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Book ‘Em

The National Book Festival will celebrate a love of reading this weekend by bringing some of the country’s most successful writers and thinkers to speak on the National Mall. 

With more than 125 authors this year, the festival tries to appeal to every taste, with speakers as diverse as children’s authors Jerry Spinelli and R.L. Stine, New York Times opinion writer Thomas Friedman, biographers Walter Isaacson and Robert Caro and novelist Jeffrey Eugenides. 

Eisenhower biographer Jean Edward Smith is scheduled to appear, as are David and Julie Nixon Eisenhower.

Douglas Brinkley, chronicler of environmental heroes John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, is on the schedule, and so is Daniel Yergin, historian of fossil fuels.

“The political set can get what everyone can get, which is a respite from their current reality,” festival Operations Manager Jennifer Gavin said. “Even political people need to relax with a good book once in a while.”

The free festival, organized by the Library of Congress, will be held between Ninth and 14th streets on the National Mall, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday and continuing through Sunday night.

For the political- and policy-minded, here are five authors to look for at the festival:

Thomas Friedman

Friedman will be discussing his 2011 book, “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back,” at 11 a.m. Saturday. He will speak with co-author Michael Mandelbaum, director of the American Foreign Policy program at Johns Hopkins University. 

Their prescription for America’s ailments is simple: “What we need is not novel or foreign,” they explain in a statement on Friedman’s website, “but values, priorities, and practices embedded in our history and culture, applied time and again to propel us forward as a country. That is all part of our past. That used to be us and can be again – if we will it.”

David Maraniss

Maraniss, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and associate editor at the Washington Post, will recount what he learned from three and a half years of reporting on his new biography of President Barack Obama, “Barack Obama: The Story” at 1:50 p.m. Sunday. 

“I think that his life was sort of encrusted in mythology,” he said. “So what I do is try to pursue the real
story and wipe away the mythology from all sides.”

He calls the book a “generational biography” because he delves into Obama’s background and family history. Maraniss traveled to Indonesia, Kenya, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago to track Obama’s story. 

“I’m trying to study the world that created him and how he re-created himself. The story of his family throughout the world, and given that, the contradictions he was born into, being half black and half white, and growing up without his father.” 

The biography is the first of two volumes and ends with Obama driving up to Harvard University to begin law school. 

Rep. John Lewis

Lewis’ new memoir, “Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change,” details his experiences as a civil rights leader in the 1960s, from working with Martin Luther King Jr. to being attacked on Freedom Rides and at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. 

“During the Freedom Rides, during the sit-ins, during the march from Selma to Montgomery, when we crossed that bridge, we were prepared to die,” Lewis told Roll Call in June. 

One of the book’s major themes is the power of faith to help people through their most difficult moments. Lewis remembers the greatest test of his faith came during his 40-day incarceration in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, then one of the nation’s most brutal maximum-security prisons. He offers his faith and his belief in nonviolent protest as lessons for young activists. 

Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs chose Isaacson, president of the nonprofit Aspen Institute, as his biographer after he was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004. Isaacson refused until 2009, when it became clear that Jobs’ health was declining rapidly. The tech pioneer and founder of Apple said he chose Isaacson because he was “good at making people talk.” Isaacson, who had been CEO of CNN and editor of Time magazine, found this amusing because his previous two biographies had been of men long dead: Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. 

In “Steve Jobs,” Isaacson chronicles Jobs’ mercurial rise and fall in his first stint at Apple and then his mythic return in the ’90s. Jobs helped Steve Wozniak build the Apple I in his parents’ garage in 1976. He was forced out of Apple nine years later, founding NeXT Computer and buying Pixar from George Lucas during his absence from the company. When Jobs returned as CEO in 1997, he began engineering the release of the company’s most famous products – the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad. 

Isaacson will discuss “Steve Jobs” at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Jill Abramson

Abramson, executive editor of the New York Times, revealed her whimsical side last year when she wrote a memoir about her golden retriever, Scout. She became the newspaper’s first female executive editor in 2011, after working there as an investigative reporter for 14 years. 

Now she’s releasing a children’s book about her dog’s adventures, “Ready or Not, Here Comes Scout!” co-written with her sister, Jane O’Connor. She will speak on the Family Storytelling Stage at 2:40 p.m. Saturday.

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