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Book Recommendations from Officials Who’ve Been “In the Arena”

As 2020 comes to a close, we take a moment to reflect on the numerous books that government officials from across the nation have recommended over the past several years.

Books mentioned on the podcast "In The Arena"

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In the Arena’s podcast interviews have included many good book recommendations, often more than one, from government officials all over the country. The officials have suggested books for all kinds of reasons; some have enchanted them as a child, others have inspired them to pursue their current career of public service. Sometimes all the officials can manage is to list the three most recent books they have enjoyed because, as Blair Milo, Indiana’s secretary for Career Connections and Talent, explained, “I could no sooner pick a favorite star in the heavens,” than pick a single best book to read.

Books often become favorites if they provide some sense of nostalgia or wonder. They can be an escape into an alternate reality or a world that satiates the present moment’s wanderlust. During the coronavirus pandemic, this can also act as a form of stress relief, an escape from the confines of the shelter-in-place orders. Los Angeles, Calif., Mayor Eric Garcetti turns to Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, a book of short stories “and many of them are these beautiful fantastical metaphors for the universe.” But he also turns to books for hope, which can act as an escape from the fear and uncertainty of this global pandemic. He discusses how Marge Pearcy’s book of poetry, Stone, Paper, Knife, which gets its title from a poem that is “all about how, in the midst of struggle, do we still stay idealistic and hang on to hope, and hope rests in each one of us.”

For others, a favorite book can be a connection to a cherished moment in time. For Kristen Cox, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, it also happens to be a moment of triumph. “Because I had some vision growing up, they didn’t teach me braille. But then as I went more and more blind, I had no way to read,” Cox explains. After having her first son, she taught herself to read braille, learning a letter a day, so that she could read to her son. Eventually, she was proficient enough to read her first book in braille: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. “I love The Hobbit anyway, but to read that in braille was a huge accomplishment for me.”

Other times, a favorite book can create a cherished moment and connection between two people despite physical separation. For "In the Arena" host, Cathilea Robinett, and senior advisor to the California Office of Emergency Services, Karen Baker, this unity was fostered over a mutual favorite children’s book: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. “I just don’t know what secret garden is around the corner for me,” Baker explains. “The good is about to happen.”

Books can offer us many things during these unprecedented times, whether that is escaping to a different land or building connection between two people and the public officials who have spoken with us “In the Arena” have read it all.

Here is a complete list of the recommendations.*

Beth Niblock, CIO of Detroit, Mich. Good to Great by Jim Collins
  The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
  The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
Blair Milo, Ind.'s first secretary of Career Connections and Talent The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  Talking to Strangers by Malcom Gladwell
  Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal
Bruce Bond, co-founder of Common Ground Committee Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  In Search of Excellence by Robert H. Waterman Jr. and Tom Peters
  The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
Chris Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento, Calif. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Chris Castro, director of Sustainability for Orlando, Fla. Reinventing Fire by Amory Lovins
  Drawdown by Paul Hawken
  The Willing World by James Bacchus
Clay Jenkinson, Governing's editor-at-large and humanities scholar The Stand by Stephen King
  A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
  The Plague by Albert Camus
Doug Burgum, governor of N.D. Return on Courage by Ryan Berman
Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, Calif. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
  Stone, Paper, Knife by Marge Piercy
  Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson
  What It Takes by Stephen Schwarzman
Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Ky. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Harry Black, city manager of Stockton, Calif. Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts
Harry LaRosiliere, mayor of Plano, Texas Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz
Heather Repenning, executive officer of sustainability policy for Los Angeles Metro Beloved by Toni Morrison
Jabari Simama, former president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College Race After Technology by Ruha Benjamin
Karen Baker, senior advisor to the California Offices of Emergency Services The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Kim Foxx, state's attorney for Cook County, Ill. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Kristen Cox, executive director of Utah Office of Management and Budget The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lydia Mihalik, director of Ohio's Development Services Agency The Pioneers by David McCullough
Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University The Glory and the Dream by William Manchester
Miles K. Davis, president of Linfield College How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  Becoming by Michelle Obama
Nan Whaley, mayor of Dayton, Ohio Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery
  Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Rebecca Rhynhart, city controller of Philadelphia, Pa. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Serena DiMaso, New Jersey assemblymember The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt by Eleanor Roosevelt
  Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
Sharon Greenberger, president and CEO of N.Y. YMCA The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagan
Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, S.C. Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
  South Carolina: A History by Walter Edgar
  Blessed Experiences by James Clyburn
Themis Klarides, minority leader of the Conn. House The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
*Part of the proceeds from the books purchased from links within this article will be used to support Governing.


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