Barack Obama has made it a tradition to release a list of favourite books, movies and music from each year. At the end of December 2019, Barack Obama released his list of favourite books from 2019. His list cuts across many genres and topics and incorporates both literal and nonfiction books. Here are 7 of the books that I think are absolute must-reads.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” by Shoshana Zuboff
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism is an absolute must-read and with good reason. Have you ever noticed how social media influences personal purchasing patterns? The old phrase goes, ’If it’s free, you’re the product’ but Zuboff disagrees with this. She argues the phrase should be ‘If it’s free, you’re the raw material.’
This version of capitalism in the era of technology negates the principle of the invisible hand as we know it. Tech companies are profiting from their products and then getting a lot more by acquiring behavioural patterns.
Zuboff clearly explains complex concepts such as Big Data and Big Brother. The book shows how tech companies profit from selling user data. People have allowed these companies to invade our lives without restriction. Zuboff poses an important idea of how we are surrendering our democracy without realising it. Although the book doesn’t offer a long term solution, it mentions the need to have tech companies take responsibility for the recklessness now. Anybody can acquire skills online to harm others then use the same platform to publicize and create a spectacle of say, terrorism. This is definitely a book you want on your Kindle or shelf and you can find it here.
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
After the success of her debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee tried to write a nonfiction crime thriller. However, she never wrote it. In Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, Casey Cep tells the story of the Alabama serial killer that Harper Lee had obsessed over in three parts.
Casey Cep tells the story Reverend Willie Maxwell, a preacher who killed five family members, one after another for insurance and escaped conviction because he had a good lawyer. Everybody in the community knew he was guilty but he escaped justice. Casey also writes about Harper Lee’s story as a writer. She uses Harper Lee’s notes from her research in the courtrooms and Alabama to tell both tales and then integrates that with her own research to achieve this captivating book. You can get a copy here.
“Girl, Woman, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo
It is common knowledge that Barack Obama is a firm supporter of women’s empowerment, so it’s no surprise that this book made it to his list. “Girl, Woman, Other” by Berdardine Evaristo tells the story of 12 characters, women living in contemporary Britain. The book effortlessly tackles feminism, black women and the challenges they have faced in the past, present and even touches on the future. The author touches on women coming from diverse backgrounds, families, culture, geographical locations in Britain and even sexuality. It interweaves these concepts with varying literal nuances. The book has received many deserved accolades and should definitely get into your to-read list. It is available here.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
It’s a story of young love and youthful experiences. Connell and Marianne are teenagers who have a deep connection yet they try to fight it. They both go to the same college and their different personalities begin to evolve. One delves into self-destructive behaviour as the other one looks for the meaning of life in a different way. Are they willing to go the extra mile to save each other? Normal People is refreshing because it does not try to dictate the life of the young people. It lets them go through the highs and lows of love while finding themselves like normal people. It is a book that elicits the emotions of the reader as you journey through the story. You can find it here.
Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion
After reading Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion you understand why this masterpiece made it to Barack Obama’s reading list. In her debut collection of essays, Jio Tolentino explores the impact of social internet on shaping the view of self. Being a millennial herself, she highlights the challenges of trying to see ourselves when everything around us provides an illusion. Her emotions and thoughts shift between courage, not knowing and then to bitterness as she shuns the culture of wanting everything to be more efficient and beautiful regardless of age. Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion is available here.
The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence and the Pillage of an Empire
Written by historian William Dalrymple, The Anarchy gives a detailed account of how the East India Company took over India. The company was formed by a group of investors from London in 1599. The founders got a royal charter which was ambiguous and allowed the company’s future directors to have jurisdiction over all English subjects in Asia. The company then took over almost the entire Indian subcontinent. The company then formed a government and a private army to further the company’s interests. The author tells the story of how these events took place and cautions about the signs to look out for in the mega-corporations that exist today. This book is illuminating and thrilling at the same time. You definitely see why Barack Obama liked it and why you should read it too. This book is available here.
Solitary by Albert Woodfox
How does a person stay mostly restrained for four decades and in 6ft by 9ft cell and maintain a fighting spirit? Albert Woodfox tells his story of hope and transformation despite 40 years in prison. As a teenager, Woodfox went down the wrong path and was arrested severally. He joined the Black Panther Party and adopted the moral values and code of living. In 1972, Albert Woodfox and another member of the Black Panther Party were accused of armed robbery. As a result of a flawed justice system, both were sentenced to life sentences in solitary. Despite all those years behind bars, Albert remained conscious of what bitterness would turn him into and instead chose positivity. The book gives an in-depth account of the rot in the US justice system from the account of a person who has experienced it for 40 years and is available here.