Over this last year, I have had the privilege to read countless books as part of my academic studies as well as for personal pleasure, and with the year coming to an end, I feel it is necessary to review many of the most important books I have read. These books range through a variety of subjects, from history books to detective mysteries and political commentary, down to science fiction and fantasy. It is my hope that some of you might have a chance to read some of these books, which provides insights into our history, the world, culture, and dozens of different fields and subjects.
These books are not in any particular order.
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey is a memoir written by the former FBI Director after being fired in May 2017 by President Donald Trump, an event which ignited the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Serving with honor and distinction in his role, Comey was caught up in the chaos of the 2016 Presidential election, infamously transforming the election into a nail-biter at the last minute, and later beginning an investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement and collusion with the Russian government. In the book, Comey examines his own life, and it is an interesting insight into one of the most consequential political figures of the decade.
Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin is an extremely prescient book about political and personal leadership at the time where the nation is lacking it. Exploring the four Presidents she had written about in the past—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson—she looks at them through the lenses of leadership, and how leaders are not born, but instead forged through their life experiences and actions. At a time where the current occupant of the White House lacks the leadership skills of those who came before him, this book is a necessary examination of four of the men who previously held the office.
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin was one of the most unique books I read this year. Originally published in 1961 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Griffin, a white man, disguised himself as a black man for six weeks in 1959, traveling through five states in the Deep South, including Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The purpose of Griffin’s project was to explore life from the perspective of the victims of segregation and racist policies at the time and worked to help people understand what African-Americans in the Deep South were facing. This is an excellent primary source from the time of an unusual and historic chapter of the period, and it shows how far we still must go as a country.
Lords of the Sea: The Epic Story of the Athenian Navy and the Birth of Democracy by John Hale is a work that explores the rise of Athens following the Greco-Persian Wars and is a fascinating examination of one decision that turned Classical Athens into a hegemonic power in the Aegean Sea and Greek World. In addition to generally being a new military history, Hale explores Classical Athens through interdisciplinary means, discussing how the rise of a navy impacted the Athenian economy, culture, and democracy. For anyone interested in Ancient Greece, this is a must-read.
These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore is a book unlike any other written in the modern age by a historian. A single-volume history of the United States, Lepore seeks to discuss America’s founding and the values passed on by the Founding Fathers, and questions whether those values and beliefs and asks if we as a nation lived up to them. Outside of it being a single-volume history, which is by itself an impressive feat, anyone interested in American history would be remiss in not looking at this book.
Fire and Blood by George R.R. Martin and Doug Wheatly is the newest addition to the universe of A Song of Ice and Fire, the epic and realistic fantasy series that is dramatized by HBO’s Game of Thrones. In this book, Martin explores the history of the Targaryen dynasty from the perspective of a Westerosi maester. Exploring Aegon’s Conquest which forged the Seven Kingdoms in the proverbial blood and fire, the author expands his fantasy universe with even more information about the Targaryens. Although this means that the next book in A Song of Ice and Fire’s narrative is likely delayed even further, this is a much-needed and welcome book.
Becoming by Michelle Obama is a fascinating look at the life and views of the former First Lady of the United States, holding that position from 2009 to 2017. Outside of those eight years in the White House with her husband, President Barack Obama, she has had a life of accomplishment. First exploring her childhood and then her life from then until the White House. Outside of the emotional impact this book has, it also gives insight into the mind of the former First Lady and a unique look at what life is like inside the White House. This book is vital to understanding one of the most impactful First Ladies our nation has ever had, and in disseminating needed lessons about leadership.