The most recommended books about Washington D.C.

Who picked these books? Meet our 40 experts.

40 authors created a book list connected to Washington D.C., and here are their favorite Washington D.C. books.
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Book cover of Wild Rose: The True Story of a Civil War Spy

Bryan Denson Author Of The Spy's Son: The True Story of the Highest-Ranking CIA Officer Ever Convicted of Espionage and the Son He Trained to Spy for Russia

From my list on nonfiction about turncoat American spies.

Why am I passionate about this?

I knew nothing about spies – except that James Bond preferred his martinis shaken, not stirred – until 2009, when federal agents hauled Jim and Nathan Nicholson into the federal courthouse I covered as an investigative reporter for The Oregonian newspaper. Since then, I’ve taken a deep dive into the real world of spies and spy catchers, producing The Spy’s Son and writing another cool spy case into Newsweek magazine. Now I’m hooked. But with apologies to 007, I prefer my martinis stirred. 

Bryan's book list on nonfiction about turncoat American spies

Bryan Denson Why did Bryan love this book?

Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to think of spies as cloak-and-dagger types driving Jaguars and carrying machine pistols and exploding gadgets. But spying really is the second-oldest profession. Ann Blackman’s beautifully told narrative of Washington socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow, who became a highly successful Confederate spy during the Civil War, is a good reminder that a smart, deceptive human – female or male – can change the course of wars.

By Ann Blackman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wild Rose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For sheer bravado and style, no woman in the North or South rivaled the Civil War heroine Rose O’Neale Greenhow. Fearless spy for the Confederacy, glittering Washington hostess, legendary beauty and lover, Rose Greenhow risked everything for the cause she valued more than life itself. In this superb portrait, biographer Ann Blackman tells the surprising true story of a unique woman in history.

“I am a Southern woman, born with revolutionary blood in my veins,” Rose once declared–and that fiery spirit would plunge her into the center of power and the thick of adventure. Born into a slave-holding family, Rose…


Book cover of King Suckerman

Lloyd Sachs Author Of T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit

From my list on crime with soundtracks you'll want to playlist.

Why am I passionate about this?

My earliest filmgoing memory is of a bad guy getting pushed down the stairs in Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much. That shocking scene has stayed with me, leading me into a lifetime of exploring the dark visions of crime stories. It was only natural that my love of rock music, and in its interaction with other media would draw me to mystery writers whose books were fueled by their love of rock, blues and pop. "If not for music and movies, I wouldn't be a novelist," George Pelecanos once told me. "They have influenced me more than any author. I want to shout about it." Me too.

Lloyd's book list on crime with soundtracks you'll want to playlist

Lloyd Sachs Why did Lloyd love this book?

A lot of people know George Pelecanos from his work as a TV writer, but long before he contributed to The Wire and The Deuce, he was turning out great mysteries, most of them set in his hometown of Washington, D.C. These are smart, sociological thrillers that teach you a lot about life on the city's mean streets. What sets books like King Suckerman apart for me is how much they teach you about the way popular music—heard from car radios, boom boxes, and record store systems—defines people's lives. For me, one of the book's many highlights is a fierce exchange between a guy who, based on Jimi Hendrix's funky playing in Band of Gypsys thinks the guitarist should be filed under soul rather than rock because that was the direction he was going and a friend who responds, "What you think you are, man, the Amazing Kreskin... gonna…

By George Pelecanos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked King Suckerman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 13.

What is this book about?

While out looking to buy drugs, small-time dealer Dimitri Karras and his friend, record-store owner Marcus Clay, stumble into a big deal gone bad, acquire some cash that is not theirs, and become players in a savage game of cross and double-cross.


Book cover of A White House Diary

Mary C. Brennan Author Of Pat Nixon: Embattled First Lady

From my list on why Pat Nixon was known (incorrectly) as Plastic Pat.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became a historian because I am nosy. I like to know what is going on in other people’s lives. I study politics because I am fascinated by power—who has it? How did they get it? I took up this project not knowing much about First Ladies or Pat Nixon. My quest to know more led to the correspondence between Pat and her closest friend. The letters in these files allowed me to hear Pat’s voice describe her life as a politician’s wife, as Second Lady, and as a regular citizen. I feel privileged to be able to share that with the world.

Mary's book list on why Pat Nixon was known (incorrectly) as Plastic Pat

Mary C. Brennan Why did Mary love this book?

Lady Bird’s diary is worth reading no matter what you are studying. She is insightful, funny, and attentive to her unique perspective as First Lady. In terms of understanding Pat, the diary offers an outsider’s view from someone who understood Pat’s situation personally. The tidbits concerning their first post-election meeting and then subsequent visits provide evidence of Pat’s humor, humility, and kindness.

By Lady Bird Johnson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A White House Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now available again in paperback--Lady Bird Johnson


Book cover of Pride and Protest

JN Welsh Author Of In Tune

From my list on epic romances in the music world.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since the ripe old age of four, I’ve loved the DJ. The first? My father, whose in-demand mix of music became the staple party starter in our Jamaican-American community on 176th Street in the Bronx. I’d be at his knee watching him spin vinyl records on his turntables at home or carrying album crates for a club party. I have three loves: music, books, and romance. It seemed preordained that I'd become a writer and incorporate music. I wrote my first book in 2005. Twelve titles later, music, books, and anything romantic still top my list. I hope you enjoy the one I’ve cultivated just for you.

JN's book list on epic romances in the music world

JN Welsh Why did JN love this book?

Listen up Jane Austen fans! I know we have our faves and it's a touchy subject comparing which one is the best, but let's go ahead and throw Dorsey Fitzgerald and DJ Liza Bennet’s names into the hat please, please, and please!

I absolutely love this modern take on Pride and Prejudice. I also got a kick out of the chapter titles as well as the supporting family cast. Talk about a juicy retelling with lots of moving parts. Gentrification is a real, relevant, and current thing, and the novel hits all the right themes.

While reading, I knew the romance would deliver a happy ever after, but how? This is where Pride and Protest shines. Such a great take on the original classic!

By Nikki Payne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pride and Protest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Phenomenal Book Club pick for November 2022!

A woman goes head-to-head with the CEO of a corporation threatening to destroy her neighborhood in this fresh and modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by debut author Nikki Payne.
 
Liza B.—the only DJ who gives a jam—wants to take her neighborhood back from the soulless property developer dropping unaffordable condos on every street corner in DC. But her planned protest at a corporate event takes a turn after she mistakes the smoldering-hot CEO for the waitstaff. When they go toe-to-toe, the sparks fly—but her impossible-to-ignore family thwarts her every move. Liza…


Book cover of Washington Goes to War

Barbara Olenyik Morrow and Ellen England Author Of Army Guy, Red Cross Gal: The Lives & Letters of Two Small-Town Hoosiers Who Helped Win World War II

From my list on World War II stories gleaned from letters, diaries, and personal remembrances.

Why are we passionate about this?

It is no secret that the World War II generation is fast disappearing, with fewer and fewer veterans of that global conflict alive today. As their voices are lost, wartime letters often can speak forcefully and eloquently for that earlier generation, informing modern-day readers about the grind, frustrations, and hardships those in uniform experienced. We discovered as much when we read the 505 letters that Ellen's parents, friends before the war, wrote to their respective families while serving in Europe to defeat Nazi tyranny. This collaborative project also taught us a valuable lesson: Before tossing out old letters stashed in drawers, closets, or attics, read them. Hidden treasures may lurk inside.

Barbara and Ellen's book list on World War II stories gleaned from letters, diaries, and personal remembrances

Barbara Olenyik Morrow and Ellen England Why did Barbara and Ellen love this book?

Red Cross trainees were among the thousands of people who poured into Washington, D.C., during World War II, with Mary Brandon–in our book–arriving there for instruction in 1943. What was the city like?

Esteemed journalist David Brinkley shared his personal reminiscences of a 1940s-era Washington in this lively account, showing how the city morphed rapidly from a slow-moving Southern town into an initially ill-prepared wartime capital. Brinkley’s many anecdotes are amusing, astonishing, and always instructive, as when he noted that even though the army placed antiaircraft guns on roofs of government buildings, so few guns were available that some–it was later learned–were merely wood replicas.

Through Mary Brandon’s letters, I glimpsed wartime Washington. Brinkley’s book treated me to a full portrait.

By David Brinkley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Washington Goes to War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The noted television newscaster and commentator presents a social and political protrait of the nation's capital during World War II, profiling key personalities, and tracing the city's--and the nation's--transformation


Book cover of Along Came a Spider

Stephen B. King Author Of The Boy in the Bubble

From Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Wannabe criminal psychologist Dreamer Father of five Honorable

Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Stephen B. King Why did Stephen love this book?

James Patterson is a wonderful writer, and this book introduces Alex Cross, a police detective who is a widower with two small children.

They live with the elderly woman who raised him, and she passes on the values she taught Alex to his children. Alex is a good person. Flawed like the rest of us, but he is trying to make a difference in the world. He tries to capture a man responsible for heinous crimes against two abducted children from a prestigious school. Is the perpetrator unhinged, or when he is caught, is he pretending to be unhinged?

In my own novels, I show a glimpse into the mindset of the serial killer my protagonists are hunting, and this book does the same thing. James Patterson is a vastly superior writer than I could ever hope to be.

I loved this story so much that when I finished, I…

By James Patterson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Along Came a Spider as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The legendary thriller that launched the Alex Cross phenomenon

Adapted into a major Hollywood movie starring Morgan Freeman
_________________________________

Two children have been kidnapped from an elite private school in Washington DC, and Detective Alex Cross is charged with finding them.

The kidnapper's identity is quickly determined as one of the children's teachers. But capturing him is the true challenge.

As Cross gets pulled deeper into the strange world of the kidnapper, it becomes clear he is far more dangerous than anyone could have anticipated.
_________________________________

'No one gets this big without amazing natural storytelling talent - which is what…


Book cover of Summer Rain

Terry Segan Author Of Spirit in Tow

From my list on mystery with a paranormal twist.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been intrigued with books containing paranormal twists—I’m talking ghosts, mysticism, time travel. I also have, what I like to call, a healthy curiosity about spirits. Having gone on ghost tours in York (England), Salem (MA), and New Orleans, I’ve yet to spot one. But I know what some of you may be saying—be careful what you wish for! My writing career began later in life, when I realized the stories in my head demanded to be released into the world. From the start I attempted writing a straight-up mystery, but paranormal aspects crept into my chapters, and I decided to let them stay.

Terry's book list on mystery with a paranormal twist

Terry Segan Why did Terry love this book?

This intriguing mystery drew me in, especially having read the first two books of the trilogy. Lightening and Mayan folklore are the paranormal aspects, which I found to be truly unique. These themes wound through the previous books also. Dani, the main character, has a prophetic grandmother who passes on a ring purporting it will show her the way. Stories focusing on solving a mystery while drawing clues from items or family histories from the past are some of my favorite reads.

By Barbara Freethy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Summer Rain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From #1 NYT Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy comes the third and final book in the Lightning Strikes Romantic Suspense Trilogy. Action, suspense, romance and family secrets lead to an explosive conclusion!

Danielle Monroe is determined to use her new job in DC as a stepping-stone to a high-powered political career. But the secrets surrounding her father's death continue to overshadow her goals. Her family thinks she holds the final piece of the puzzle, but she doesn't even know what the puzzle is…until an attractive and possibly dangerous stranger shows up in her life.

Patrick Kane is searching for answers about…


Book cover of The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington

Hannah Gurman and Kaeten Mistry Author Of Whistleblowing Nation: The History of National Security Disclosures and the Cult of State Secrecy

From my list on U.S. national security culture and the exposure of secrets.

Why are we passionate about this?

We are historians of U.S. foreign relations who have written extensively on the Cold War and national security. Both of us were interested in whistleblowing yet knew relatively little about its history. Turns out, we were not alone. Despite lots of popular interest in the topic, we soon discovered that, beyond individual biographies, barely anything is known about the broader history of the phenomenon. With funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Council, we led a collaborative research project, which involved historians, literary scholars, and political theorists, as well as whistleblowers, journalists, and lawyers. One of the fruits of the project, Whistleblowing Nation, is the first comprehensive, interdisciplinary history of U.S. national security whistleblowing.


Hannah's book list on U.S. national security culture and the exposure of secrets

Hannah Gurman and Kaeten Mistry Why did Hannah love this book?

Whistleblowers rely on the press to disseminate their disclosures. In matters of national security, however, the press has a long history of close personal and professional bonds with the government that has curbed revelations. The Georgetown Set offers a fascinating glimpse into the small circle of elite officials, journalists, publishers, and public intellectuals who gathered for cocktail and dinner parties in their high-end neighborhood of Washington, DC. In addition to giving a fly-on-the-wall sense of how Cold War policies and public opinion were made, Herken’s book illuminates the individual and cultural shifts that contributed to the rise of national security disclosures in the 1960s and 1970s. This history is essential for understanding how the evolving dynamics between elite politicians and the press continue to shape the culture of whistleblowing and accountability today.

By Gregg Herken,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Georgetown Set as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the years after World War II, Georgetown’s leafy streets were home to an unlikely group of Cold Warriors who helped shape American strategy. This coterie of affluent, well-educated, and connected civilians guided the country, for better and worse, from the Marshall Plan through McCarthyism, Watergate, and Vietnam. The Georgetown set included Phil and Kay Graham, husband-and-wife publishers of The Washington Post; Joe and Stewart Alsop, odd-couple brothers who were among the country’s premier political pundits; Frank Wisner, a driven, manic-depressive lawyer in charge of CIA covert operations; and a host of other diplomats, spies, and scholars. Gregg Herken gives…


Book cover of Legion

Nick Roberts Author Of The Exorcist's House

From my list on to prepare you for demonic possession.

Why am I passionate about this?

No movie has traumatized me more than The Exorcist. I saw it at a sleepover when I was twelve years old, and I’ve never forgotten Regan McNeil’s disfigured face and demonic voice. It’s hard to say how many nightmares that possessed little girl has generated. I read the novel a few years later and was equally shocked. Creating art that can affect someone in such a formative way has been my goal ever since. I often set my stories in my native state of West Virginia, which because of its scenic beauty, is commonly referred to as “Almost Heaven.” I feel that it’s my job to balance that out. 

Nick's book list on to prepare you for demonic possession

Nick Roberts Why did Nick love this book?

Due to the financial success of The Exorcist film, a sequel was ordered (The Exorcist II: The Heretic) which had no involvement from the original writer and director and was universally panned. William Peter Blatty then wrote a screenplay for what would have been a sequel to the original film that ignored the second entry. William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist, was attached but backed out. Blatty turned his inactive script into what became the novel, Legion, which he eventually re-adapted and directed in 1990. The majority of the book is dialogue, so it’s easy to see its origins as a screenplay, but that does not make it any less effective.

This story takes a minor character from the original novel, Detective Kinderman, and chronicles his confrontation with a patient in a mental institution claiming to be possessed by the spirit of a dead…

By William Peter Blatty,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Legion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the author of The Exorcist -- Legion, a classic tale of horror, is back in print!

A young boy is found horribly murdered in a mock crucifixion. Is the murderer the elderly woman who witnessed the crime? A neurologist who can no longer bear the pain life inflicts on its victims? A psychiatrist with a macabre sense of humor and a guilty secret? A mysterious mental patient, locked in silent isolation?

Lieutenant Kinderman follows a bewildering trail that links all these people, confronting a new enigma at every turn even as more murders surface. Why does each victim suffer…


Book cover of Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government

Lindsay M. Chervinsky Author Of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution

From my list on American presidents who left their mark on history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been fascinated by power and how people use it. From the time I was tiny, I’ve loved reading about how people left their fingerprint on history, and boy, do presidents leave their mark. Given these interests, it’s unsurprising that I’ve been my career this far examining how early presidents crafted the executive branch. The president’s oversized role in American life is also at the heart of my podcast work (I cohost The Past, The Promise, The Presidency with the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University. Each season we explore a different element of the presidency and its relationship to history). In my future scholarship, I plan to continue this exploration long after George Washington left office. Stay tuned for more, and in the meantime enjoy these great reads!

Lindsay's book list on American presidents who left their mark on history

Lindsay M. Chervinsky Why did Lindsay love this book?

So much of the early presidency took place out of “office hours.” Social events where women were present were considered apolitical and non-partisan, but of course, women had just as many opinions about politics back in the Early Republic as they do today! Instead, these events served as helpful venues for brokering deals, arranging political marriages, and securing appointments for friends and family members. Wives were also essential partners in campaigns and coalition-building once politicians were in office. You can’t understand the early presidents without understanding the broader social context as well.

By Catherine Allgor,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Parlor Politics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Catherine Allgor describes the various ways genteel elite women during the first decades of the 19th century used ""social events"" and the ""private sphere"" to establish the national capital and to build the extraofficial structures so sorely needed in the infant federal government.