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I fell in love with the nation’s capital when a little show called The West Wing took me on a visit. Before I traveled here, I read many books about Washington, DC. The first time I saw it was at night driving around the illuminated monuments and it felt like a TV. I moved here for two years in 2012 and it’s 2021 and here I still am. I love this place, despite its shortcomings and how seriously it takes itself, and maybe even because of some of these things.

DC is of course not just the seat of power. It is, of course, rich in American history. It’s a context for political protest. It is home to a sizeable African American population, increasingly marginalized by gentrification. It is also a place where people live their lives, fall in love, have children, study and work in all kinds of fields. But the widespread presence of highly educated, very ambitious, very idealistic people invades every aspect of DC life, for better or for worse, and with sometimes amusing, sometimes obvious, sometimes devastating effects. Here is a collection of books for all ages that reflect some aspects of the city that I call hometown.

Children’s books about Washington, DC

Washington, DC ABCs from Mr. Boddington’s Studio

This book will help you teach your little one the alphabet with beautiful illustrations of images and concepts that bring DC to mind: U is for the US Constitution, V is for Vintage Campaign Buttons. Alphabet books are not only educational, but also calming for bedtime, as the pattern repeats from A for …, B for ….

Shaking up the house by Yamile Saied Méndez

This middle-class novel about a presidential change focuses on two groups of first children and the prank war that starts when two girls have to hand over their apartment – the White House – to their new residents.

Adult fiction set in Washington, DC

The beautiful things that heaven carries by Dinaw Mengestu

This 2007 novel on immigration, race, and gentrification won numerous awards and was named a Notable Book by the New York Times. It examines the life of a young Ethiopian immigrant finding their way around Washington, DC

“It was a structured story of the immigrant struggle in America, written in beautiful prose and from the perspective of an African shopkeeper in Washington, DC,” says The Economist.

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Aimee Agresti’s campaign widows

Sometimes the most unlikely people can be pushed together into friendship – or at least each other’s company. Aimee Agresti’s novel about four women whose spouses are absent from various political campaigns explores this type of relationship.

Booklist gave it a star rating, saying, “Agresti’s first adult novel strikes the right balance between Washington insiderness and women’s literature,” adding that it combines “domestic and romantic weaknesses with an enticing cast”.

Jennifer Close's hopefuls

Jennifer Close’s hopefuls

“That’s what people are talking about in an Obama campaign,” starts this book, and you know right away that you are in the hands of someone who can bring the DC political world to life, complete with its ambitious and sometimes unbearable campaign workers.

Karin Tanabe’s list

This novel may have been shot in 2013 – which now seems like a lovably simple time – but it’s great fun and will give you all the veep vibes. Karin Tanabe was heavily inspired by her time at Politico when she wrote this story about a young journalist crouching in the bushes at a correspondents dinner at the White House and discovering a scandal where she has to decide whether to break.

Summerlings by Lisa Howorth

Set in the summer of 1959 amid tension between out-of-town neighbors during the Cold War, this short novel is an adorable coming-of-age story about a group of children excited by the arrival of giant spiders and determined to have a party toss and make everyone who know them like each other. A passage towards the end of the books shows how little has changed in the character of the city in sixty years: “I can see that much of the drama was just Washington, where things can change quickly, madness and betrayal can reign, people and human things are neither what they seem nor what they are supposed to be […] and everyone moves on forever. “

Nonfiction books about Washington, DC

Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital by Chris Myers Asch & George Derek Musgrove

If you want a thorough and comprehensive history of DC not just recently but over the past four centuries, this is a great place to start. On over 600 pages the numerous changes of the district from a plantation company to the first city with a black majority, from a center of the slave trade to a place full of protests for justice, are recorded.

This town by Mark Leibovich

While DC feels like a very different place than when this book was published in 2013, it’s an important book in understanding how people think and behave in “this city” – an almost anthropological study of the political side of DC with all its sometimes ridiculous excesses.

West Wingers Edited by Gautam Raghavan

This collection of essays gives a great impression of the intelligent, ambitious people who have worked in the Obama administration – stories, in the words of the subtitle, of dream hunters, change transformers, and bearers of hope.

If you enjoyed this post, then you should also check out 5 of the Best DC Writers Books to Look Out for in 2021!