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Bill Gates with a book. What's on his nightstand?
Bill Gates with a book. What's on his nightstand?
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The ultimate wonk reading list: 67 books The Ezra Klein Show guests want you to read

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Since The Ezra Klein Show launched in February, guests have come on to talk about global poverty, corporate tax reform, housing discrimination, restaurant financing, French philosophy, bear gall bladders, and everything in between.

They've also recommended a range of great books. US Sen. Cory Booker praised James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time — "I think the last page of that book should be required reading" — while Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates suggested a "very clever" science fiction series he's come to love.

Many of the show's listeners have asked us to compile all of the guests' book recommendations in one place. (We'll try to continually update this list as additional guests appear on The Ezra Klein Show.) And be sure to subscribe to the podcast or stream it on SoundCloud.

Cory Booker: US senator, former Newark mayor, Rhodes scholar

Booker speaks on a Senate committee in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin:

I think the last page of that book should be required reading in literature. [Baldwin] was actually criticized for how he ended the book because the book was so raw, honest — and people said he was too Pollyanna-ish at the end.

[Baldwin] says: "I know what I'm asking you is impossible, but in today's day and age, the impossible is the least we can demand from each other. And one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human history and American negro history is a perpetual testimony to the achievement of the impossible."

I love how he talks about love, and he earned the right to talk about love in a way that can't then be diminished. It's powerful.

Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth, by Mahatma Gandhi:

The subtitle is "My Experiments With Truth"; there's something that always got me. [Gandhi] is not saying, "This is the way and the truth and the life"; he's like, "I've been working at this."

I've been trying to get it right to figure out a way, and in many ways I became a vegetarian as an experiment. ... If we're given 80, 90, 100 years — why don't we just experiment and try something different? I just love this idea of experimenting with truth.

Booker also recommended Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Beautiful Struggle and Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow.

David Chang: founder & owner of Momofuku Restaurant Group

(John Sciulli/Getty Images for Budweiser)

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande:

The best part is when he's talking about Walmart during Hurricane Katrina. That book is really about hubris, I think — you think you're good enough at something, but how do you empower people to make decisions?

The Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text:

Which is a ridiculous thing to say, but I always turn to it because it's about decision-making, but also about indecision in the presence of the worst decision, which is basically genocide. ... I don't know how it comforts me, but when I have a tough decision I think: "What is the worst possible thing that could happen?"

Chang also recommended Douglas Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize–winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, about logic, intelligence, and decision-making.

Bill Gates: co-founder of Microsoft, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

John Sciulli/Getty Images for Budweiser
What's on Bill Gates's bookstand?

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker:

It's about how humans have treated humans over time, and whatever happened to duels and witchcraft and slavery and feuds? And why are those things gone?

It educates you about instruments of torture and how demand for those things seems to have fallen off. It's a pretty profound thing that looks at the rate of violence over history, and Pinker tries to look into it: Why have we been able to achieve that? Why, when you're dealing with lots of strangers, has the violent death rate come down so dramatically? What is it about morals, taboos, systems of laws?

Gates also recommended Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Harari, and Seveneves, a "very clever" science fiction book by Neal Stephenson.

Dr. Jim Yong Kim: president of the World Bank, former president of Dartmouth College

Dr. Jim Yong Kim is one of the world's experts on global poverty. He also loves the "raunchy" Florida yarns of Carl Hiaasen.

Orientalism, by Edward Said:

It was really powerful, in that it helped me understand that all the reactions I had been receiving since I was a little kid reading about how the World Bank said Korea was hopeless in the 1960s. That was part of a discourse that said more about the people who were involved in that discourse than what was happening on the ground.

The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

It was given to me by mother. ... [Hanh] talked about the importance of meditation and being mindful. The truly astounding thing is that the science has caught up with what we thought were the benefits of meditation.

We always knew there was something biological about it, but the evidence is now overwhelming.

Books in general by Carl Hiaasen, author of Strip Tease and Stormy Weather:

I love Carl Hiaasen books. ... He was an environmentalist before it was cool. He writes raunchy, humorous books, and it's all about awful people in Florida who happen to destroy the environment.

Rachel Maddow: host of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show

Rachel Maddow.
Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, by Steve Coll:

It changed my thinking about big corporations and, particularly, their relationship to politics. The way Exxon looks at not just who is the president and who is in Congress, but the way Exxon looks at the global map and the divisions between where countries are and says: "We will outlast this map. Governments will come and go, but we, Exxon, will have needs and desires and things we want to do that transcend the coming and going of countries and governments."

Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, by Gordon Goldstein:

A brilliant book of the rationality of that terrible decision [the Vietnam War] — how each incrementally more terrible decision made sense, as you were going step by step.

It wasn't a conspiracy; it wasn't a cabal. It wasn't bad people trying to get bad things done; it was people with understandable faults, emotions, and assets making decisions that made sense in the moment, that led to something terrible without there being any sort of organizational break.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein:

If you are not caught up in a crisis and you instead are one of the people standing back and thinking how this crisis is going to ultimately benefit you ... that is a perspective worth anticipating — seeing crises not just for who creates them but who can benefit from them.

Michael Needham: CEO of Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy organization

Michael Needham, one of the most influential conservative activists.
Photo from a CSPAN screengrab

Truth Overruled, by Ryan Anderson:

I think [Anderson's] written the best work on social conservatism and the truth about marriage. As someone who grew up in cultures and parts of the country that aren't traditionally seeing the best arguments about social conservatism, it has just opened my eyes.

The Conservative Heart, by Arthur Brooks:

For conservatives to win we have to capture the conservative mind and the conservative heart and the conservative guts. ... I don't think anybody's done a better job articulating what the conservative heart means and how we can talk about our ideas in winsome ways.

Needham also recommended The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs — and Who Will Take It, by Sean Trende.

Neera Tanden: president of the Center for American Progress, a left-wing think tank

Neera Tanden.

The Unwinding, by George Packer:

It tells the story of the economy and how it's changed — rising inequality through the perspective of four-plus lives. But I think it really tells you a lot about what's happening in this election cycle over the last several years because of the economic changes people are experiencing.

Tanden also recommended Why Nations Fail, by James Robinson.

Grover Norquist: president of Americans for Tax Reform, author of the anti-tax pledge

Grover Norquist

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay:

It's written in the 1840s going back to the runup on the price of tulips, to witches, to crusades, to riots over the prices of tickets in the theater in London — where people go mad over various things, and over some period of time. That’s always a fun one; I like to reread that.

Norquist also recommends The Road to Serfdom, the classic economic treatise by Friedrich Hayek, and the murder mystery series Roma Sub Rosa, by Steven Saylor, which take place in Julius Caesar’s Rome.

Bruce Friedrich: executive director of the Good Food Institute, animal rights advocate

A laboratory might be more environmentally friendly for growing meat than a cow is.


Friedrich recommends Influence: Science and Practice, by Robert Cialdini, "for the degree to which it challenges the cognitive dissonance essential to all of our lives":

It’s a whole bunch of really interesting studies about things, like: If the light turns green and you're behind a VW Bug or behind a Lexus, 100 percent of people say they’ll honk at the Lexus first or it’s equal. But in test results, 90 percent of people honk at the VW Bug and give the Lexus a pass.

If someone asks for a quarter, and they look like you, you’re nine times out of 10 more likely to lend them a quarter — even though most of us will say they absolutely won’t.

Friedrich also suggested Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals and David Allen’s Getting Things Done.

Robert Reich: UC Berkeley public policy professor, former secretary of labor, prominent Bernie Sanders surrogate

robert reich moveon

John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society:

Galbraith was very tall, 6-foot-7, and we used to walk along the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, together. ... He had an extraordinary memory — he could remember details from 30 or 40 or 50 years before, and he was very funny and very playful and a very good friend.

Galbraith was not doing mathematical economics; he scorned the direction the economics profession was moving [in] because he felt the mathematical models couldn’t adequately portray the set of institutions and sociological phenomenon that underline economics.

Galbraith looked to the social reality — he was as much of a sociologist and political scientist as an economist, and one of the reasons I was so influenced by him is because you can’t really understand economics without understanding sociology.

Reich also recommended Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 treatise The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions.

Arianna Huffington: founder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post

(Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Klick, Inc.)

The Act of Creation, by Arthur Koestler:

Which is about the spiritual lives of scientists and how many scientists came to their inventions, discoveries through dreams, through spiritual beliefs. The connection between science and spirituality is utterly fascinating, and I feel approaching it from the science perspective [for Ezra] may be the way to go.

Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations:

It’s the book I have on my nightstand, which I dip into regularly. ... The reason I pick that is because Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of the Rome, so he had a pretty big job. He dealt with invasions and plagues and everything else you can imagine.

But he had a sense of another reality, and he was very connected with it. The spiritual reality is not an alternative to the daily life. ... I’m definitely in the arena, but bringing that dimension into everything I'm doing changes it dramatically.

Andrew Sullivan: former New Republic editor, founder of the Dish, famous essayist

TJ Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, by John Boswell:

It's an amazing book, because it was the first that really advanced the idea that gay people have really existed forever, and have in the past constructed forms of relationship that were stabled and enduring. That was exciting to find that was going on in the eighth century, to discover we're not doing something new.

Sullivan also touted The Confessions of St. Augustine — "it was almost as if this man were born today and yet is seeing the world through a different lens" — and Michel de Montaigne’s Selected Essays as the other "essential component to a civilized person’s reading material."

Sullivan rounded out the list with George Orwell’s collected essays and T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems.

Alice Rivlin: queen of the Washington budget wonks

Rivlin recommended two books by social scientist Daniel Yankelovich — Coming to Public Judgment, which is about how the public makes decisions, and The Magic of Dialogue.

Rivlin also recommended Northwestern University professor Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth, though — like Bill Gates — she disagrees with its conclusion:

I don’t think he's necessarily right about the future. I don’t know if we know how to predict productivity change, but it’s very interesting. ... It’s a very well-researched history book, where I part company with Robert Gordon on the prediction of what will happen because economists have a very poor track record on predicting technological change.

Tom Perez: labor secretary, dark horse VP candidate for Hillary Clinton

Tom Perez

Perez’s first recommendation was Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath, which Perez said reflected his attention to "the fierce urgency of now":

It's a story of the folks who overcome a lot of adversity. There’s one passage that really resonated with me: There were some people who did exciting and interesting things later in life, and what they had in common was when they were young they had significant personal challenges, like their parents dying and things that were unfortunate.

Perez also recommended Daniel Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, the Depression-era story of the 1936 gold medal American rowing team, and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time, which looks closely at the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II.

Moby: electronic music superstar

Moby. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)

The Once and Future King, a fantasy children's classic by T.H. White, and The Journals of John Cheever, which Moby said was critical in helping him write his new memoir, Porcelain.

His last pick was Kabir's collected poems:

This is really going to prove I’m a hippie from Southern California ... like Rumi, he’s a 13th-century Iranian Sufi poet. His poetry — there is such a wonderful, joyful, kind spirituality to it.

Jessica Valenti: founder of Feministing, columnist at the Guardian, author of Sex Object

Valenti says there are several books she rereads every year, including Gabriel García Márquez’s classic One Hundred Years of Solitude.

In terms of books related to feminism, Valenti said Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is "a must-read" and that bell hooks’s Feminist Theory is a great book to start with for someone new to the world of feminist writing.

She also recommended Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano:

The book that really changed my thinking on a lot of things ... which people should absolutely read, not just because of transgender issues but also for conversations around femininity and what it means in America.

