Around the Institute

Our Favorite Books of 2014

December 23, 2014

Despite the busy schedules and events happening in our offices across the country, we still make time to sit down and enjoy a good book. With 2014 coming to a close, we asked our Aspen Institute colleagues to select their favorite books. Read below their handpicked recommendations, along with why these books topped their lists. For more literary recommendations, check out the featured book list from the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival.

Peggy Clark, vice president of Policy Programs

All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (2014)

Follow a little blind girl down the winding streets of a small town in Nazi-occupied France at the end of WWII in “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr. I was enchanted by her touching relationship with her father, a locksmith, and in her search for home, love, and a life fully lived in this magnificent book. I could not put it down. The little blind girl is one of my favorite heroines this year.

The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt (2013)

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt had me from the start. Rarely do books take you to that place you may feel in front of a piece of great art when your heart and spirit soars. “The Goldfinch” does that with its beautiful story around a small painting of a bright yellow goldfinch. This is a book about love, heartache, tragedy, the search for a life that makes any sense at all, and it contains some of my favorite passages of all time: “and isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?”

The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell (2014)

“The Bone Clocks” by David Mitchell is a mind-bending, time traveling sort of book that keeps you guessing how it will come out, until the very end. Beautifully written, “The Bone Clocks” tells the story of Holly Sykes, a young woman with psychic powers who begins the book running away from home into the arms of a no-good boyfriend, and who then finds herself in the middle of “the script”—a story of how life unfolds for her family and many around her. This book is wildly creative and fun to read, and leaves you pondering the question of destiny and the life choices we make.


Dan Glickman, executive director of the Congressional Program

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” by Ari Shavit (2013)

This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in Middle Eastern politics. It is a fascinating exploration of the fraught history and soul of the state of Israel, and its Jewish identity.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande (2014)

Gawande’s book is an honest look at how mortality intersects with modernity and tries to redefine our 21st century understanding of life and death.


41: A Portrait of My Father” by George W. Bush (2014) 

As Governor Jeb Bush announces he is intending to explore the possibility of running for president in 2016, this book provides a unique perspective on another Bush’s presidency through the eyes of his son, who was also president. Timely and interesting.


Anne Mosle, executive director of Ascend at the Aspen Institute

To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1960)

I strongly recommend for folks to read (or reread) the classic “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. I reread this with my 12-year-old son and it was a touchstone reminder of both how far we have come as a country yet also, tragically, how far we have to go. The pain of discrimination and injustice continues to haunt our society, but I remain inspired by the central character Scout as well as the fresh eyes of the next generation.

Eric Motley, executive director of National Programs

Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl (1946)

Over the years I have continued to return to Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” There are some passages that I copied from the book that I have committed to mind and heart, passages that are so beautifully and profoundly rendered in his own understanding of the power of love and human nature. “Man’s Search for Meaning” is one of the all-time important books to me. It is a reminder that what is happening to you is not as important as the attitude you take in response to what is happening to you. You may not be able to impact the former; you control the latter.


Toni Verstandig, chair of Middle East Programs

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames” by Kai Bird (2014)

Kai Bird’s book provides a textured analysis of Beirut and the Arab-US-Israel intelligence service interactions on the geopolitical landscape, like none other. 


The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee” by Marja Mills (2014)

This book gives you a wonderful richness of life in Alabama, who and what influenced the writing of this legendary and classic book.


The Director” by David Ignatius (2014) 

David weaves the richness of his keen foreign policy and national security acumen and analytic skills to lure you into this book. It is a page turner par excellence and one that you can’t put down!