here’s a hint, a lot of you think our politicians could use a little more compassion. Have a suggestion? Leave it in the comments!


Freedom Is A Constant Struggle by Angela Davis
Melissa, Chicago
We have a lot of work to do to make America great for our citizens. Buzzwords mean nothing if we are unable to acknowledge that we are a flawed nation but all of our struggles are connected.

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Alicia, Chicago
It’s a great work of historical fiction and the characters are layered and complex and craftily intertwined. It’s really about empathy, something all of us need more of.

White Trash by Nancy Isenberg
Elisa, Brooklyn
This 400 year history of class in America covers all the issues the candidates aren’t talking about, but need to be.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Caitlin, St. Louis

Because democracy is a precious gift that gives hope and fairness and helps people to become their best and anything less than that is subhuman and brings out the worst in humans and causes decay and stagnation. Ayn Rand valued democracy over socialism. And she was a fighter and knew the freedoms in truth.

The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt
Carrie, Richmond, VA
A powerful and comprehensive work on the subject of totalitarian governments. Arendt traces the development of the forces that led to the rise of Hitler and Stalin as dictators. She focuses on the transformation of societies, the spreading of ideas, and the practice of instilling terror into citizens by these regimes to solidify their power. It’s an important work that demonstrates how seemingly insignificant social currents gain momentum and can have disastrous consequences.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
Chris, Washington
It is the most eloquent expression I have ever read of the fundamental human need for compassion towards oneself and others. Our political system tends toward so much hate, and in that hate we lose the underlying ability to have compassion for other human beings, regardless of race, class, gender, religious affiliations, immigration status, etc.

Orations by Cicero 
Alisa, Ventura

Cicero held high ideals of the responsibilities to which our political leaders should adhere and when their actions fell short made no bones publicly calling them out with such brilliance and eloquence that those targeted were at a loss for words, though in the instance of listing the crimes of Mark Antony he did lose his head.

Inside Ferguson by Devin S. James
Melissa, Chicago
Inside Ferguson and the accompanying study guide are tools that will help shed light on cultural disparities among ethnic groups as it relates to systemic discrimination. There is an overwhelming need to address systemic oppression on all levels in America in order for our society to progress and overcome the hauntings of our past. The book isn’t just about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri it is catalyst for change as a discussion tool with the intention of creating a paradigm shift in order to bring all of our communities together.

The Circle by Dave Eggers
Sara, Philadelphia

I would recommend this book because it speaks to the level of malleability people can have in their opinions and the way they think. I believe this book expresses a genuine fear of what can happen when you get pulled into an idea or way of thinking that is destructive yet so completely unyielding that the idea of having an original thought, wanting change, or even just expressing yourself genuinely becomes unfathomable.

The War on Science by Shawn Otto
Nicole, New York
In the 2008 presidential election, news anchors asked candidates 2500+ questions in 171 interviews. 6 of those questions related to climate science. 3 were about UFOs. Our collective future depends on whether or not citizens, politicians, and journalists will accept that “science matters” (a statement both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders actually spoke at the DNC, and which the Republican candidate and Republican platform blatantly denies), and whether or not we will all put the effort into ensuring a planet habitable for years to come. Otto’s book shows how both the right and left have devalued and silenced scientists, and also offers multiple concrete plans for moving forward. A dense read, but absolutely essential material for us all.

Dissent: The History of an American Idea by Ralph Young 
Raphael, Flushing

The ability to dissent is a founding idea and principle of our nation and democracy. This wonderful history by Ralph Young should be required reading for anyone taking up the mantle of the President of the United States.

The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism by Yuval Levin
Wesley, Fort Washington
A treasure of a book and a road map to the future in our fractured, individualist era we are now living in. Levin states that, “Too many Americans are detached from some core sources and channels of human flourishing — family, work, faith, and community. The challenges of governing are great. But they are made made even greater than they have to be by our inability to grasp our circumstances as their are.”

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Wendy, Simssbury

This book is what it is all about to be compassionately human.


Some of our staff picks:

Cynthia G.: I would want them to read either ‘We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families’ by Philip Gourevitch or ‘One of Us: Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway’ by Åsne Seierstad. Both are important books to read because they remind people of the destruction hate can bring.

Peter E.: Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes — Arguably the greatest and definitely the longest account of a single presidential election, this exhaustive, impassioned 1000+ page epic of the circus in ’88 might, with any luck, keep the candidates so wrapped up that they forget to keep campaigning. ha ha ha

Jane J.: “We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie!! Plain and in simple language but still a good direct introductory definition of feminism. Every 16 year old in Sweden is getting one; the U.S. should aim to do the same!

Kaylen H.: “All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister. DUH.

Cale H.: I would love it if anyone/everyone would read “I Like You” by Sandol Warburg. This election cycle desperately needs some humanity and this little book is packed with it. It’s one of my favorite books and it gets right to the heart of being a caring human. Which is something a lot of these politicians could use.

Tony W.: I would have Donald Trump read “Everyone Poops,” because he’s full of shit. Also, because the most important lesson from this book is that we’re all the same inside. I would have Hillary Clinton read “Pinocchio”. You know, because she kind of lies a lot. Though I still love her.

Amanda W.: Donald Drumpf needs to read “Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman because Drumpf has to learn that we are all part of the universe: “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

Lizzy N.: “Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury! It forewarns of what happens when people start destroying the things they don’t understand and the culture that came before them because they fear it.

Rochelle T.: My recommendation is for both candidates: Dave Eggers — “Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?Both candidates could benefit from thinking about how they would respond to an angry millennial who holds them hostage in a deserted warehouse demanding answers for the actions they took to be successful. Just saying.



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