Barack Obama's favorite books list: Some of the authors in their own words

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

Former President Barack Obama recently released his annual list of his favorite books of the year. This year featured a variety of names, including four well-known figures who appeared on “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

“This has become a fun little tradition for me, and I hope it is for you, too,” Obama wrote on Facebook. “Because while each of us has plenty that keeps us busy—work and family life, social and volunteer commitments—outlets like literature and art can enhance our day-to-day experiences.”

One of Obama’s top picks was “The Sixth Man” by NBA player Andre Iguodala. The memoir tells the story of Iguodala’s journey from being an All-Star to becoming the sixth man off the bench for the Golden State Warriors championship team. 

Obama unveiled his annual list on Dec. 30. (Photo: Barack Obama/Facebook)

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions from the new generation, the rookies coming in,” Iguodala said on Influencers. “They always ask me about how business works. How do you carry yourself as a professional on a court? And I feel like it was just a perfect time to get that message to them, as well as the generation after, and still be able to have some room left.” 

‘I was so disheartened in the last presidential election’

Obama named books by three other Influencers guests in his book recommendations for 2019: “The Education of an Idealist” by Samantha Power, “Finding My Voice” by Valerie Jarrett, and “Tough Love: My Story of Things Worth Fighting For” by Susan Rice. 

“Part of what I tried to accomplish in my book is to encourage people to find their voices and recognize the power that each voice has, beginning with voting for example,” Jarrett told Serwer. “I was so disheartened in the last presidential election to see that 43% of eligible voters didn’t even participate. And I think everybody has a responsibility to participate. Because if we don’t, I assure you the special interest groups will go in there and fight for the status quo.”

During Obama’s time in the White House, Jarrett served as his senior advisor and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison. It’s this experience within government that fueled her to write her memoir, and why she believes civic engagement is so critical.

“My takeaway is that everybody needs to get involved,” she said. “And the midterm elections were heartening. I was delighted to see so many additional women elected to Congress. I think that it’s important that people who elect us represent the rich diversity of our country, and I think they’re breathing a breath of fresh air and shaking things up a little bit.” 

Jarrett explained that her memoir is an opportunity to use her voice to speak up for things she’s passionate about. 

“I’m really heartbroken to think that in a country such as ours — this great, great country — that we have this epidemic of gun violence,” she said. “Over 3,000 people die every single year. Two-thirds of them take their own lives. What are we going to do to change that?”

‘I’m deeply worried’

National Security Adviser Susan Rice talks with President Barack Obama before the afternoon plenary session of the Nuclear Security Summit, Friday, April 1, 2016, in Washington. (Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

For Rice, she wrote her memoir after becoming increasingly concerned with the direction the country was headed towards following the 2016 presidential election. 

“One of the many reasons I wanted to write this book — one of the most urgent reasons — is because I’m deeply worried that we’re at a point where our domestic political divisions threaten to undermine the stability of our democracy and very importantly, our national security,” she told Serwer. “And in the last chapter, in particular, I write about both — how I’m wrestling with that challenge in the microcosm of our family, where we’ve got kids from very different political points of view.” 

Rice has firsthand experience dealing with governmental affairs. She served as Ambassador to the United Nations during Obama’s first term and as national security advisor from 2013 to 2017. 

“The sort of urgent call that I try to make to Americans is to understand that we’ve been through very difficult patches in our history, more difficult patches than today, from the Civil War to the Vietnam era to 9/11,” Rice said. “But if we don’t recognize the urgency of this moment and understand that healing these divisions is an absolute necessity for our continued leadership, our strength, our ability to serve the economic and the security interests of this country, then we may well find ourselves before too long greatly diminished and corroded from the inside out.”

‘So many young people... really want to get involved politically’

Power explained that she wanted to use her position of privilege to speak out for the good of the country, which is why she wrote her memoir. 

“The only way to get a hearing in a way about America’s inclusivity, about the need for global cooperation, is to tell a good story,” Power told Serwer. “So I decided to go back to my journalistic days and try to mine my own life for moments that were reflective of larger issues that are facing our country and our people today.” 

As former ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration, Power noticed how young people often turned to her and others in power for guidance on how to change the world. 

“So many young people today really want to get involved politically,” Power said. “They see the planet warming, the inequality in our economy, conflict around the world, human rights recession. And they’re like, ‘I want to do something.’”

Power recognized that she was once in these young people’s positions and used that in her memoir. 

“One advantage of a memoir is that life is not lived retrospectively,” Power said. “It’s not lived with your CV already rounded out. It’s lived prospectively where you can stand at a number of crossroads with all kinds of doubts about whether you can make a difference. And many of the same thoughts that the young people I meet today were thoughts that I had.” 

Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at adriana@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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