Chelsea Clinton Thinks You Should Read These Books

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Another week, another New York Times Book Review By the Book article. This week, the Times is talking to author and former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, and I've got the 12 books Chelsea Clinton thinks you should read below.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Chelsea Clinton has waaaaay more than a dozen books to recommend. Seriously, she has seven books on her nightstand right now, and I'm a little worried about its structural integrity. Right now, Clinton is reading Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, which we'll talk more about below; the Thomas De Quincey Trilogy by David Morrell; Margaret Fuller by Megan Marshall; Tenth of December by George Saunders; and SPQR by Mary Beard. Secondhand Time is the only book of those seven that Clinton had more to say about, so I've included it on the list of her book recommendations below.

Here are a few more authors that Chelsea Clinton loves:

In addition to the other writers I talk about in this space, I deeply admire the work of Colson Whitehead; Hilary Mantel; Masha Gessen; Haruki Murakami; Andreï Makine; Margaret Atwood; Erik Larson; Lin-Manuel Miranda; Marilynne Robinson; Elena Ferrante; Julian Barnes; Ian McEwan; Anne Applebaum; Timothy Egan; and more. I also hope Gita Mehta writes again.

And that's not all. Clinton also has a long list of nonfiction writers she thinks you should be reading. When asked to recommend "the best books on global health," Clinton says that "[a]nything Paul Farmer, Peter Piot, Laurie Garrett or Larry Gostin" will help you to understand "why we aren’t farther along in the fights against ancient threats like tuberculosis or in containing relatively newer threats like Zika."

In her By the Book interview with The New York Times Book Review, Clinton includes some reading recommendations from her daughter Charlotte. According to her mom, the two year old enjoys "books that fire her imagination and make her laugh," such as offerings from Eric Carle, Mo Willems, and Matt de la Peña. "I want every child to be exposed to lots of books so they can have the many rotating favorites Charlotte is lucky enough to have," Clinton says, "and to find what inspires them most, makes them most giggle and what makes them want to read more."

There's one thing I can tell you about Chelsea Clinton, and that is that she absolutely loves mystery novels. I mean loves. She has fond memories of reading Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys as a child. Today, Clinton says she especially enjoys "[h]istorical fiction, particularly detective fiction, and contemporary detective stories set outside New York City." If you love a good whodunnit, Clinton lists these among her favorites:

  • Chief Inspector Armand Gamache Series by Louise Penny
  • Inspector Ikmen Series by Barbara Nadel
  • Commissario Brunetti Series by Donna Leon
  • The Adventures of Captain Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
  • Inspector Ian Rutledge Series by Charles Todd
  • Bess Crawford Series by Charles Todd
  • Maisie Dobbs Series by Jacqueline Winspear
  • Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries by Julia Spencer-Fleming
  • Adam Dalgliesh Series by P.D. James

Here are the 12 books Chelsea Clinton thinks you should read.


'Secondhand Time' by Svetlana Alexievich

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Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, an oral history from 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Svetlana Alexievich, was translated into English for the first time in 2016.

Chelsea Clinton says: "Alexievich is all-consuming when I’m reading it, completely evocative in a way that brings me into the fabric of the stories she’s sharing, far more than bringing those stories to me. I find it both energizing and enervating, and best engaged with in chunks so I can experience it and not become numbed by its force."


'Swing Time' by Zadie Smith

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Zadie Smith's story of two childhood friends grown apart as adults was shortlisted for a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Carnegie Medal.


'When Breath Becomes Air' by Paul Kalanithi

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When Breath Becomes Air is neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi's introspective look at life and living, written after his terminal lung cancer diagnosis.

Chelsea Clinton says: "I read both [Swing Time and When Breath Becomes Air] right before Thanksgiving last year, and although I’ve read a number of books since, those two continue to haunt me with their humanity and their moral challenge to be good, in the big and small acts of life, good to our families, good to our friends, good to ourselves, good in our world — in how we lead our lives and how we leave our lives, in the permanent sense and when identities shift with time, space and choice."


'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury

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Ray Bradbury's 1953 dystopian novel centers on Guy Montag: a "fireman" whose job is to punish people who read banned books by destroying their belongings.

Chelsea Clinton says: "I first read [Fahrenheit 451 ] in my seventh-grade English class at Horace Mann Junior High, and it seemed so fantastical, improbable and yet real enough that it made me deeply uncomfortable. It still makes me uncomfortable, even more so, decades later. For all the chilling moments and images in the book, what I find most unsettling is the casting of Ben Franklin as part of the book-burning vanguard, obliterating his history as a leading advocate of the right to freedom of speech; scientist; newspaper publisher; and a founder of one of the first fire departments in what became the United States, as well as the first hospital."


'Billiards at Half-Past Nine' by Heinrich Böll

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Recounting more than half a century in the lives of one Nazi-opposing German family, Billiards at Half-Past Nine takes place over the course of a single day in 1958.

Chelsea Clinton says: "At this moment in which we have to fight to protect progress on civil rights, women’s rights, L.G.B.T. rights, economic rights and more, we also have to fight for facts, science and the scientific method — and our history. The fight for the future runs through the present and the past. [Ray] Bradbury understood that. [Heinrich] Böll understood that for such a fight to be successfully won on a social level, it also had to be waged and won within families."


'Garden of Lamentations' by Deborah Crombie

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Husband-and-wife duo Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James take on cases involving a murdered babysitter and a beaten former mentor in Garden of Lamentations.

Chelsea Clinton says: "I just finished Deborah Crombie’s [Garden of Lamentations], the most recent Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James novel, and stayed up far too late for someone who has to wake up early to breast-feed my son, Aidan. But it was just that good a story and that good a read."


'The Ghost Map' by Steven Johnson

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Steven Johnson's The Ghost Map details how two men, a doctor and a clergyman, took it upon themselves to investigate the source of London's 1854 cholera outbreak.

Chelsea Clinton says: "[The Ghost Map] is a terrific read about how John Snow’s work on cholera in London in the 19th century changed epidemiology and science forever."


'House on Fire' by William H. Foege

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Eradicating smallpox remains one of the most important medical advances in history. William H. Foege's House on Fire tells just how we did it.

Chelsea Clinton says: "[House on Fire] — not the Sia song, as much as I’m a fan — tells the story of how the world eradicated smallpox within a few decades, one of global health’s signature successes."


'Turning the World Upside Down' by Nigel Crisp

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Written by the former Chief Executive of the NHS and Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, Turning the World Upside Down investigates how healthcare is handled in countries both rich and poor.

Chelsea Clinton says: "[Turning the World Upside Down] by Nigel Crisp, focuses on the lessons we in the 'developed world' could learn from the 'developing world' on public health protection and health care delivery."


'And the Band Played On' by Randy Shilts

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This 1987 book chronicles the establishment's inactive response to the AIDS crisis in the late-1970s and 1980s, which lasted until people who weren't gay men, women, and I.V. drug users became infected.

Chelsea Clinton says: "[And the Band Played On] is an extraordinary book and an extraordinarily painful one to read, but vital to understanding the early fight against H.I.V.-AIDS in the U.S. — and it’s particularly essential now, as we may confront efforts to roll back H.I.V.-AIDS prevention and treatment efforts, and we need to remember — and remind people in power — the human cost of negligence, of ignorance, and that a failure to engage in public health strategies we know work is ultimately a moral failure."


'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle

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After their father goes missing, Meg Murry and her youngest brother, Charles Wallace, embark on an intergalactic mission to find him, accompanied by three supernatural beings and Meg's classmate, Calvin.

Chelsea Clinton says: "[A Wrinkle in Time] endures 25 years after my first reading as a true favorite for me, but since I tend toward contemporary and historical fiction, and nonfiction, with some plays and poetry, I think my friends might be surprised to see all the science fiction on our shelves and on our Kindle."


The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

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Set in 16th-century Scotland, the Lymond Chronicles fictionalize the life of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a young nobleman.

Chelsea Clinton says: "Philippa Somerville, who grows up throughout the [Lymond Chronicles], ... possesses an extraordinary capacity for survival and adaptation, coupled with an enormous heart full of love. She’s also clever and kind, regardless of her perilous circumstances. Her kindness eventually extends to herself as well as others."