What’s on Barack Obama’s Africa-Inspired Summer Reading List

The former president shares his summer reading recommendations from mostly African writers in advance of his trip to Kenya and South Africa.

What’s on Barack Obama’s Africa-Inspired Summer Reading List

For the first time since he left office, former President Barack Obama is traveling to Africa to give a speech to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on July 17 and to visit his family’s ancestral home in Kenya. In advance of his trip, Obama took to Facebook to share his summer reading list featuring mostly African writers.

“I’ve often drawn inspiration from Africa’s extraordinary literary tradition,” Obama wrote. “As I prepare for this trip, I wanted to share a list of books that I’d recommend for summer reading, including some from a number of Africa’s best writers and thinkers–each of whom illuminate our world in powerful and unique ways.”

The list of six books includes everything from Mandela’s autobiography to a novel about two Nigerians who emigrate to the United States and the United Kingdom and what they experience once they return home 15 years later.

See Obama’s full list and descriptions below.


Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“From one of the world’s great contemporary writers comes the story of two Nigerians making their way in the U.S. and the UK, raising universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for identity and a home.”

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

“Mandela’s life was one of the epic stories of the 20th century. This definitive memoir traces the arc of his life from a small village, to his years as a revolutionary, to his long imprisonment, and ultimately his ascension to unifying President, leader, and global icon. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand history–and then go out and change it.”

A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

“A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.”


Courtesy of Penguin Random House

The Return by Hisham Matar

“A beautifully-written memoir that skillfully balances a graceful guide through Libya’s recent history with the author’s dogged quest to find his father who disappeared in Gaddafi’s prisons.”

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

“A true classic of world literature, this novel paints a picture of traditional society wrestling with the arrival of foreign influence, from Christian missionaries to British colonialism. A masterpiece that has inspired generations of writers in Nigeria, across Africa, and around the world.”

In addition to Obama’s five picks from African authors, he also recommended a memoir by Ben Rhodes, his former speechwriter and White House staffer, that was just released in June.

The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes

“It’s true, Ben does not have African blood running through his veins. But few others so closely see the world through my eyes like he can. Ben’s one of the few who’ve been with me since that first presidential campaign. His memoir is one of the smartest reflections I’ve seen as to how we approached foreign policy, and one of the most compelling stories I’ve seen about what it’s actually like to serve the American people for eight years in the White House.”

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>> Next: 10 Must-Read Books for Every Type of Summer Trip

Lyndsey Matthews is the senior commerce editor at AFAR who covers travel gear, packing advice, and points and loyalty.
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