Barack Obama is a highly intellectual man, proved through two terms as a President known for his eloquence and mastery of language.

No one gets there without help, though, and one important facet of that is his insatiable desire to continue educating himself – which he does in part through a formidable reading list. Over the years, he’s shared his summer reading lists, bought books in full view of the press, and divulged the books that shaped him into the political powerhouse he was to become. So if you’re looking to expand your horizons, you could do worse than taking a leaf from the book of the 44th President of the United States.


Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

The classic tale of captain Ahab trying to take revenge on a white whale.

Self-Reliance (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

An essay on being individualist and unique.

Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison)

An intriguing novel, Morrison follows the life of an African-American man named Macon ‘Milkman’ Dead III.

Parting The Waters (Taylor Branch)

A three-volume history of the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.

Gilead (Marylinne Robinson)

The revered fictional autobiography of the Reverend John Ames, in the throes of a terminal heart condition.

Best and the Brightest (David Halberstam)

An account about the origin of the Vietnam War.

The Federalist Papers (Alexander Hamilton)

85 essays and articles to encourage the formalisation of the United States Constitution.

Souls of Black Folk (W.E.B. Du Bois)

A prominent sociology book centred on essays about race.

The Power and the Glory (Graham Greene)

A novel about the attempted suppression of Catholicism in Mexico, within the story of a renegade priest.

The Quiet American (Graham Greene)

A contemplative look at French colonialism in 1950s Vietnam being usurped by American culture.

Cancer Ward (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

A semi-autobiographical novel about cancer patients in Ward 13.

Gandhi’s autobiography

Gandhi’s autobiography – what more is there to say?

Working (Studs Terkel)

The meaning of work for different people, written by a famous radio broadcaster.

Wealth of Nations (Adam Smith)

A seminal work of classical economics, about what builds nations’ wealth.

Theory of Moral Sentiments (Adam Smith)

A collection of essays about ethics, philosophy, psychology, and other things.

All the King’s Men (Robert Penn Warren)

The life and times of fictional populist Willie Stark in the 1930s.