86 Books Barack Obama Recommended During His Presidency

Getty Images
Getty Images

The entries were pulled from places like Obama’s summer reading lists, his childhood favorites, and recommendations made for his daughter, Malia. They include plenty of classics such as One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as well as many contemporary works. And, of course, he made time to brush up on the lives of his predecessors, reading biographies of John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

In an interview with WIRED last year, President Obama cited several titles that significantly shaped him, including: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln; The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro; The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin; Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American by Richard S. Tedlow; Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari; Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert; In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck; and Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo. They’re just a fraction of the full list, but WIRED calculated that it would take the typical reader 89 hours to get through those 10 books alone. Let’s see if you can finish all 86 in time for our country’s next Inauguration Day.

1. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
2. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
3. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
4. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
5. Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson
6. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
7. Nora Webster, Colm Toibin
8. The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson
9. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, Evan Osnos
10. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande
11. Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, Katherine Rundell
12. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
13. Redwall series, Brian Jacques
14. Junie B. Jones series, Barbara Park
15. Nuts To You, Lynn Rae Perkins
16. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
17. H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
18. The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins
19. Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
20. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
21. All That Is, James Salter
22. The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert
23. The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri
24. Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
25. Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
26. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
27. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
28. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
29. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
30. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
31. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
32. Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson
33. Song Of Solomon, Toni Morrison
34. Parting The Waters, Taylor Branch
35. Gilead, Marylinne Robinson
36. Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam
37. The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton
38. Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
39. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
40. The Quiet American, Graham Greene
41. Cancer Ward, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
42. Gandhi’s autobiography
43. Working, Studs Terkel
44. Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
45. Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith
46. All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
47. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
48. To the End of the Land, David Grossman
49. Purity, Jonathan Franzen
50. A Bend in the River, V. S. Naipau
51. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff
52. Lush Life, Richard Price
53. Netherland, Joseph O’Neill
54. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights, Salman Rushdie
55. Redeployment, Phil Klay
56. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
57. Plainsong, Kent Haruf
58. The Way Home, George Pelecanos
59. What Is the What, Dave Eggers
60. Philosophy & Literature, Peter S. Thompson
61. Collected Poems, Derek Walcott
62. In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
63. Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
64. The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin
65. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
66. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris
67. John Adams, David McCullough
68. Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer, Fred Kaplan
69. Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, Jonathan Alte
70. FDR, Jean Edward Smith
71. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin
72. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln
73. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America, Thomas L. Friedman
74. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, Steve Coll
75. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, Larry Bartels
76. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert A. Caro
77. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Evan Osnos
78. Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
79. Moral Man And Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr
80. A Kind And Just Parent, William Ayers
81. The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria
82. Lessons in Disaster, Gordon Goldstein
83. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari
84. The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
85. Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American, Richard S. Tedlow
86. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, Katherine Boo

[h/t Entertainment Weekly]

10 Revolutionary Facts About Poldark

Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE
Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE

The fall weather brings with it a lot of cozy activities: Apple picking, pumpkin carving—and curling up on chilly nights with a comfy blanket, a steaming cup of tea, and a good British period drama. If you’re a fan of that last activity, it probably means you’ve been spending your Sunday evenings watching Poldark, which currently occupies the coveted Sunday-at-9 p.m. slot on PBS’s long-running Masterpiece program.

Now in its fourth season, Poldark is story of one Ross Poldark (Aidan Turner): an 18th-century gentleman-turned-social-justice-warrior juggling a love triangle, a new gig as a member of Parliament and a ripped set of abs. Whether you’re on Team Demelza (Ross’s wife) or Team Elizabeth (his lost love), here are 10 things you may not have known about the breathtaking BBC series.

1. POLDARK IS BASED ON A SERIES OF BOOKS BY BRITISH AUTHOR WINSTON GRAHAM.

Jack Farthing as George Warleggan, Heida Reed as Elizabeth, Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark, Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza, Luke Norris as Dr. Dwight Enys and Gabriella Wilde as Caroline Penvenan
Courtesy of Robert Viglasky, Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE

Between 1945 and 2002, Winston Graham penned a total of 12 novels about Ross Poldark and his cherished community in the southwest of England. Although the Manchester-born writer also had a prolific portfolio of non-Poldark published works, it was the saga of Cap’n Ross that brought him fame and fortune. The final book in the series, Bella Poldark, was published in 2002—just a year prior to the author’s death. On television, Poldark's fourth season is based on The Angry Tide, the seventh novel in Graham’s saga.

