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Barack Obama's favourite 2020 titles
2020-12-30
In a year that saw many traditions upended, former USA President Barack Obama is keeping up with one annual custom: sharing his favorite books of the year. Here you can find all of them with short descriptions.

In a year that saw many traditions upended, former USA President Barack Obama is keeping up with one annual custom: sharing his favorite books of the year. We have put all of them for you in one easy-to-read list.

Homeland Elegies

by Ayad Akhtar

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A deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home. Ayad Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and the gods of finance rule, where immigrants live in fear, and where the nation's unhealed wounds wreak havoc around the world. Akhtar attempts to make sense of it all through the lens of a story about one family, from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerrilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, and spares no one -- least of all himself -- in the process.

Jack

by Marilynne Robinson

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Jack tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the beloved and grieved-over prodigal son of a Presbyterian minister in Gilead, Iowa, a drunkard and a ne'er-do-well. In segregated St. Louis sometime after World War II, Jack falls in love with Della Miles, an African-American high school teacher, also a preacher's child, with a discriminating mind, a generous spirit, and an independent will. Their fraught, beautiful story is one of Robinson's greatest achievements.

Caste

by Isabel Wilkerson

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Beyond race or class, our lives are defined by a powerful, unspoken system of divisions. In Caste, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson gives an astounding portrait of this hidden phenomenon. Linking America, India and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson reveals how our world has been shaped by caste - and how its rigid, arbitrary hierarchies still divide us today. With clear-sighted rigour, Wilkerson unearths the eight pillars that connect caste systems across civilizations, and demonstrates how our own era of intensifying conflict and upheaval has arisen as a consequence of caste. Weaving in stories of real people, she shows how its insidious undertow emerges every day; she documents its surprising health costs; and she explores its effects on culture and politics. Finally, Wilkerson points forward to the ways we can - and must - move beyond its artificial divisions, towards our common humanity. Beautifully written and deeply original, Caste is an eye-opening examination of what lies beneath the surface of ordinary lives. No one can afford to ignore the moral clarity of its insights, or its urgent call for a freer, fairer world.

The Splendid and the Vile

by Erik Larson

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In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

Luster

by Raven Leilani

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Meet Edie. Edie is not okay. She's messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn't really know what she's doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn't have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young, black woman wasn't already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling headfirst into Eric's home and family. Razor sharp. provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster is a painfully funny coming-of-age story told by a fresh new voice.

How Much of These Hills is Gold

by C Pam Zhang

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Ba dies in the night, Ma is already gone. Lucy and Sam, twelve and eleven, are suddenly alone and on the run. With their father's body on their backs, they roam an unforgiving landscape dotted with giant buffalo bones and tiger paw prints, searching for a place to give him a proper burial. Once Lucy and Sam have made it out of the wild, they are changed forever. Sam chooses to live in their father's shadow, while Luck breaks free. Taking their own paths in the American West, in the twilight of the Gold Rush, encountering a cast of menacing characters: a fur trapper in exile, a charismatic brothel owner and a debutante from the upper echelons of society, each either sidesteps or falls victim to the new gods of greed, wealth and opportunism. Eventually, the siblings pull apart and come together for a final reckoning. How Much of These Hills Is Gold is a sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about family, bound and divided by its memories.

Long Bright River

by Liz Moore

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In a city rocked by the opioid crisis, one family strikes a particularly poignant profile. One sister, Kacey, has been living on the streets for years in the vise of a fierce heroin addiction. The other sister, Mickey, is the police officer whose beat includes Kacey's regular haunts. The two don't speak anymore, and the police department has no idea of their connection, but Mickey never stops worrying and watching over her sibling. Mickey understands what Kacey is contending with. Mickey just has different demons. Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins within Mickey's precinct, and Mickey panics over her sister's safety. The victims, it seems, fit Kacey's profile precisely. Risking her job, and maybe even the welfare of her four-year-old son, Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding out what happened to her sister and the other missing women.

Memorial Drive

by Natasha Trethewey

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Natasha Trethewey was born in Mississippi in the 60s to a black mother and a white father. When she was six, Natasha's parents divorced, and she and her mother moved to Atlanta. There, her mother met the man who would become her second husband, and Natasha's stepfather. While she was still a child, Natasha decided that she would not tell her mother about what her stepfather did when she was not there: the quiet bullying and control, the games of cat and mouse. Her mother kept her own secrets, secrets that grew harder to hide as Natasha came of age. When Natasha was nineteen and away at college, her stepfather shot her mother dead on the driveway outside their home. With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence, and a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Luminous, urgent, and visceral, it cements Trethewey's position as one of the most important voices in America today.

