December 30, 2019
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9 books that will spark joy—or at least give you a few new ideas

In 2019, we asked mayors from around the country for their book recommendations. Here's what they told us.

In our conversations with mayors, we always ask what they’re reading or what books they recommend. This is a list of their favorites, both old and new. Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

No doubt you’ve read your fair share of year-end lists. Us too. In the same spirit, we bring you this list of great reads, but it’s not beholden to dates. What binds these books together is that each in its own way has inspired one of America’s mayors. As we turn our attention to the new year, we hope you have time to relax and reflect with one of these inspiring titles.

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson—Ithaca, New York, Mayor Svante Myrick raved about this book by the renowned attorney and criminal justice advocate. The movie based on the book just came out, with actor Michael B. Jordan playing Stevenson, so read it before you see it.

The Silk Roads: A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan—Clarkston, Georgia, Mayor Ted Terry told us about this one: “It’s a really fascinating book that tells the history of the world through trade and commerce.”

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande—Mayor Lucy Vinis of Eugene, Oregon, said this book helped her reflect on her own family, including her 96-year-old mother: “I think it’s incredibly insightful and helpful as we think about how to care for our senior citizens as they age, and also how we address the medical needs of terminal illnesses. It sounds depressing, but it’s actually a very good book. It’s a page turner.”

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Well, by Malcolm Gladwell—Santa Rosa, California, Mayor Tom Schwedhelm is a big fan of Gladwell’s work, and he ranks this book among Gladwell’s most popular. “He’s a good storyteller,” the mayor said.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu—Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer was reading this when we spoke to him back in November. The title alone should make a good case for why you should pick up this book!

Suburban Nation, The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck—Carmel, Indiana, Mayor Jim Brainard said this is the book that every perspective mayor or city council member should read. Brainard is kind of obsessed with urban design and as the mayor for over two decades, he’s tried to implement the best practices for sustainable cities: “The car has really impacted how we design our cities so there’s a huge move back to how do you design for people, not cars, and that’s what we are trying to do in our city.”

The Next American City, by Mick Cornett and Jayson White—Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt gave a shout out to his predecessor, Cornett, with this recommendation. As a four-term mayor, Cornett helped to reimagine Oklahoma City as a dynamic cultural center.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee—A classic. And a favorite of Tampa, Florida, Mayor Jane Castor.

Becoming, by Michelle Obama—Rochester Hills, Michigan, Mayor Bryan Barnett told us his favorite book is the one he reads the most: the Bible. But in the more recently published category, he selected this memoir by the former first lady. “I found it to be an interesting read. Me and the rest of America!”