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Hillary Clinton on books that shaped her mind

photo: Wikimedia
One of the most influential American politicians on fiction she has learned a lot from
Buy on amazon “The Brothers Karamasov” by Dostoevsky
During her tour in New Hampshire, Clinton named Fyodor Dostoyevsky's “The Brothers Karamazov” as her favorite book

This is of the best allegorical novels to explain the fractured nature of 19th century Russia. Each character is representative of one of the ruling classes. There is the father Fyodor, the landowner who is negligent about his land, but greedy in using its produce for himself. There's Dmitri, who has been passed around from house to house, and has grown up an entitled but debt-ridden soul. There's the skeptic Ivan, who wishes to live more among cold concepts than people. Third is gentle Alyosha, the mystic and religious peacemaker, and the illegitimate Smerdyakov. Throughout are themes of love, law, and duty, which makes this one of the best Dostoyesky books to read besides Crime and Punishment.
Buy on amazon “The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance” by Edmund de Waal
- from interview to The New York Times
In the 1800’s, the family of Ephrussis bankers lit up the Parisienne and Venetian world in similar fashion to the Vanderbilts and Morgans of the Roaring ‘20s. However, the family left behind much less as a legacy – just 264 ‘netuske’ carvings of Japanese ivory and wood. These carvings were given by one family member (an inspiration to Marcel Proust) to a cousin for her wedding gift, but when Austria was annexed by Germany, only the carvings remained as a memorial. History students who enjoy a mixture of royal and peasant life stories (the carvings were hidden in a straw mattress) will want to read this multiple award-winning account.
Buy on amazon “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert took over a decade to write an award-winning novel of love, science, and the lure of knowledge. Ostensibly, the novel hinges on a tale of ambition and botany, just as her most famous novel (Eat, Pray, Love) is ostensibly about overcoming depression following a divorce. A winter-born ugly duckling child named Alma is born in Philadelphia to a wealthy titan who made his fortune on exotic plants. As Alma becomes dissatisfied with unfulfilling social life and fascinated with her own internal contradictions, she begins a tour of exotic locations to discover that the plant world can speak to the world of humans.
Buy on amazon “Citizens of London” by Lynne Olson

If you’ve ever wondered about Winston Churchill’s inner circle, this 2010 Amazon Best Book of the Month will reveal the bold souls who forged an Anglo-American alliance before the public came on board. From pragmatism to idealism, these men reflect the spirit of their age, and yet defied the slow-moving speed at which an old world power and a young world power decided to combine purposes against the dominance of Nazi Germany. Fans of aviation history will be glad to know the background of the Eagle Squadrons, made up of Americans who volunteered their services to the RAF war effort.
Buy on amazon “A Suitable Boy” by Vikram Seth

In 1950’s India, it is most important that a lovely Indian girl have an arranged marriage with an impressive groom. This novel of magical realism weaves together the lives of four families, and has been described as a Dickensian work meant for 20th Century readers. Dickens’ style of the thin veneer of civilization overborne by waves of human misery or quiet suffering is evident in Seth’s work, especially in dealing with the oppressive tapestry of the caste system that rules the lives of India, from the most to the least privileged. The author’s own mother swept through London bar exams to become India’s first female chief justice.
Buy on amazon “Our Divided Political Heart” by E. J. Dionne
- from interview to The New York Times
What is truly the soul of America – a rugged individualism or a balance of individual and communal strengths? Washington Post columnist and Oxford Rhodes scholar Dionne argues that the country’s political split could be traced to a misunderstanding of the Federal vision shared by both the Founding Fathers to the Progressives – that the Federal government is a partner in the promotion of national greatness and prosperity. From former President Bill Clinton to Hendrik Hertzberg and Rachel Maddow, Dionne has stolen our divided American hearts.
Buy on amazon “After the Music Stopped” by Alan S. Blinder
- from interview to The New York Times
The positive aftermath of the 2007 financial crisis, or credit crunch, was to show the fragility and interconnected threads binding global governments and businesses together. From open-eyed descriptions of the Clinton Treasury’s approach to derivatives, to the shadowy practices of murky banking and leveraging, the tone is instructive while avoiding rants about global inequality more suited for a political piece. This book explains complex and world-affecting financial trends such as Quantitative Easing without requiring its readers to become professors of economics or history.
Buy on amazon “The Color Purple” By Alice Walker
- Hillary Clinton for The Oprah Magazine
For a book titled after a royal color, there seems to be no hint of greatness or glamor about Celie’s life. The men or overlords who rule her from morning to night have no names; Pa and ‘Mr.” simply take what they want from her and her children, and leave very little meaning or affection behind. Early after her marriage to Mr., Celie loses her beloved sister Nettie to the wide world, but is able to rediscover some of the joys of life through a terminally ill woman (Shug) who also happens to be Mr.’s mistress. Celie and Nettie’s struggle to live as worthwhile human beings in a world that tries to reject them, and forge a future, is inspirational.
Buy on amazon “Little Women” By Louisa May Alcott
- Hillary Clinton for The Oprah Magazine
Published in 1869 as a way to provide for her financially struggling parents, this classic American novel was lived by the Boston-born author before she put pen to paper. While Alcott initially resisted writing a novel that mirrored her own family life (she grew up with three other sisters in New England), she eventually gave in to the persistence of her editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing and finished the first half of the book in 10 weeks. The adventures of Meg, Amy, and Beth were inspired by Alcott’s real-life sisters; one married a fellow play-actor, one died of scarlet fever, and one showed her paintings at the Paris Salon. The result of their literary sister’s efforts has been made into countless plays and films, and even a ballet.
Buy on amazon “The Clan of the Cave Bear” By Jean M. Auel
- Hillary Clinton for The Oprah Magazine
This novel could be termed ‘Ayla and the Ice Age’, since these are the primary protagonists of the story of disaster and survival. Ayla is a transplant into the Clan, and considered rather ugly due to her unusual blonde-and-blue appearance as a Cro-Magnon. Her main enemy is the dominant and upcoming leader Brun, who fears and rejects this outsider who doesn’t belong with a Neanderthal clan clinging to life in a harsh but beautiful world. This is the first novel in a five-part Earth Children series.
Buy on amazon “West with the Night” By Beryl Markham
- Hillary Clinton for The Oprah Magazine
First written in 1942, the 2010 reprint has captured the timeless appeal of man versus nature…only in this case, the plane-flying daredevil is female. Though Markham eventually spent her years as a horse trainer in Kenya, in her younger years, she became famous as the first female to fly nonstop across the Atlantic. Though she was forced to crash in Nova Scotia before reaching her goal, she did manage to fly from Britain to America in a small silver-and-turquoise plane – in the dark, by herself, against headwinds. Her courage would do credit to Ernest Hemingway’s determination to face internal fears; she met him on safari.
Buy on amazon “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang
- Hillary Clinton for The Oprah Magazine
Whether the reader wants an insider's take on communism worked out in China, or the feminine perspective of a world caught between medieval and modern life, Wild Swans would be one of those good books to read in either category. The historical accounts are real, which should satisfy political science students. Personal accounts of the trials endured by the author's grandmother (bound feet and life as a concubine), the author's mother (living through Chairman Mao's purges) and the author herself (from doctoring to steelwork), give a family shape to this true account.
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