Jesse Eisenberg: actor, author, playwright, comedian

Eisenberg recommends Patrimony, by Philip Roth, which is about the death of Roth's father.

Eisenberg also recommended Ilustrado, a book about the Philippines by Miguel Syjuco, and Woody Allen books in general "for their absurdity."

Heather McGhee: president of the think tank Demos

William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

McGhee, left, with David Brooks. (William Plowman/NBC/via Getty Images)

McGhee first recommended Dog Whistle Politics by Berkeley law professor Ian Haney López.

"He talks about how racism has been reinvented and wrecked the middle class," she says.

Also on McGhee's nighststand: Tamara Draut's Sleeping Giant, which argues that the new working class is more diverse and female than ever before, and Octavia's Brood, an African-American fantasy and sci-fi series.

"It's such an important thing to dream and to imagine another world," McGhee says. "You've got to get a little fantasy in there too."

Hillary Clinton: former Secretary of State, 2016 Democratic nominee

hillary clinton (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

What's on Clinton's bookshelf? (Getty Images)

Clinton recommended Christopher Lasch’s work and Alan Wolfe’s work and Habits of the Heart a 1985 sociology book about individualism in American society.

"You can see how more difficult it is in a 24/7, 360-degree media environment to find the time to think, to breathe, to spend relaxation hours getting to know people," Clinton said.

She also cited Harvard professor Robert Putnam's Our Kids: the American Dream in Crisis as key to understanding the economic and class divisions in much of America.

Clinton says of Putnam's book:

There’s a really great story that he tells about going back to the town he grew up in outside of Cleveland, where kids of all different backgrounds, economic family standing, and they’re all together and everyone was in it together.

And there was so little distinction, and there was so much economic integration in that small town. Now he goes back to it, and it’s so divided. So I think that's a book people should read right now.

Molly Ball: politics reporter, The Atlantic

Molly Ball, right, September 2015

Molly Ball, right, on Meet the Press. (Getty Images)

Molly Ball first recommended All the King's Men, a classic in American politics fiction that looks at the Depression-era South.

Though a politics reporter, Ball also touted the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante.

"They are mind-blowingly good — and confirmed by doubts about human nature in a way that allowed me to understand this election better," Ball said.

Trevor Noah: host of Comedy Central's The Daily Show

Trevor Noah

Noah recommended Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, as "a simple book that expands your mind."

Noah also selected Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

"It was just an honest point of view — it wasn't optimistic; it was just a powerful piece of literature that really changed my life," Noah said.

Malcolm Gladwell: acclaimed author, New Yorker essayist

malcolm gladwell yale Thos Robinson/Getty Images

Malcolm Gladwell first jokingly endorsed a book by his mother, a 1969 memoir.

He also extolled Eliot Cohen's Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War, which argues that calamities on the battlefield stem from overly complex systems rather than individual error.

"It's one big, beautiful allegory about the kinds of high-stakes mistakes decision-makers make," Gladwell says. "I love anyone who can write about 'x' and make a much broader point about 'y.' That person is a hero."

David Frum: former George W. Bush speechwriter, columnist at The Atlantic

Atlantic writer David Frum. (Policy Exchange/WikiMedia Commons)

Frum began by choosing Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, a 1942 book on economics, sociology and political theory that explored the limits of Marxian theory and predicted that late capitalism would slide toward social democratic states.

"Skip the socialism and capitalism chapters, read the democracy chapters," Frum says.

Frum also highlighted the books on World War I and World War II of Yale historian Adam Tooze:

The overwhelming message is that the central fact of the 20th Century is that the world system could no longer work unless run by the United States, and when America absented itself the world spun out of control.

Only American intervention brought us a stable world system.

Lastly, Frum recommended a book called The Great Divergence, by University of Chicago historian Kenneth Pomeranz, which explores why the European economic system took off in the Industrial Era and the Chinese economy did not.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the publication date of Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.


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