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Harari, Kahneman on Obama’s must-read list

Israeli authors’ work cited alongside Lincoln’s collected writings among 10 books named by US president as having shaped his thinking

US President Barack Obama delivers a toast during the State Dinner with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the White House in Washington on October 18, 2016. (Yuri Gripas/AFP)
US President Barack Obama delivers a toast during the State Dinner with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the White House in Washington on October 18, 2016. (Yuri Gripas/AFP)

US President Barack Obama’s “essential reading list” includes books by two Israeli authors and an American Jewish journalist, according to a selection compiled by Wired and published Friday.

The titles in the 10 book list are some of those Obama says have shaped his thinking. (Excluded is other reading material on the Oval Office desk, such as intelligence briefings, classified memos and similar documents.)

Among the books on the list are Hebrew University professor Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” and Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

The former is a (very) condensed history of humankind from prehistoric times to the present, and the latter is a book by the acclaimed cognitive psychologist which emphasizes the role of irrational thinking in people’s economic decisions.

Professor Yuval Noah Harari, whose bestseller book, 'Sapiens,' is the basis of the Israel Museum's new exhibit (Courtesy Yuval Noah Harari)
Professor Yuval Noah Harari, whose bestseller book, ‘Sapiens,’ is the basis of the Israel Museum’s new exhibit (Courtesy Yuval Noah Harari)

Kahneman won a Nobel prize for his work in prospect theory.

American-Jewish journalist Robert A. Caro’s “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” also features. The book describes the influence of Robert Moses, an urban designer who shaped the modern face of New York City.

A biography of Andrew Grove, a Jewish Hungarian-born businessman who fled the Holocaust to America, is another entry. Grove, who died in March at the age of 79, was one of the founders of Intel Corporation.

Obama also cited the massive, nine-volume collected works of Abraham Lincoln, a president known to have influenced his worldview; Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction,” which predicts the self-inflicted demise of humankind through the exhaustion of the Earth’s resources; and two essays on racial inequality by James Baldwin.

Economist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explains his theory in "The Nobelists" (Courtesy Ruth Diskin Films)
Economist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explains his theory in “The Nobelists” (Courtesy Ruth Diskin Films)

A fan of biographies, the president also recommended “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63,” the first volume in a trilogy by Taylor Branch.

Rounding out the list are John Steinbeck’s Great Depression-era working class novel “In Dubious Battle” and “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” by Katherine Boo.

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