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Explore all of former United States President Barack Obama’s reading lists for Summer and beyond, all the way back from his first year in the Oval Office, 2009, until the present. Plus, get a printable PDF checklist to download and track your reading at the end of the post.

“Reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning possible.”

– Barack Obama
barack obama

President Obama’s book list started in 2009 as a Summer book list, often disclosed as he was on his own annual Martha’s Vineyard vacation (where I go each Summer too!), but it has since evolved into a mix that sometimes also includes yearly “best of” Obama book recommendations or, in a few cases, no list of books Obama read at all. As you may imagine, the former president recommends far more books now that he is “retired.”

Barack Obama’s favorite books are something I have eagerly anticipated for years now. In fact, I was quoted in Esquire’s article, Behind the Scenes of Barack Obama’s Reading Lists, as follows:

“For some, Obama’s recommendations have become highly anticipated. Julianne Buonocore, founder of the book and lifestyle blog The Literary Lifestyle, said that she and her 800,000+ monthly readers eagerly await Obama’s book list each year. ‘First, it’s exciting to see which books you’ve read that a former president has read too, and second, he always offers an array of diverse reads, so you know you’re also bound to find something new and impactful to read next,’ Buonocore said.”

– article by Sophie Vershbow

So, I have compiled (as best I could) all of President Barack Obama’s book lists from 2009 until the present below, in reverse chronological order. I used his own social media pages for most of my sourcing, then filled in the gaps with trustworthy resources I cited. I did not include book recommendations outside of the “official” lists, such as interviews where influential books in his life were discussed.

Where possible, I have also annotated specific titles on Barack Obama’s Summer reading lists and favorite books lists with my personal star ratings (on a scale of 1-5 stars) and accolades like awards and whether they were a celebrity book club pick, in order to further help you pick your next great read recommended by a former United States president.

Guide to Barack Obama’s Reading Lists for Summer & Beyond

Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2023

Former President Obama announced his 2023 list on July 20, 2023. He also announced his support in The Banned Book Club and, a few days earlier, issued a letter to the librarians of America:

Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond

Small Mercies by Dennis Lehan

King: A Life by Jonathan Eig

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano (Oprah’s Book Club; my review: 5 stars)

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

What Napoleon Could Not Do by DK Nnuro

The Wager by David Grann

Blue Hour by Tiffany Clarke Harrison

(See what books made Obama’s list of favorite books of the year.)

Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2022

Favorite Books:

Aouth to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature)

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (Read with Jenna book club; my review: 5 stars)

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (Winner of Canada Reads 2023)

The Furrows: A Novel by Namwali Serpell (Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize)

An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us by Ed Yong

Liberation Day by George Saunders

The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams by Stacy Schiff

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chane (Read with Jenna book club; Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel; Longlisted for the 2023 Carnegie Medal for Excellence; Shortlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize; Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel; Longlisted for the 2023 Carnegie Medal for Excellence; Shortlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize)

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Trust by Hernan Diaz (Longlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize)

(Source)

Summer Reading List:

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (Read with Jenna book club; my review: 5 stars)

Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks by Chris Herring

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

The Great Experiment: Why Diverse Democracies Fall Apart and How They Can Endure by Yascha Mounk

A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib (National Book Award Finalist)

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (Read with Jenna book club; Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel; Longlisted for the 2023 Carnegie Medal for Excellence; Shortlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize; Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel; Longlisted for the 2023 Carnegie Medal for Excellence; Shortlisted for The Center for Fiction 2022 First Novel Prize)

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Silverview by John le Carre

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2021

Favorite Books:

Aftershocks by Nadia Owuso

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang (Read with Jenna book club; my review: 3 stars)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner (my review: 5 stars)

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton (my review: 3 stars; 2022 Fiction Audie Award Winner)

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in An American City by Andrea Elliott (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (Read with Jenna book club; my review: 3 stars)

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers (Oprah’s Book Club; Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction; Finalist for the Kirkus Prize for Fiction; Shortlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize; Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize)

Matrix by Lauren Groff (Winner of the 2022 Joyce Carol Oates Prize; Finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction)

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett (my review: 4 stars)

(Source)

Summer Reading List:

At Night All Blood is Black by David Diop (Winner of the 2021 International Booker Prize; Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction; Shortlisted for the 2022 DUBLIN Literary Award)

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura (Longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award in Fiction)

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (GMA Book Club)

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (National Book Critics Circle Nominee)

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (Read with Jenna book club; Finalist for the 2020 National Book Award)

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir (Winner of the 2022 Audie Awards’ Audiobook of the Year)

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris (Oprah’s Book Club)

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen

Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future by Elizabeth Kolbert

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2020

Favorite Books:

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (Oprah’s Book Club; my review: 5 stars; Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist; Dayton Literary Peace Prize Finalist; PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction Finalist; PEN/Jean Stein Book Award Longlist)

Deacon King Kong by James McBride (Oprah’s Book Club; Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction; Winner of the Gotham Book Prize)

Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (Oprah’s Book Club)

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (Finalist for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction)

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C. Pam Zhang (Named a Best Book of 2020 by NPR; Longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize; Finalist for the 2020 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize)

