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Presidential Leadership Scholars Share Their Favorite Books to Add to Your 2020 Holiday Wish List

Presidential Leadership Scholars offer their recommendations on the books that helped them navigate this year of great uncertainty.

Article by Katie Kardell December 18, 2020 //   5 minute read

As we enter the holiday season and the year comes to a close, Presidential Leadership Scholars offer their recommendations on the books that helped them navigate this year of great uncertainty.


Bahar Atvur, Class of 2019
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
It's Marie Kondo for life and work.
SreyRam Kuy, Class of 2017
Walking with the Wind
by Congressman John Lewis
“People of conscience don’t run away.” These words by Congressman John Lewis had a profound impact on me. As 2020 comes to a close, and we reflect on a year of racial injustice and health inequity, we can take a page from John Lewis and know that when we stand together with courage and conviction, we can change our world.
Michael Cooper, Class of 2021
The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America
by Thurston Clarke
Robert Kennedy campaigned for president in small-town Indiana and won while talking about civil rights, social justice, and conditions in Appalachia, Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York, and Native American reservations in the Dakotas. He won votes by making his audience care like he did, and at a time when America feels so divided, this definitive account of his attempt to build a multiracial coalition around the values of sacrifice, community, and love of country is a very worthwhile read.
Maryum Saifee, Class of 2019
Caste
by Isabel Wilkerson
A great comparison of three power structures — India, Germany, and the United States — and a fascinating lens into how history and narrative inform policy and culture.
Cassie Farrelly, Class of 2015
Meltdown
by Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik
It's a look at various historical events (Three Mile Island and the water crisis in Flint, Michigan) through a systems-analysis approach. The book is underscores how interlocking systems can make or break prevention, resilience, or recovery. On My Watch by PLS Scholar Ginny Buckingham highlights how our culture focuses on blame, and the ways this can get in the way of progress to problem solving. I see it as a compliment to Meltdown, which offers a valuable framework with which to examine situations to keep the focus on solutions.
Nancy Poon Lue, Class of 2019
The Knowledge Gap
by Natalie Wexler
This book makes a persuasive case for changing how American schools should approach teaching reading, particularly during the elementary years, to make learning more equitable and inclusive.
Desiree de la Torre, Class of 2021
Kamala and Maya's Big Idea
by Meena Harris
This beautifully illustrated children's book is about two sisters that don't take no for an answer and organize to create something positive for the community. The story of resilience resonated with me and inspired me to share the story with children at our children's hospital!
Adeeti Gupta, Class of 2019
Lincoln on the Verge
by Ted Williams
The *PLS Book Club picked this after President Clinton recommended the book on one of our awesome calls. The book is an enthralling story describing President Lincoln's journey from his hometown to Washington, DC. Not only does the author cover the perfervid times with flair, but he ties in pivotal moments in American history to the treacherous journey that led President Lincoln to White House with supreme finesse.
Jimmy Stanton, Class of 2021
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell
by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle
Bill Campbell’s leadership style was entirely about the benefit and development of others. His lessons on how to lead and treat people — from his time as a college football coach and his career in Silicon Valley — definitely reflect the lessons in leadership we’re taught in the PLS program.
Todd Connor, Class of 2016
Reflections of a Servant Leader  
by Major General (retired) Alfred Flowers

*Here are the books the PLS Book Club read this year: 3D Negotiation by David Lax, Breaking Through: Communications Lessons From the Locker Room, the Board Room & the Oval Office by Kevin Sullivan, Decision Points by President George W. Bush, LBJ and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, and Why by Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks, and Politics Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy by Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter.