Front page of New York Times, January 16, 2017 — photo of President ObamaYesterday, the New York Times published a front-page article, "How Reading Nourished Obama During the White House Years." We have quoted parts of the article where Pres. Obama mentions authors and book titles, and noted where you can find these books at John Jay or across CUNY. For authors mentioned, we've pulled out just one or two notable works, but do check OneSearch to see our full holdings for each author.

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The writings of Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, Mr. Obama found, were “particularly helpful” when “what you wanted was a sense of solidarity,” adding “during very difficult moments, this job can be very isolating.” “So sometimes you have to sort of hop across history to find folks who have been similarly feeling isolated, and that’s been useful.”

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings. Located at Stacks E 457.92 1969

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. Ebook link

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?  Ebook link


An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mahatma Gandhi. Located at Stacks DS 481 .G3 A34813 1983 and as ebook

Gandhi in India, in His Own Words. Located at Stacks DS 481 .G3 A3 1987

Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Located at Stacks DT 1949 .M35 A3 1995 

Even books initially picked up as escape reading like the Hugo Award-winning apocalyptic sci-fi epic “The Three-Body Problem” by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin, he said, could unexpectedly put things in perspective: “The scope of it was immense. So that was fun to read, partly because my day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty — not something to worry about. Aliens are about to invade!”

The Three-Body Problem

Located at BMCC. Request from catalog (by Liu Cixin)

In his searching 1995 book “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama recalls how reading was a crucial tool in sorting out what he believed, dating back to his teenage years, when he immersed himself in works by Baldwin, Ellison, Hughes, Wright, DuBois and Malcolm X in an effort “to raise myself to be a black man in America.”

James Baldwin

Collected Essays, located at Stacks PS 3552 .A45 A16 1998

Go Tell It On the Mountain, located at Stacks PS3552 .A45 G62 2005

Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man, located at Stacks PS3555 .L625 I5 1995

Langston Hughes

Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, located at Stacks PS 3515 .U274 A6 1990

Richard Wright

Native Son, located on Reserve PS3545 .R815 N25 2005

Works (several novels and other writing) by Richard Wright, located at Stacks PS 3545 .R815 1991

W.E.B. DuBois

The Souls of Black Folk, located at Stacks E185.6 .D797 1990 and as an ebook

Black reconstruction (essay), located at Stacks E668 .D83 1956

Malcolm X

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, located at Stacks E 185.97 .L5 A3 1992 and as an ebook

Later, during his last two years in college, he spent a focused period of deep self-reflection and study, methodically reading philosophers from St. Augustine to Nietzsche, Emerson to Sartre to Niebuhr, to strip down and test his own beliefs.

St. Augustine

Confessions, located at Stacks BR65 .A6 E5 2008

Friedrich Nietzsche

The Portable Nietzsche (essays, letters, notes), located at Stacks B3312.E52 K3 1968

The Will to Power, located at Stacks B3313 .N5 1968

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essays & Lectures, located at Stacks PS 1605 1983

Jean-Paul Sartre

Nausea, located at Stacks PQ 2637 .A82 N3 1964

Reinhold Niebuhr

The Irony of American History, located at Stacks E744 .N5 2008

To this day, reading has remained an essential part of his daily life. He recently gave his daughter Malia a Kindle filled with books he wanted to share with her (including “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Golden Notebook” and “The Woman Warrior”).

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Located at Stacks PQ8180.17 .A73 C513 2006 (by Gabriel García Márquez)

The Golden Notebook

Located at Stacks PR6023 .E833 G6 1999 (by Doris Lessing)

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts

Located at Stacks CT 275 .K5764 A33 1989 (by Maxine Hong Kingston)

And most every night in the White House, he would read for an hour or so late at night — reading that was deep and ecumenical, ranging from contemporary literary fiction (the last novel he read was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”) to classic novels to groundbreaking works of nonfiction like Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction.”

The Underground Railroad

Located in many CUNY libraries: check locations or request from catalog (by Colson Whitehead)

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Located at Stacks BF441 .K238 2011 (by Daniel Kahneman)

The Sixth Extinction

Located at Stacks QE721.2 .E97 K65 2014 (by Elizabeth Kolbert)

...for instance, he found that Marilynne Robinson’s novels connected him emotionally to the people he was meeting in Iowa during the 2008 campaign, and to his own grandparents, who were from the Midwest, and the small town values of hard work and honesty and humility.

Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping, located in the Browsing Collection

Other novels served as a kind of foil — something to argue with. V. S. Naipaul’s novel “A Bend in the River,” Mr. Obama recalls, “starts with the line ‘The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.’ And I always think about that line and I think about his novels when I’m thinking about the hardness of the world sometimes, particularly in foreign policy, and I resist and fight against sometimes that very cynical, more realistic view of the world. And yet, there are times where it feels as if that may be true.”

A Bend in the River

Located at Stacks PR 9272.9 .N32 B4 1979 (by V.S. Naipaul)

He points out, for instance, that the fiction of Junot Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri speaks “to a very particular contemporary immigration experience,” but at the same time tell stories about “longing for this better place but also feeling displaced” — a theme central to much of American literature, and not unlike books by Philip Roth and Saul Bellow that are “steeped with this sense of being an outsider, longing to get in, not sure what you’re giving up.”

Junot Díaz

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, located at Stacks PS3554 .I259 B75 2007

Drown, located at Reserve PS3554 .I259 D76 1997

Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake, located at Stacks PS3562 .A316 N36 2003

Interpreter of Maladies: Stories, located at Stacks PS3562 .A316 I58 1999

Philip Roth

American Pastoral, located at Stacks PS 3568 .O855 A77 1997

Saul Bellow

Herzog, located at Stacks PS 3503 .E4488 H45 1964

He had lunch last week with five novelists he admires — Dave Eggers, Mr. Whitehead, Zadie Smith, Mr. Díaz and Barbara Kingsolver.

Dave Eggers

What is the What, located at Stacks PS3605 .G48 W43 2007

Colson Whitehead

The Colossus of New York: a City in Thirteen Parts, located at Stacks F128.55 .W54 2003

Zadie Smith

On Beauty, located at Stacks PR6069.M59 O5 2006b

White Teeth, located at Stacks PR6069 .M59 W47 2001 and the Browsing Collection

Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees, located at Stacks PS3561 .I496 P76 2000

Prodigal Summer, located at Stacks PS3561 .I496 P76 2000

Books by President Obama

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, located at Stacks E185.97 .O23 A3 2004

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, located at Stacks E901.1 .O23 A3 2006b

RCD • January 17, 2017