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As the year 2023 winds to a close and “best book” lists are released, let’s unveil and analyze former U.S. President Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2023! An avid reader and pop culture enthusiast, he’s known for releasing his famous Obama’s Summer reading list in addition to his favorite books of the year, both of which readers flock to for inspiration and to see how their reading stacks up against a former world leader.

Here are the books Barack Obama picked as his favorites in 2023:

Barack Obama’s Favorite Books of 2023

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

The Maniac by Benjamin Labatut

Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond

How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair (Read with Jenna pick)

The Wager by David Grann

Chip War by Chris Miller

The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

Humanly Possible by Sarah Bakewell

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (Oprah’s Book Club pick)

The Best Minds by Jonathan Rosen

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory by Tim Alberta

Some People Need Killing by Patricia Evangelista

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

Review of the List

illustrated image of barack obama.

The 2023 list of Barack Obama’s favorite books is, for the most part, unsurprising. He’s a profound reader and has selected books that are all highly acclaimed bestsellers that have earned countless awards and topped all the best book lists.

The most unsurprising picks are The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese (the Oprah’s Book Club pick virtually everyone has raved about), The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride (which has topped so many end of the year lists and earned Barnes & Noble’s book of the year award), and The Wager by David Grann (which hails from an author known for really immersive narrative nonfiction — Killers of the Flower Moon).

I’m also not surprised to see Lauren Groff make this list with The Vaster Wilds as her work is so popular with literary types.

Obama also always includes a few political or historical picks, and Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond and King: A Life by Jonathan Eig check those boxes.

It was surprising not to see Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano on this list, as he included it on his Summer reading list and so many others are calling it the best (or one of the best) of the year. It also takes place in Chicago and the main character is a basketball player — two things to which Obama can relate.

I thought he’d sneak Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead in here too. While published in late 2022, it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2023 and tackles the opioid epidemic with empathy that is unparalleled. Between the social themes and literary style, I thought this was a shoe-in for Obama’s list.


If you want to read like a former president in 2024, then dive headfirst into Barack Obama’s favorite books of 2023. It’s a prolific list of noteworthy bestsellers that have all earned high praise this year.

If you’re unsure where to start, try The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese or How to Say Babylon by Safiya Sinclair, since they were also popular celebrity book club picks this year and thus have the recommendation of multiple notable readers. For men especially, The Wager by David Grann is another good choice as “A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder.”


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