Many pop culture portrayals of Washington put the government front and center. But beyond the politics, D.C. has a local side that deserves attention too. This year, we asked some of this region’s biggest book lovers to recommended books to help you better understand D.C. from a uniquely local angle. Take a look!

Marita Golden, D.C. resident and author

  • Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City

    By Natalie Hopkinson

    Duke University Press Books

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  • Go-go music is an integral part of Washington’s cultural history. This book tells the history of black Washington through that very music, as well as the transition from “Chocolate City” to the rapidly changing Washington we have today.

  • Watergate: A Novel

    By Thomas Mallon

    Vintage

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  • “Watergate” is a retelling of the famed political scandal surrounding President Richard Nixon. Golden says the book changed the way she saw political life in the city because of how human all the characters were.

  • All Aunt Hagar's Children

    By Edward P. Jones

    Amistad Press

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  • This book is a collection of 14 stories about everyday people in Washington D.C. Among them are tales of a Korean War veteran and a married couple who moves to the city from their rural home.

    E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and “literary activist”

  • Literary Capital: A Washington Reader

    University of Georgia Press

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  • “Literary Capital” collects the writing of dozens of authors’ musings about Washington. The book includes the writing of everyone from Joan Didion to Langston Huges and Booker T. Washington.
  • The Wide Circumference of Love: A Novel

    By Marita Golden

    Arcade Publishing

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  • Marita Golden’s latest book tells the story of a family dealing with Alzheimer’s disease as they navigate life in Washington D.C.. Miller says the book uses the themes of change and remembrance to create a compelling tale.

  • Since its original publishing in 1988, the book has been a source for information on many neighborhoods in the city. Updated in 2010, the book now covers 26 neighborhoods with historic pictures and maps.

    Elsbeth Purdy, librarian at D.C. Public Libraries:

  • New Boy (Hogarth Shakespeare)

    By Tracy Chevalier

    Hogarth

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  • Just released in May, “New Boy” retells Shakespeare’s “Othello” and places it in suburban Washington in the 1970s.

  • Author Leon Wilkins, a U.S. District Court Judge, tells the story of his journey to make the National Museum of African American History and Culture come to fruition. The book also challenges America’s unwillingness to deal with the realities of slavery and discrimination.

  • This autobiography tells the story of the controversial and well-known former D.C. mayor. It expands on Mayor Barry’s personal troubles, and his time in jail. Barry passed away in 2014.

    Kojo Nnamdi, D.C. resident and host, “The Kojo Nnamdi Show”


  • Edward Jones is, “arguably the city’s most acclaimed living fiction writer,” says Kojo. “Lost In The City” is a collection of stories from Jones, telling the tales of African-American men and women in D.C.

  • Derek Strange is a rookie D.C. police officer. This story begins during Strange’s childhood, but later rejoins him as a police officer. The book describes D.C. in great detail.
  • Tally's Corner

    By Elliot Liebow

    Little Brown & Co (P)

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  • The book was a spin-off of Liebow’s doctorate research. It is a collection of research done on a group of men who routinely hung out on a Washington street corner. There was much debate as to which specific corner the book talked about. It was later revealed that it was 11th and M St. NW. He went every day for 18 months.

    Readers’ Picks

  • The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

    By Dinaw Mengestu

    Riverhead Books

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  • “The Beautiful Things Heaven Bears” tells the story of a man who flees the Ethiopian Revolution to Washington, D.C. His world changes when racial incidents shake the community.
  • Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C.

    By Harry S. Jaffe and Tom Sherwood

    Argo-Navis

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  • The Politics Hour’s own Tom Sherwood co-authored this book about D.C.’s history from the establishment of home rule, to the rise and fall of Marion Barry.

  • This fictional story takes place in British Guiana, but one of our listeners says it’s a perfect example of how a book can help you learn about a place.
  • Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

    By James Forman Jr.

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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  • James Foreman Jr. was a recent guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. His book explores why African American leaders supported the “tough on crime” crackdown in the 1990s that led to the imprisonment of many African Americans nationwide.

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