Twilight of Democracy

by Anne Applebaum

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In the years just before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people from across the political spectrum in Europe and America celebrated a great achievement, felt a common purpose and, very often, forged personal friendships. Yet over the following decades the euphoria evaporated, the common purpose and centre ground gradually disappeared, extremism rose once more and eventually - as this book compellingly relates - the relationships soured too. Anne Applebaum traces this history in an unfamiliar way, looking at the trajectories of individuals caught up in the public events of the last three decades.

Deacon King Kong

by James McBride

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The year is 1969. In a housing project in south Brooklyn, a shambling old church deacon called Sportscoat shoots – for no apparent reason – the local drug-dealer who used to be part of the church’s baseball team. The repercussions of that moment draw in the whole community, from Sportscoat’s best friend – Hot Sausage – to the local Italian mobsters, the police (corrupt and otherwise), and the stalwart ladies of the Five Ends Baptist Church.

The Undocumented Americans

by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

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In New York, we meet the undocumented workers who were recruited into the federally funded Ground Zero cleanup after 9/11. In Miami, we enter the ubiquitous botanicas, which offer medicinal herbs and potions to those whose status blocks them from any other healthcare options. In Flint, Michigan, we learn of demands for state ID in order to receive life-saving clean water. In Connecticut, Cornejo Villavicencio, childless by choice, finds family in two teenage girls whose father is in sanctuary. And through it all we see the author grappling with the biggest questions of love, duty, family, and survival. n her incandescent, relentlessly probing voice, Karla Cornejo Villavicencio combines sensitive reporting and powerful personal narratives to bring to light remarkable stories of resilience, madness, and death. Through these stories we come to understand what it truly means to be a stray. An expendable. A hero. An American.

The Vanishing Half

by Brit Bennett

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The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' story lines intersect? Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person's decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

The Glass Hotel

by Emily St. John Mandel

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Vincent is the beautiful bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. New York financier Jonathan Alkaitis owns the hotel. When he passes Vincent his card with a tip, it's the beginning of their life together. That same day, a hooded figure scrawls a note on the windowed wall of the hotel: 'Why don't you swallow broken glass.' Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for a company called Neptune-Avramidis, sees the note from the hotel bar and is shaken to his core. Thirteen years later, just after a massive Ponzi scheme implodes in New York, Vincent mysteriously disappears from the deck of a Neptune-Avramidis ship. Weaving together the lives of these characters, Emily St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel moves between the ship, the towers of Manhattan, and the wilderness of remote British Columbia, painting a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.

Hidden Valley Road

by Robert Kolker

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Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?

The Ministry for the Future

by Kim Stanley Robinson

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Established in 2025, the purpose of the new organisation was simple: To advocate for the world's future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future. It soon became known as the Ministry for the Future, and this is its story. From legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a vision of climate change unlike any ever imagined. Told entirely through fictional eye-witness accounts, The Ministry For The Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, the story of how climate change will affect us all over the decades to come. Its setting is not a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us - and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face. It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors

by Kawai Strong Washburn

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Hawai'i, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores is saved from drowning by a shiver of sharks. His family, struggling to make ends meet amidst the collapse of the sugar cane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favour from ancient Hawaiian gods. But as time passes, this hope gives way to economic realities, forcing Nainoa and his siblings to seek salvation across the continental United States, leaving behind home and family. With a profound command of language, Washburn's powerful debut novel examines what it means to be both of a place, and a stranger in it.

Missionaries

by Phil Klay

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Neither Mason, a US Special Forces medic, nor Lisette, a foreign correspondent, has emerged from America's long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unscathed. Yet, for them, war still exerts a terrible draw - the noble calling, the camaraderie, the life-and-death stakes. Where else in the world can such a person go? All roads lead to Colombia, where the US has partnered with the local government to stamp out a vicious civil war and keep the predatory narco gangs at bay. Mason is ready for the good war, and Lisette is more than ready to cover it. A novel of extraordinary suspense, Missionaries is an astonishment whose unsparing drama is infused with a rare wisdom about the human heart.

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