By the Book With Tammy Duckworth: “I love Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biographies. She goes deep into the relationships between people in power.”

From a New York Times By the Book interview with Senator Tammy Duckworth:

What books are on your night stand?
As a busy mom of a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old, I mostly listen to audiobooks. I’m currently listening to Susan Cain’s “Quiet,” Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner’s “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction” and, for fun, Kevin Kwan’s “Sex and Vanity.” And I just finished Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”

What books do you think most accurately depict Washington?
I like political memoirs, which give key players’ perspectives on the events they were involved in. Often their perspectives are very different from what was reported in the news at the time.

What’s the best book you’ve ever read about governance? And about the military?
I wouldn’t exactly call it a book about governance, but “White Rage,” by Carol Anderson, is a really insightful book about the effects and backlash that have followed the passage of landmark civil rights legislation throughout our nation’s history. It serves as both a description and predictor of the political movements that are likely to happen the next time our nation passes such major legislation.

What books do you think best capture your own political principles?

I really enjoyed “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I’m not sure it captures my political principles, but I do like the idea of bringing together people from different perspectives to serve the same cause.

What are the best books you’ve read about the Iraq war?
“The War I Always Wanted,” by Brandon Friedman captured the coming of age for my generation of service members. It spoke to the illusions I had in the first half of my military career about what war was, versus the reality of war once I experienced it.

Are there books that you think it’s important for your children to read?

The diary of Anne Frank, Jane Austen’s works, “Charlotte’s Web” all come to mind. My girls are still young; Abigail is just learning to read, and Maile won’t start for a few years, so we’re at the beginning of their journey. I want them to be widely read, so I try to make sure there’s range in their reading materials.

What books would you suggest to someone starting out in politics today?
I’d recommend they read as many memoirs and biographies as possible, to learn the deeper details of how great leaders negotiate and achieve their policy goals. Some good ones are Katharine Graham’s “Personal History,” Jon Meacham’s “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” and my personal heroine Madeleine Albright’s “Madam Secretary.”

Which books do you think capture the current social and political moment in America?
My colleague Michael Bennet’s “The Land of Flickering Lights” is an insightful look at partisan politics, from fights over the filibuster to Mitch McConnell’s slow, methodical plan to stack the judicial bench. It’s well laid out, and shows us where both parties are at fault in the current polarization.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, biographers, historians, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
I love Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biographies. She goes deep into the relationships between people in power, which we don’t think enough about. In “The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys,” she explored how personal relationships affected policies, which in turn affected the whole nation. And in “Team of Rivals,” she wrote about how Lincoln used relationships — human interaction — for his own ends.

Which genres do you like best, and which do you avoid?
I read just about everything and usually have three to four books going at a time. I love the “Great Courses” books, because they’re accessible overviews for a working mom like me with a crazy schedule. Then I’ll usually have a science or natural history book, and a political book or memoir. I also like to have a brain-junk-food book going, like “Crazy Rich Asians” or a mystery. I read everything except for horror.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
People would probably be surprised at how much ancient history (especially Ancient Egypt) and science (especially astrophysics) books I read. I really loved (and just reread) Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time.”

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
I’d put together a dinner with Doris Kearns Goodwin and the subjects of her biographies, like President Lincoln, President Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt. It would be fun to watch what they confirmed or denied, and then Doris could call their bluff by saying, “I read your letters.” And as a fellow Illinoisan, I feel like it’s mandatory to put Lincoln on my list.

What do you plan to read next?
Next up on my audiobook schedule are “Dereliction of Duty,” by H. R. McMaster, “12 Essential Scientific Concepts,” by Indre Viskontas, and “Scrappy Little Nobody,” by Anna Kendrick. I’ve heard great things about “Scrappy Little Nobody,” and I love the title. No matter how successful or privileged a person may seem today, you never know what they had to go through to get there.

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