Barack Obama Shares a List of Enlightening Books Worth Reading

Photo by Pete Souza via obamawhitehouse.archive.gov

Whatever historians have to say about his political legacy, Barack Obama will be remembered as charming, diplomatic, thoughtful, and very well-read. He honed these personal qualities not only as a politician but as a scholar, writer, and teacher, roles that require intellectual curiosity and openness to other points of view. The former president was something of a dream come true for teachers and librarians, who could point to him as a shining example of a world leader who loves to read, talk about books, and share books with others. All kinds of books: from novels and poetry to biography, philosophy, sociology, and political and scientific nonfiction; books for children and books for young adults.

It is refreshing to look back at his tenure as a reliable recommender of quality books during his eight years in office. (See every book he recommended during his two terms here.) Reading gave him the ability to “slow down and get perspective,” he told Michiko Kakutani last year. He hoped to use his office, he said, “to widen the audience for good books. At a time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify—as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize—is more important than ever.”




While many people have been hoping he would weigh in on deeply disturbing current events, he “has been relatively quiet on social media of late,” notes Thu-Huong Ha at Quartz. But he has continued to use his platform to recommend good books, suggesting that the perspectives we gain from reading are as critical as ever. “In a Facebook post published on Saturday, Obama recommended some of the nonfiction he’s read recently, focused on government, inequality, and history, with one book that addresses immigration. Together the recommendations are an intellectual antidote to the current US president, who eschews reading,” says Ha.

The list below includes Obama’s brief commentary on each book and article.

Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging, by Alex Wagner (2018)

Journalist Alex Wagner investigates a potential new twist in her family’s history. “What she came up with,” Obama writes, “is a thoughtful, beautiful meditation on what makes us who we are—the search for harmony between our own individual identities and the values and ideals that bind us together as Americans.”

The New Geography of Jobs, by Enrico Moretti (2012)

Economist Enrico Moretti argues that there are three Americas: brain-hub cities like Austin and Boston; cities once dominated by traditional manufacturing; and the cities in between. “Still a timely and smart discussion of how different cities and regions have made a changing economy work for them,” writes Obama, “and how policymakers can learn from that to lift the circumstances of working Americans everywhere.”

Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen (2018)

Political scientist Patrick J. Deneen argues that liberalism is not the result of the natural state of politics and lays out the ideology’s inherent contradictions. “In a time of growing inequality, accelerating change, and increasing disillusionment with the liberal democratic order we’ve known for the past few centuries,” says the former president, “I found this book thought-provoking.”

“The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy,” by Matthew Stewart (June 2018)

In The Atlantic, Matthew Stewart, author of The Management Myth, defines a “cognitive elite,” a “9.9%” of Americans who value meritocracy and, he argues, are complicit in the erosion of democracy. “Another thought-provoking analysis, this one about how economic inequality in America isn’t just growing, but self-reinforcing,” says Obama.

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, by Mitch Landrieu (2018)

Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana, writes in his memoir of the personal history and reckoning with race that led him to take down four Confederate statues in 2017. “It’s an ultimately optimistic take from someone who believes the South will rise again not by reasserting the past, but by transcending it,” writes Obama.

“Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life,” by Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich, RAND Corporation (2018)

This report for the nonprofit RAND Corporation, available as a free ebook, attempts to study the erosion of fact-based policy making and discourse in the US. “A look at how a selective sorting of facts and evidence isn’t just dishonest, but self-defeating,” says Obama.

While the former president no longer has the power to sway policy, he can still inspire millions of people to read—essential for staying balanced, informed, and reflective in our perilous times.

Related Content:

Pres. Obama Releases a Free Playlist of 40 Songs for a Summer Day (Plus 6 Books on His Summer Reading List)

The 5 Books on President Obama’s 2016 Summer Reading List

The Obama “Hope” Poster & The New Copyright Controversy

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Download James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty as a Free Audio Book

A quick heads up: The former director of the FBI James Comey has now officially released A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. The 304-page memoir gives you an inside look at Comey's long career in law enforcement. But it's mostly gaining attention because of what Comey has to say about his controversial interactions with Donald Trump--interactions which, The New York Times correctly observes, set "in motion a cascade of political and legal consequences that led directly to the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election."

You can now buy A Higher Loyalty in hardback and Kindle formats. Or if you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber or not. No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. A Higher Loyalty can be one of them. It runs 9 hours and is narrated by Comey himself. To sign up for Audible's free trial program here, follow the prompts/instructions on this page.

NB: Audible is an Amazon.com subsidiary, and we're a member of their affiliate program. Also, this post is not an endorsement of the book.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

175+ College Admissions Offices Promise Not to Penalize High School Students Who Get Suspended for Protesting Peacefully Against Gun Violence

Image by Lorie Shaull, via Flickr Commons

“Will my admission get rescinded if I get suspended for engaging in a school walk-out meant to bring attention to the school shooting issue?” That's a question many high school students have posed to college admissions offices around the country, especially after some high school officials threatened to suspend students taking part in anti-gun demonstrations.

Many leading universities have since issued policy statements and given these students their blessing and support. In a post called "In Support of Student Protests," Hannah Mendlowitz, from Yale's Admissions Office, writes:

[W]e continue to get the question: will Yale look unfavorably upon discipline resulting from peaceful demonstrations?

The answer is simple: Of course not.

To the students who have reached out to us with these concerns, we have made clear that they should feel free to participate in walk-out events to bring attention to this issue without fear of repercussion. Yale will NOT be rescinding anyone’s admission decision for participating in peaceful walkouts for this or other causes, regardless of any high school’s disciplinary policy. I, for one, will be cheering these students on from New Haven.