2. THIS IS ACTUALLY THE SECOND TV ADAPTATION OF POLDARK.

Forty years before Aidan Turner’s brooding portrayal of Ross Poldark resulted in a barrage of online marriage proposals, fans across the globe were swooning over the BBC’s first television adaptation of the Cornwall-set drama. The 1975 version of Poldark—which was also broadcast in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatrestarred Robin Ellis as Ross and the late Angharad Rees as Demelza.

Although, in recent years, Ellis has turned his attention to his second career as a cookbook author, he occasionally cameos on the new Poldark as one of Ross’s adversaries: the irascible Reverend Halse.

Though the original Poldark was a hit, famed Masterpiece Theatre host Alistair Cooke hated it. “I was bored stiff," Cooke said in 1982, when asked about his least favorite program featured on the long-running series. "It seemed to be a bunch of cardboard figures going through the motions of love and hate.”

3. AIDAN TURNER IS A FORMER AMATEUR BALLROOM DANCER.

Before he was melting hearts with his luscious brown locks and chiseled pectorals, the Poldark star spent a decade competing in amateur ballroom dancing competitions, representing his home country of Ireland. Earlier this year, while appearing on The Graham Norton Show, Turner sheepishly downplayed his skills as a teenage tango expert, claiming he wasn’t disciplined enough to “go pro.”

Fortunately for fans who are craving a taste of Turner’s not-so-hidden talent, there is the above behind-the-scenes video from the Poldark set, in which Turner—decked out in Ross’s 1700s finery—can be seen cutting a rug to the decidedly 20th-century track “Mas Que Nada.

4. TOURISM IN CORNWALL SPIKED FOLLOWING POLDARK’S SUCCESS.

Whenever location is considered a character in a film or TV show, it’s inevitable that the tour buses will start rolling in. It’s no different for Poldark, which shoots in the southwest England county of Cornwall, and regularly enhances its narrative with sweeping vistas of its rugged coastline.

According to The Guardian, there was an uptick in Cornwall’s visitor numbers after the show’s first season, with one-fifth of the people who took part in a tourism survey admitting that Poldark was the reason behind their trip to the area. Even the official Cornwall tourist board has jumped on the Poldark bandwagon: Their website’s homepage immediately greets visitors with a “Discover Poldark” tab (complete with a photo of, you guessed it, Aidan Turner).

5. TWO POLDARK ACTRESSES APPEARED IN ICONIC FILMS FROM THE 1980s.

Ever hear of a couple of little films called Return of the Jedi and Highlander (1986)? While most of the younger actresses featured in Poldark weren’t even born yet when those movies were in theaters, their senior colleagues were upgrading their resumes with parts in some of the most memorable movies of the '80s. Caroline Blakiston, best known to Poldark fans as the feisty family matriarch Aunt Agatha, appeared as Mon Mothma in 1983’s Jedi. Beatie Edney, who plays Ross and Demelza’s curmudgeonly maid, Prudie, broke hearts in 1986’s Highlander as Heather MacLeod, the Scottish lass who succumbed to old age in her immortal husband’s arms.  

6. SEVERAL OF POLDARK’S CHARACTERS ARE PORTRAYED BY NON-BRITS.

This is hardly a new thing: A Welsh guy played a Russian pretending to be an American on The Americans, after all. But it still can be shocking to learn that Poldark employed overseas talent considering its distinctively English pedigree (then again, that just goes to show the actors’s skill level).

As mentioned earlier, the man who embodies Ross Poldark, the epitome of British land-owning gentry, Aidan Turner, is Irish. Adding to the series’ international cast is the Connecticut-born Kyle Soller, who played Francis Poldark, Ross’s cousin and romantic rival in the first two seasons. The biggest surprise, however, has got to be Heida Reed, a.k.a. the genteel Elizabeth Warleggan, who is originally from Iceland; her given name is Heiða Rún Sigurðardóttir. But don’t expect to hear Reed sound terribly different from Elizabeth in interviews; she deliberately speaks with an English accent now.

7. PULLING OFF THAT CORNISH ACCENT IS HARD.

Accents are different all over, whether you’re from the north of England, like Eleanor Tomlinson, or Cornwall, like the fiery Demelza, her character on Poldark. So, Tomlinson, who was determined to get Demelza’s Cornish mannerisms right, adopted a distinctive technique to get the job done: Speaking with a clenched jaw.

“I learned about how [the Cornish people’s] jaws were a lot tighter because of the wind, and living so close to the sea, the salt makes you speak in a different way,” Tomlinson told The Telegraph in 2015. “They clench their jaw tightly so you get a completely different sound.” But even with two seasons playing Demelza under her belt, Tomlinson still found it impossible to slip into the character when prompted during a Masterpiece podcast in 2016: “It’s not something I can just immediately pick up,” she said. “I have to really work hard at it.”