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Jack by Marilynne Robinson (Oprah’s Book Club)

Long Bright River by Liz Moore (GMA Book Club; my review: 5 stars)

Luster by Raven Leilani

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson

Missionaries by Phil Klay

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsson

Twilight of Democrazy by Anne Applebaum

The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio (National Book Award Finalist)

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (GMA Book Club; my review: 5 stars; 2021 Women’s Prize Finalist)

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2019

Favorite Books:

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshanna Zuboff

The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymple

A Different Way to Win: Dan Rooney’s Story from the Super Bowl to the Rooney Rule by Jim Rooney

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

The Heartbeat of Woulnded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treur (Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award; Longlisted for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence)

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

Normal People by Sally Rooney (my review: 5 stars)

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

The Yellow House by Sarah H. Broom (Winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Nonfiction)

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

The Sixth Man by Andre Iguodala

Solitary by Albert Woodfox

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize)

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino (Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for Best Fiction Book)

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (Winner of the 2019 Book Award for Fiction)

We Live in Water: Stories by Jess Walter

(Source)

Summer Reading:

The collected works of Toni Morrison

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (my review: 4 stars; Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (Winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize; Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction)

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren (National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, Autobiography, 2016)

Inland by Tea Obreht

How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

Maid by Stephanie Land

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2018

Favorite Books:

Becoming by Michelle Obama (Oprah’s Book Club; my review: 5 stars; NAACP Image Award Winner)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Oprah’s Book Club; my review: 3 stars)

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

American Prison by Shane Bauer (Winner of the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize; Winner of the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism; Winner of the 2019 RFK Book and Journalism Award)

Arthur Ashe: A Life by Raymond Arsenault

Asymmetry by Lisa Haliday

The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die by Keith Payne

Educated by Tara Westover (my review: 5 stars; Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s Award in Autobiography; Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for Best First Book; Finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award; Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize)

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

Feel Free by Zadie Smith

Florida by Lauren Groff (Finalist for the National Book Award; Winner of the Story Prize)

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History)

Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging by Alex Wagner

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi was Thiong’o

A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature)

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (Winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize; Shortlisted for the Lionel Gelber Prize)

Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History by Mitch Landrieu

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson

Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Max Tegmark

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti

There There by Tommy Orange (Pulitzer Prize Finalist; my review: 4 stars)

The Truth by Hisham Matar (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Booker Prize Finalist)

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen

The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes

(Source)

Summer Reading:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (Oprah’s Book Club)

Educated by Tara Westover (my review: 5 stars; Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s Award in Autobiography; Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize for Best First Book; Finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award; Finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize)

Factfulness by Hans Rosling

A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Booker Prize Finalist)

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2017

Favorite Books:

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Winner of The Story Prize)

Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Finalist for the Booker Prize; Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction; The Aspen Words Literary Prize)

Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (my review: 5 stars)

Grant by Ron Chernow

Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein (Winner of the 2017 Financial Times; McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award)

The Power by Naomi Alderman

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward (Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction; Finalist for the Kirkus Prize; Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal)

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2016

Summer Reading:

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (my review: 5 stars)

H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize; Costa Book of the Year)

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Oprah’s Book Club; my review: 4 stars; Winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Winner of the National Book Award)

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2015

Summer Reading:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (my review: 3 stars; Winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Winner of the National Book Award)

All That Is by James Salter

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Winner of the National Book Award; Pulitzer Prize Finalist; National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist)

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (National Book Award Finalist; Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize)

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolber (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2014

Summer Reading:

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos (Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction finalist; Winner of the 2014 National Book Award in nonfiction)

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Dr. Atul Gawande (my review: 5 stars)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Winner of the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award; Longlisted for the National Book Award)

The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Winner of the Man Booker Prize)

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2013

President Obama did not share a list this year.


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2012

President Obama did not share a list this year.


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2011

Summer Reading:

The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Rodin’s Debutante by Ward Just

To the End of the Land by David Grossman

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award Winner)

(Source)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2010

Summer Reading:

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Oprah’s Book Club)

Tinkers by Paul Harding (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

A Few Corrections by Brad Leithauser

President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon

(Source: DC Library)


Barack Obama’s Reading List of 2009

Summer Reading:

Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Tom Friedman

John Adams by David McCullough (Winner of the Pulitzer Prize)

Lush Life by Richard Price

Plainsong by Kent Haruf

The Way Home by George Pelecanos

(Source)


Printable PDF of Barack Obama’s Reading Lists

book review and to be read list printables.

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Conclusion

That concludes all of former United States President Barack Obama’s reading lists for Summer and beyond, all the way back from his first year in the Oval Office, 2009, until the present. They include lots of award winners, diverse reads, and book club picks that make an impact.

To recap and help you decide what to read first or next, my top picks from Obama’s reading lists that I also read and gave 5 out of 5 stars are:

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5 Comments

  1. Do you offer a PDF printable list of all Obama’s reading lists, similar to your Oprah’s book club full list? I would really like to have one! Thanks!
    If you do, how to we access it?

    1. @Jules Buono, Thank you! I love PDF reading lists I can print out. At 66, I’m pretty old fashioned about paper lists, lol. Although I do use Goodreads now to keep track of what I’ve read.