Women in Power Presents: The Best Books of 2019

Michaela Gaziano
Michaela is a second year MPP student and co-chair of Women in Power, a student run organization at the Harvard Kennedy School

This time of year, after finals wrap up and we’re headed back home, we finally get the chance to catch our breath, spend time with the people we love, and curl up with a good book. The holiday pause creates an opportunity for reflection and gratitude for community. This winter break, I am grateful for the community we have here at HKS – for the professors who are dedicated to enriching my learning, for the peers who have challenged my thinking, and for the staff who make this experience possible. I am grateful for the work we all do together to make this world a better place. 

And so I wanted to say thank you to our HKS community with something I love deeply: books

During the school year, we explore our policy areas and deepen our expertise in the classroom. But over the break, we finally get the chance to read for fun and experience new stories and perspectives. For me, the best way to do this is by reading books that I would not have picked on my own. It allows me to connect to another’s human experience, question my assumptions, and ultimately feel a greater sense of empathy – an emotion that I always associate with this season. What would the world be like if we all took time to read a book recommended by someone completely different from us? 

Written by female & LGBTQ+ authors (some of whom are our very own professors), the books on this list inspired members of the HKS community this year. Thank you to our incredible peers and professors who submitted their recommendations.  Snag one on your way out of town at the Harvard Book Store Warehouse Sale, your local independent bookstore, or from the library. Happy holidays & happy reading! 

This piece was originally written for the Women in Power newsletter. For more content like this, subscribe to the Women in Power newsletter here

 

The Education of An Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power 

“I’d recommend Samantha Power’s memoir The Education of an Idealist, which is not just a rich insider account of policy making, but also a revealing, wise portrait of a great professional managing the personal challenges of work, family, learning and life.

– Professor Nancy Gibbs 

 

 

For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank 

“I’ve been reading For the Love of Men because it puts a gender lens on the kinds of mythologies we grow up with – that men don’t cry, that men can’t be weak or vulnerable – and imagines the kind of world we might live in if we loosened the grip of those myths. This book is less a “how to” guide than a way to create the space to engage with the kinds of violence men do to ourselves, a vital starting point if there ever was one.” 

– Apratim Gautam, MPA-ID2

 

Finding my Voice: My Journey to the West Wing and the Path Forward by Valerie Jarrett

“Valerie Jarrett’s Finding My Voice begins with the stories that shaped her voice (parents, community, and ancestors) and takes the reader along her journey to the Obama White House, where she served as a senior assistant to the president and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. A compelling leader in her own right, Valerie Jarrett’s reflections are also a meditation on a professional life integrating power, influence, and purpose.” 

– Professor Kimberlyn Leary

 

These Truths: A History of the United States by Jill Lepore 

“I’ve recently started These Truths by Harvard colleague and public historian extraordinaire, Jill Lepore. It provides a new overview of this country’s founding tensions and contradictions, and follows those through-lines up to the present. Everyone I know who’s read it has had a Zinn-like* transformational experience around different passages she has plumbed from American history.(*Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is a seminal revisited history of America from the perspective of its marginalized and oppressed majority.)” 

– Professor Zoe Marks

 

An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

“I was just given Joy Harjo’s new book An American Sunrise, a collection of poems built around her Creek ancestors, who were displaced and dispossessed from their homes east of the Mississippi, and forced to live in what is now Oklahoma. Her poems are accessible and urgent – outlining histories we’ve lately been doomed to repeat…The fact that she’s our newest Poet Laureate of the US gives me hope.” 

– Professor Zoe Marks

 

 

How We Get Free by Keeanga – Yamahtta Taylor 

“I’m reading Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s edited collection How We Get Free, which is a new book about the Combahee River Collective, a radical Black feminist group formed in the 1970s that has played an absolutely pivotal role in shaping the conversation around race, class, and gender in America. I’m revisiting the CRC statement as a teaching text (and general life text!) for my course next semester on “21st Century Global Feminisms”. And I’m excited to dig into the interviews contained in the rest of the book because I love learning from women in conversation with one another – as sisters, comrades, debaters, there is power in women not having to speak with one voice.” 

– Professor Zoe Marks 

 

Not For the Faint of Heart:  by Ambassador Wendy Sherman

“I read Not for the Faint of Heart because I was going to take Ambassador Sherman’s negotiations course, but I have since recommended it to many women in my life as they navigate their careers and lives. Her autobiography doesn’t only tell her story, or serve as a checklist for effective negotiations, but offers counsel about how to own your power as a woman and live the life that you really want. Reading the book feels like a conversation with a mentor or friend, and its anecdotes, advice, and spirit will stick with me long past the end of this semester.”  

– Amanda Patarino, MPP2 

 

Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino 

If you know me even tangentially, you most likely know that I haven’t been able to stop talking about Trick Mirror. I promise it’s for good reason – this book truly changed the way I see society. In this incisive collection of personal essays, New Yorker columnist Tolentino discusses a wide range of dilemmas facing our generation – from the way the internet shapes us, to the 7 ways our generation has been scammed, to the commodification of feminism. Each essay critically examines something WILD about our culture that I had previously accepted (though uncomfortably) as the norm. It took me a long time to read because I had to pause every few paragraphs to copy another one of Tolentino’s thought-provoking quotes into my book journal (yes, I do have one of those). It’s a bestseller at Harvard Book Store right now and is therefore 20% off – run don’t walk.”  

– Michaela Gaziano, MPP2, author of this article (shameless, I know)  

 

The Apology* by Eve Ensler 

“ My dear friend Eve Ensler’s The Apology, which is unlike any book I’ve ever read, a genuine reckoning and must-read for anyone who has experienced trauma and still waits for an apology. If you want, you can also watch this public conversation Eve and I had this fall at Harvard.”

 – Professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy

 

 

 

Transgender History by Susan Stryker 

“My dear friend Susan Stryker’s Transgender History, now in its second edition, a brilliant and trailblazing work of history through the lens of transgender people. It has transformed (of course) the way I–and we–should understand things about the past.” 

Professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy

 

 

 

Know My Name*  by Chanel Miller

Know My Name is a beautifully written memoir from the woman, formerly known only as “Emily Doe,” who was at the center of the Stanford rape case in 2015 that expands on the victim impact statement that went viral after the sentencing. She tells the story of her trauma and the trial that followed. A really honest look at the system and the emotional burden on survivors.” 

– Megan Linquinti, MPP1 

 

 

* These books contain material about sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

 

Bonus:

While we wanted this article to highlight women and LGBTQ+ authors in this article, we also think this bonus book will be a great way to rejuvenate over break: 

 

Book of Delights by Ross Gay

My favorite reading experience this past year–one that I want everyone I know to have–is Ross Gay’s Book of Delights. Two dear friends gave me this book as a gift, because they wanted me to slow down and appreciate life. I love this book so much I may read it again over the break.” 

Professor Timothy Patrick McCarthy

 

 

 

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