8. THE SECOND SEASON OF POLDARK FEATURED A PROBLEMATIC SEX SCENE.

In a scene that came from Warleggan, the fourth novel in the Poldark series, Ross angrily barges into Elizabeth’s bedchamber upon learning that she intends to marry his mortal enemy, George Warleggan. Although she tells him to leave and resists his forceful advances, Elizabeth eventually submits to Ross’s will—and appears to enjoy it. Their one night of passion resulted in Ross receiving a much-deserved decking courtesy of Demelza, and Elizabeth delivering a son, Valentine, less than nine months after her marriage to George.

This scene also resulted in a barrage of criticism toward Poldark, accusing the series of “prettifying” sexual assault and blurring the lines of consent. Andrew Graham, son of Winston Graham and a consultant on Poldark, defended the show’s portrayal of the scene, claiming “there is no ‘shock rape’ storyline in the novels,” explaining that “what then actually happens is not described but is left entirely to one’s imagination.”

Amazon Prime subscribers can watch the scene in question in the second season’s eighth episode.

9. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYS THE REVOLTING REVEREND OSSIE WHITWORTH IS FAR FROM REVOLTING IN REAL LIFE.

Christian Brassington as Ossie Whitworth
Courtesy of Mammoth Screen for BBC and MASTERPIECE

One scroll through Christian Brassington’s Instagram is a double-take waiting to happen. The actor plays the villainous minister Ossie Whitworth on Poldark. But if you’re expecting pics of a rotund dude with a self-righteous gleam in his eye, you’ll have to make do with someone who looks like he walked off the cover of GQ instead. As Brassington recently revealed in a Masterpiece Instagram Story Q&A (click on the story titled “Christian”), he put on 40 pounds to play the loathsome Ossie.

10. THE FIFTH SEASON OF POLDARK WILL ALSO BE ITS LAST.

All good things must come to an end, including Poldark. Shortly before season four's U.S. premiere, it was announced that Poldark is getting a fifth and final season. Since American audiences aren’t even midway through the fourth season yet, there’s really not much that can be speculated over season five without dropping some major spoilers. However, series creator Debbie Horsfield (who has written every episode) has suggested that she may not be following the books to the letter for the final season: Season four is based on Graham’s seventh novel, The Angry Tide. But the eighth novel, The Stranger From the Sea, jumps ahead 10 years. Does that mean season five will see the Poldark and Warleggan children fully grown? Maybe. But maybe not.

“In The Stranger From the Sea, Winston Graham made many references to developments that happened in the ‘gap’ years,” Horsfield said in a statement on Masterpiece’s website. “Much can also be inferred. There are, of course, historical events and people of the time, in Cornwall and London.”

(A slightly less cagey version of what to expect in season five is available by clicking here; be advised that it contains all major season four spoilers.)

The Gruesome Medieval Masquerade That Inspired Edgar Allan Poe

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In March 1849, Edgar Allan Poe published a short story with one of the most macabre dénouements in his entire body of work. Called Hop-Frog, it was the tale of an eponymous court jester who endures repeated humiliations from an abusive king and his ministers before finally exacting his revenge. Like other works of the great horror master, it may have been inspired by historical events—in this case, by a particularly grisly episode from 14th-century France.

In Poe's short story, both Hop-Frog and Trippetta are people with dwarfism stolen from their respective home countries and brought as presents for the king from one of his generals. Hop-Frog is described as having a disability that makes him walk "by a sort of interjectional gait—something between a leap and a wriggle." Forced to be the court's jester, he's the target of the king's practical jokes, and while enduring near-constant humiliations grows close to Trippetta, whose status at the court isn't much better.

One day, the king demands a masquerade, and as the evening draws near, he asks Hop-Frog what to wear. After a scene in which he and Trippetta are abused once again, Hop-Frog sees the perfect chance for revenge. He suggests the monarch and his ministers dress as escaped orangutans chained together, which he calls "a capital diversion—one of my own country frolics—often enacted among us, at our masquerades." The king and his ministers love the idea of scaring their guests, and especially the women. The jester carefully prepares their costumes, saturating tight-fitting fabric with tar and plastering flax on top to resemble the hair of the beasts.

On the evening of the masquerade, the men enter in their special outfits just after midnight. The guests are duly terrified, and amid the hubbub, Hop-Frog attaches the chain that surrounds the group to one hanging from the ceiling that normally holds a chandelier. As the men are drawn upwards, he brings a flame close to their bodies, pretending to the crowd that he's trying to figure out who the disguised men really are. The flax and tar ignite quickly and the noblemen burn to death, suspended above the crowd. "The eight corpses swung in their chains," Poe writes, "a fetid, blackened, hideous, and indistinguishable mass."

Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Bernard Picart, "Bal des Ardents"
Rijksmuseum, Europeana // Public Domain

The gruesome scene was likely inspired by a historical event: the Bal des Ardents (literally, "the Ball of the Burning Ones"). This obscure episode took place during the reign of Charles VI of France (1380-1422), known to posterity as "Charles the Mad." His periods of illness are well-documented by contemporary chroniclers, who tell us that he ran through his castle howling like a wolf, failed to recognize his own wife and children, and forbade anyone to touch him because he believed he was made of glass. After his first bout in 1392, when delirium led him to kill several knights, his physician prescribed "amusements, relaxations, sports, and pastimes."

Meanwhile, the royal council was controlled by his brother Louis d'Orléans and his uncle the Duke of Burgundy—who both had their eyes set on the throne. It was also the middle of the Hundred Years' War, and England was seen as a severe threat to national stability. In spite of the unrest, on January 28, 1393, Charles's wife, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, held a ball in the royal palace of Saint-Pol to celebrate the third marriage of her lady-in-waiting Catherine de Fastaverin. The plan was also to entertain the king, as the royal physician had prescribed. One of the guests, the knight Sir Hugonin (sometimes Huguet) de Guisay, suggested that a group of nobles dress as "wild men" or "wood savages," mythical creatures associated with nature and pagan beliefs. The king liked the idea so much that he decided to join in as one of the masked dancers.

The six noblemen wore garments made of linen covered in pitch and stuck-on clumps of flax, so they appeared "full of hair from the top of the head to the sole of the foot," according to contemporary historian Jean Froissart. Poe preserved these details in Hop-Frog, though his characters weren't dressed as wild men, but as orangutans—an animal he had also used in The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) to great effect.

Unlike his fictional counterpart, Charles VI was aware that the costumes were highly flammable, so he ordered all torch-bearers to keep to one side of the room. As they entered the ballroom, five of the wild men were chained to one another. Only the king was free. The men probably humiliated the newlyweds, howling and dancing; some historians believe the wild dance was a charivari, a folk ritual intended to shame newlyweds at "irregular" marriages. (As a widow getting married for the third time, Lady Catherine would have been a target.)

But there was an important guest missing: the king's brother, Louis d'Orléans. He arrived late, carrying his own torch, and joined the dance. While the exact sequence of events is unclear, before long his torch had set fire to one of the wild men's costumes. The fire spread quickly. Two of the knights burned to death in front of the guests, and two more died in agony days later. Court chronicler Michel Pintoin, known as the Monk of St. Denis, describes the dancers' "flaming genitals dropping to the floor … releasing a stream of blood."

Only two of the wild men survived. One of them, named Nantoiullet, had reacted to the blaze by throwing himself into a barrel of water, which spared him a horrid death. The other was the king. He was saved by the Duchess of Berry, who used her gown to extinguish his costume before it was too late.

The event shook French society. It was seen as the height of courtly decadence, causing outrage and further unrest. That the king had engaged in this extravagant amusement, and that his life had been spared only by chance, was further proof that he was unfit for the throne.

Meanwhile, the part that Louis d'Orléans played in the tragedy was subject to some debate. Most chroniclers blamed his youth and recklessness for the terrible accident; some reportedly suggested it was a prank to "frighten the ladies" that got out of hand.

Although it seems that the Bal des Ardents wasn't a planned crime, the king's brother must have felt responsible for the fatal accident, since he founded a chapel in the convent of the Célestins shortly afterwards, hoping it would buy him a place in heaven. It didn't save him from a violent end, however: In 1407, Louis was assassinated on the orders of his cousin and recently minted political rival the Duke of Burgundy, which triggered a civil war that divided France for decades. The Duke of Burgundy justified the murder by accusing Louis of having used sorcery and occultism to attempt regicide on several occasions—one of them, he claimed, during the Bal des Ardents.

Regardless of the truth behind the matter, the horror of the event filtered down through the centuries to inspire one of Poe's most macabre works. (It's not clear where the author first heard about it, but it may have been in the pages of The Broadway Journal, where he was soon to become editor, and where a writer likened it to the accidental onstage burning death of the dancer Clara Webster in London.) Today, the shocking historical event lives on in Poe's story—and in Hop Frog's memorable final line: "I am simply Hop-Frog, the jester—and this is my last jest."

Additional source: Chronique du Religieux de Saint-Denys

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER