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Barack Obama’s Top 5 Must Reads

Former President Barack Obama is an eager bookworm with wide-ranging reading habits covering everything from American classics to philosophy. Here are 5 of his favorite nonfiction books, which are available in the Blinkist app.
by Rob Gillham | Dec 3 2021

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, Americans read 25% more in 2020 than in previous years. But, that still amounted to just 20 minutes of reading per day. That means, to get through a long nonfiction book — while navigating family commitments, cooking dinner, or raising a family— it could take you months.

Imagine having “president of the United States” on your list of responsibilities while trying to find time for reading. Well, Barack Obama managed to maintain a healthy reading habit while leading the US for two terms. In fact, in an interview, Obama credited books with giving him the strength to survive his eight years in the White House. Throughout his political life, Obama has embodied this quote from his predecessor, former POTUS Harry S. Truman: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

Barack Obama has recommended so many great nonfiction titles over the years that there are simply too many to mention. We have whittled them down to five that we think to represent the breadth of different titles that you can enjoy with Blinkist — where nonfiction is simplified.

Blinkist is an award-winning knowledge app that breaks down lengthy nonfiction books into their core concepts. You can get through a Blinkist explainer pack in as little as 15 minutes and even take learning with you using the app’s audio function.

“Blinkist encourages you to read more nonfiction books. The app contains cleverly written digests—called Blinks—where books are broken down into their main arguments.”
– The New York Times

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom is Nelson Mandela’s journey from imprisonment to freedom. The book details the events that made him instrumental in fighting racial oppression in South Africa and ultimately changing the country’s political system.

“Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history — and then go out and change it,” Obama said in 2018.

Get the key ideas with Blinkist in just 21 minutes.

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

During his first presidential run, Barack Obama was asked which book he would take to the White House. His answer: Team of Rivals.

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s landmark work is a fascinating study of how Abraham Lincoln’s decision to assemble a cabinet that included his political rivals shaped one of the most significant periods in the United States.

Speaking to a journalist in 2008, Obama called it a “remarkable study in leadership”, so perhaps it’s no surprise he took Lincoln’s experiences to heart when assembling his cabinet.

Get the key ideas with Blinkist in just 19 minutes.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Between 1915 and 1970, almost six million Black citizens left the southern States searching for a better life in the north and west of the country.

In her definitive account of this period, Isabel Wilkerson meticulously chronicles stories of exhausting cross-country journeys and the hope of starting over.

When awarding her the National Humanities Medal in 2016, Obama said: “More than 1,200 people told [Isabel] their families’ stories of heartbreak and endurance and ultimately overcoming – stories they often found too painful to share even with their children. And through it all, she had to conquer the enormity of her task and prove wrong the doubts of others. And because she did, one of the most important chapters in our history is told in a book any young person can pick up and read.”

Get the key ideas with Blinkist in just 16 minutes.

Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark

With many of us using voice assistants like Siri or owning smart speakers, it’s not hard to see how artificial intelligence already plays a massive part in our daily lives.

In this eye-opening read, which featured on Obama’s 2017 reading list, MIT professor Max Tegmark explores the many ways AI might affect our lives in the next era of civilization – a truly technological age – while ensuring it remains beneficial to humanity.

Get the key ideas with Blinkist in just 13 minutes.

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

In this National Book Award-winner, Ibram X. Kendi explores the entire history of racist ideas, from 15th century Europe to the present-day USA, and their power to shape the course of history.

Somewhat surprisingly, Kendi reveals, racist ideas didn’t come from ignorance or hatred but were devised by some of the world’s greatest thinkers to justify or reinforce existing discrepancies in many areas of life.

Writing during Black History Month, Obama shared a non-fiction reading list to “help to provide some essential context about the challenges that many people of color face every day… [these works can] be fuel on our journey toward a more fair and just future for all of our sons and daughters”.

Get the key ideas with Blinkist in just 18 minutes.

The Best of a Book in 15 Minutes

If you’re not a voracious reader like Barack Obama, nonfiction can take a long time to get through. It can take nearly three hours to read 100 pages for the average reader, so to finish a bestselling book like Obama’s recommended Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark may take you nine hours.

With Blinkist, nonfiction can become a daily habit, as each explainer pack can be enjoyed in as little as 15 minutes. Thus, Blinkist can become your companion for coffee break entertainment. Plus, if a particular title interests you, the app contains directions to where you can buy the full text. For audio lovers, you can even download the entire audiobook in the app.

Bipartisan Books

The Blinkist library has a bipartisan selection of nonfiction books about politics.

You may be thinking that Blinkist only has collections for Democrats like Barack Obama, but you would be mistaken. You can get a Republican view from On the House by former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner, then go on to discover what Donald Trump Jr. has to say in his book Triggered.

“When building our library, we strive to include all significant viewpoints on topics that matter. […] We empower our users by providing them with the full scope of information available so that they can make informed decisions on topics that concern them.”
– Robyn Kerhof, Selection and Curation Lead at Blinkist

The Blinkist team gives you the same balanced view for scientific topics, too, so you can make up your mind about complex debates. For example, you can consider the benefits of eating animal protein from The Wild Diet by Abel James, then learn about a plant-based diet from The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell. So, by exposing you to multiple opinions, Blinkist is empowering potential thought leaders to make their own informed choices.

Dabble in New Topics from a Huge Library

With over 5,000 titles across 27 categories, there’s no limit to what you can learn with Blinkist. For example, in just 15 minutes, you can learn how to boost your body’s natural defenses with the explainer pack for Super Immunity by Joel Fuhrmann, M.D. Or, if you’ve always wanted to learn more about the universe, you can explore the science & nature category.

“Our publication mix is rich in variety and delivers content from a wide range of topics and categories to serve everyone’s interests and to keep inspiring our users to learn and grow.”
– Robyn Kerkhof, Selection & Curation Lead at Blinkist

Plus, the Blinkist app is designed to tailor itself to you. As you start learning with Blinkist, the app uses sophisticated algorithms to suggest new titles for you to enjoy and helps you build your reading list based on your preferences. There’s so much to choose from in the Blinkist library. It’s up to you where to start.

Download the Blinkist app today and start learning from Barack Obama’s favorite books. Who knows, maybe one of them may inspire your own bid for the oval office.

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