It’s the time of year again, when you have belatedly realized that Christmas is nearly a week away and you still haven’t gotten something for that special someone in your life and/or elected official you are trying to lobby.
You thought about going very traditional with some gold, frankincense and myrrh, but these are adults you’re shopping for, not an infant born in a manger! Or maybe coal for a nice stocking stuffer … unless someone’s watching their carbon footprint. What are you going to do?!
Never fear, dear gift-giver, Heard on the Hill is here with our annual holiday book-giving guide.
We asked lots of well-read people with impressive-sounding job titles in and around Capitol Hill for the best new(-ish) books they read this year, and a baker’s dozen replied.
The rest — mostly senators and representatives — must have been too busy trying to stuff legislation through an overpacked meat grinder before the year’s end to share their stocking stuffing ideas.
Here are some of the responses, sent by email and lightly edited. Happy reading!
Paul Thornell, principal at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas
“My Seven Black Fathers: A Young Activist’s Memoir of Race, Family, and the Mentors Who Made Him Whole,” by Will Jawando. “It’s a great way to tell a story/memoir that is relevant, timely and accessible. Will’s approach is quite compelling, and he weaves vignettes that are emotional and provocative that feature Silver Spring, Maryland (where I grew up).”
Howard Mortman, C-SPAN communications director and author of “When Rabbis Bless Congress: The Great American Story of Jewish Prayers on Capitol Hill”
“Watergate: A New History,” by Garrett M. Graff. “I just finished Garrett Graff's Watergate book, so it’s on top of my mind … but had such a great time with it. I thought I knew all the Watergate stories. I was wrong. Garrett did a herculean job going through so much existing Watergate material to pull together a compelling new story and make it all fresh again. Think you know the entire story from beginning to end? Not until you’ve read this.”
Daniel Schuman, Demand Progress policy director and editor of the First Branch Forecast
“The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War,” by Joanne B. Freeman “is an excellent look at the very uncivil Congress during the 18th century, which saw more than 70 violent incidents between congressmen in the congressional chambers or on nearby streets. There are very good reasons why congressional hearings are open to the public and why it’s important to punish the bad behavior of members. The book is a good reminder that things have been worse (and might be again).”
Taylor Ware, president of the Senate Black Legislative Staff Caucus
“At Least You Have Your Health,” by Madi Sinha. “This contemporary novel tells the story of gynecologist and mother, Dr. Maya Rao, as she sets after finding a balance between her career as a health care professional and raising a family — all while navigating the biases she faces as an Indian American immigrant. This book is a refreshing social commentary on America's health care systems, as well as gender and race-based disparities.”
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee
“In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown,” by Nathaniel Philbrick. “This is a great book by an eminently readable historian that takes an in-depth look at Washington’s strategy and highlights the role of Nathanael Greene as Washington’s most trusted general. As a North Carolinian, I enjoyed reading about the often-overlooked Revolutionary War battles that took place in my state.”
Kevin R. Kosar, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
“Doctors and Distillers: The Remarkable Medicinal History of Beer, Wine, Spirits, and Cocktails,'' by Camper English. “A wild romp through history. Until the early 20th century, medicine often was made with alcohol. Today’s Chartreuse, Fernet-Branca and Jägermeister are the descendants of these curatives and health tonics.”
Jacob Wilson, communications director for Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Staff Association
“The Persuaders: At the Front Lines of the Fight for Hearts, Minds, and Democracy,” by Anand Giridharadas. “No, you’re wrong. You can persuade people. And Giridharadas will show you how in this intimate portrait of the canvassers, organizers and strategists changing hearts and minds in our community. You’ll look over the shoulder of a gay man knocking on a homophobe's door in LA. You’ll find out what it takes to deprogram a QAnon zealot. And you’ll meet some of the most compelling — and convincing — communicators in the country.”
Zac McCrary, democratic pollster, partner at Impact Research and host of Pro Politics Podcast
“A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland,” by Troy Senik. “That’s a period of history that is often overlooked, but Cleveland had an unusual and fascinating career — really a one-of-a-kind — and not only because he’s the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms. Also, the backdrop of the late 19th century is informative since the two parties were undergoing changes in their coalitions — with Cleveland in the middle of that, of which there are at least some faint echoes with our politics today.”
D. Taylor, president of Unite Here
“America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States,” by Erika Lee. “This book tells the history of bigotry towards the newest immigrants in our country, going back to our inception.”
“Wild Bill: The True Story of the American Frontier’s First Gunfighter,” by Tom Clavin. “This book was very reflective of our early history of creating heroes from rugged individuals who made their mark in the American West.”
James Sonne, head of government affairs at PGIM
“Trillion Dollar Triage: How Jay Powell and the Fed Battled the White House and Saved the Economy,” by Nick Timiraos. “Great book by a Wall Street Journal reporter, all about how Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Powell worked to create the COVID relief programs.”
Robert Creamer, partner at Democracy Partners
“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,'' by David Blight. “Winner of the Pulitzer Price in history, this is an extraordinary biography of the escaped slave, who became one of the most influential figures of the 19th century. Douglass was a powerful voice for the movement to abolish slavery, and the battle for Black civil and political rights in the years following the Civil War. Blight is a brilliant historian and storyteller.”
Jason Dick, editor in chief, CQ Roll Call
"They Said They Wanted Revolution: A Memoir of My Parents," by Neda Toloui-Semnani. “Toloui-Semnani, a former Roll Caller, tells the very personal story of her parents and their roles in the 1979 Iranian revolution, as well as her own harrowing escape from that country as a young girl. She explores what it means for her family and how it shaped her own life as a daughter, sister, journalist and mother. It also provides a lot of rich context for current geopolitics, in which Iran is such a key player.”
David Tennent, CNCT co-founder and former House staffer
“Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future,” by Peter Thiel. “The perfect book for when you want to make the jump from government to entrepreneurship. By far the most underlined book in my library.”