#1 A Promised Land By Barack Obama
At 768 pages, this is an awful lot of Obama—and it’s just the first of two volumes. But depth is exactly what you want in an ex-President’s look-back, especially when the person behind the keyboard has previously proved himself to be a powerful and insightful writer. We already know the basics; now the 44th President has the space to do a serious appraisal of his public life. This first book covers his early political efforts and most of his first term in the White House, ending with one of his signature accomplishments: the killing of Osama bin Laden.
#2 The Crown
And then, finally, there was Diana Spencer. As this lavish historical drama enters its fourth season, the ’80s have arrived, bringing with them Margaret Thatcher (played by X-Files star Gillian Anderson) and the soon-to-be Princess Di, portrayed by unknown actress Emma Corrin (above). Just how far will the high-production-value show go in depicting the “wedding of the century”? Costume designers reportedly borrowed the original dressmaking patterns in order to replicate Diana’s famed matrimonial garment.
#3 Sway With Kara Swisher
For CEOs and other powerful people, a Swisher interview can be about as pleasant as walking into an airplane propeller. Still, they show up, drawn by her industry influence, no-BS attitude, and belief in the promise, if not the reality, of tech and government. The part-time DC resident’s new podcast about “how influence happens” promises big names like Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, and Elon Musk. Free advice for guests: Just admit she’s right and hope for the best.
#4 Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
This novel was one of the year’s most talked-about books even before its release, and there’s no mystery why: It investigates two of our moment’s most urgent preoccupations, racial tension and the looming threat of apocalypse. Naturally, a movie is already in the works, starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts and set to air on Netflix.
#5 The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
In the title novella of this story collection by a former American University literature professor, a DC historian works for a new government agency called the Institute for Public History, tasked with preserving past reality during an era of misinformation—“an NIH for a different sort of public health crisis.” It’s a funny premise on which Evans builds a surprising story that weaves the personal and historical. Behind it are her keen observations and precisely crafted tone, at once bemused and furious.
#6 Pati’s Mexican Table
The latest season of Pati Jinich’s irresistible food-and-travel show—co-produced by Washington’s WETA—explores the Mexican state of Sonora, which borders Arizona. Jinich is always a vivid tour guide, but we’re hoping she still spends plenty of time cooking in the comforting kitchen of her light-filled Chevy Chase home. Can we come over for cocktails?
#7 Prince, Sign o’ the Times Remastered
For those of us who still haven’t gotten over missing all of those legendary ’80s Prince shows at the Capital Centre, this new box set comes as something of a balm. Featuring 45 previously unreleased tracks and a full concert, the expanded look at his 1987 double-album classic is an archaeological excavation that yields a small museum’s worth of gems and curiosities. Available on eight CDs or—drool—as a 13-record vinyl set.
#8 Anacostia Delta
What Stevie Ray Vaughan was to Austin, Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton were to Washington. This documentary—now available as a DVD and download—captures that pair of revered blues guitarists along with the high-energy scene that surrounded them. The film also includes lots of amp-melting footage from a 2015 concert at the Birchmere that brought together a host of local blues stalwarts. Sadly, neither of the guitar greats was able to join them. Buchanan died in 1988, while Gatton passed away in 1994.
A horror movie and a ghost story, of sorts. An LA screenwriter returns to the DC neighborhood where he grew up—Eckington in Northeast—only to find it overrun by a zombie army of white gentrifiers. Dislocation and disorientation set in as he confronts both a radically changed city and unresolved aspects of his past. Those strands meet for a gut-punch ending that drives home what it means be erased from your own history.
A decade after this Danish political drama debuted in its native country, all three seasons have arrived on Netflix. At the center of the action is Denmark’s first (fictional) female prime minister, who juggles various crises involving opposition leaders, members of her own administration, and, naturally, the media. The palace-intrigue maneuvering can sometimes seem a bit mild to anyone acquainted with DC’s knife-fight politics, but it’s still an addictive look at the gritty side of government.
This originally appeared in the November, 2020 issue of Washingtonian.