And on the official Twitter feed for the Brown University, a tweet reads:

Applicants to Brown: Expect a socially conscious, intellectually independent campus where freedom of expression is fundamentally important. You can be assured that peaceful, responsible protests against gun violence will not negatively impact decisions on admission to Brown.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Below, find a list of 175+ universities that have granted similar assurances, along with links to their statements. The list comes from Alex Garcia, who is maintaining a regularly-updated Google Doc. Access it online here.

Again, you can refer to this Google Doc for more updates.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Robert Reich Makes His UC Berkeley Course on Wealth and Inequality in America Available on Facebook

Robert B. Reich served as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and was later named one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century by TIME Magazine. Nowadays, Reich teaches courses on public policy at UC Berkeley, and uses his popular Facebook page to discuss policy questions with a much broader audience. So here's the next the logical step: This semester, Reich is teaching a Berkeley course on wealth and inequality in America, and he's making the lectures themselves available on Facebook too. Watch the opening lecture above, and then check back in for new installments.

Note: Once you start playing the video, you might need to enable the audio in the lower right hand corner of the video player.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

Robert Reich Debunks Three Economic Myths by Drawing Cartoons

Free Online Political Science Courses

Free: Listen to John Rawls’ Course on “Modern Political Philosophy” (Recorded at Harvard, 1984)

David Byrne Launches the “Reasons to Be Cheerful” Web Site: A Compendium of News Meant to Remind Us That the World Isn’t Actually Falling Apart

Whatever your ideological persuasion, our time has no doubt given you more than a few reasons to fear for the future of civilization, not least because bad news sells. Musician, artist, and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has certainly felt the effects: "It seems like the world is going to Hell. I wake up in the morning, look at the paper, and go, 'Oh no!'," he writes. "Often I’m depressed for half the day." But he writes that on the front page of his new project Reasons to Be Cheerful, which began as a quasi-therapeutic collection of pieces of "good news that reminded me, 'Hey, there's actually some positive stuff going on!'" and has grown into an online observatory of world improvement.

What kind of positive stuff has Byrne found? He identifies certain common qualities among the stories that have caught his eye: "Almost all of these initiatives are local, they come from cities or small regions who have taken it upon themselves to try something that might offer a better alternative than what exists." These adjustments to the human condition tend to develop in a "bottom up, community and individually driven" manner, they happen all over the world but could potentially work in any culture, all "have been tried and proven to be successful" and "can be copied and scaled up" without the singular efforts of "one amazing teacher, doctor, musician or activist."




The stories collected so far on Reasons to Be Cheerful fall into several different categories. In Civic Engagement, for example, he's found a variety of effective examples of that practice in his travels back and forth across the United States. In Health, he writes about efforts to end the war on drugs in places like Vancouver, Colorado, and Portugal. As anyone who's followed Byrne's writing and speaking about cycling and the infrastructure that supports it might imagine, this side also includes a section called Urban/Transportation, whose first post deals with the global influence of bike share systems like Paris' Velib and bike-only street-closure days like Bogotá's Ciclovia.

In Culture, Byrne writes about the rise of a form of music called AfroReggae that offers an alternative to a life of crime for the youth of Brazil's favelas, the distinctive libraries established at the end of Bogotá's rapid bus lines and in poor parts of Medellín, and even some of his own work related to the recording and tour design of his own upcoming album American UtopiaAmerican Utopia in the year 2018? That might sound awfully optimistic, but remember that David Byrne is the man who once went on an artistic speaking tour about his love of Powerpoint. If he can see the good in that, he can see the good in anything.

Visit Byrne's Reasons to Be Cheerful site here.

Related Content:

David Byrne’s Graduation Speech Offers Troubling and Encouraging Advice for Students in the Arts

David Byrne: From Talking Heads Frontman to Leading Urban Cyclist

The Philosophy of “Optimistic Nihilism,” Or How to Find Purpose in a Meaningless Universe

The Power of Pessimism: Science Reveals the Hidden Virtues in Negative Thinking

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How to Download Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House Now as a Free Audiobook?: Check Out Audible’s 30-Day Free Trial

Despite cease and desist orders issued by the president's lawyers, Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is now out and it's the #1 bestselling book on Amazon. If you want a print copy, you'll have to wait 2-4 weeks. But there are some more immediate options: You can instantly snag a copy in Kindle format (price $14.99). Or download it as an audio book essentially for free.

If you start a 30 day free trial with Audible.com, you can download two free audio books of your choice. At the end of 30 days, you can decide whether you want to become an Audible subscriber or not. (I definitely recommend the service and use it every day.) No matter what you decide, you get to keep the two free audiobooks. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House can be one of them. It runs 12 hours.

To sign up for Audible's free trial program here, follow the prompts/instructions on this page.

NB: Audible is an Amazon.com subsidiary, and we're a member of their affiliate program. Also, this post is not an endorsement of the book. (We haven't read it yet.) It's simply an fyi on how you can "read" a bestselling book that's in short supply.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free

Gonzo Illustrator Ralph Steadman Draws the American Presidents, from Nixon to Trump

A 1958 TV Show Had an Unsavory Character Named “Trump” Who Promised to Build a Wall & Save the World

Net Neutrality Explained and Defended in a Doodle-Filled Video by Vi Hart: The Time to Save the Open Web is Now

By the end of December, net neutrality may be a thing of the past. We'll pay the price. You'll pay the price. Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will make out like bandits.

If you need a quick reminder of what net neutrality is, what benefits it brings and what you stand to lose, watch Vi Hart's 11-minute explainer above. It lays things out quite well. Then, once you have a handle on things, write or call Congress now and make a last stand for the open web.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

More in this category... »
Quantcast