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Book recommendations from Fortune’s 40 under 40 in government and policy

September 10, 2020, 12:00 PM UTC

An investigation of an elite cadre of American plutocrats recommended by Missouri’s state auditor; a New York Times bestselling portrait of contemporary unmarried women recommended by the youngest Black woman ever to serve in Congress; and Toni Morrison’s first novel recommended by an immigrant rights activist.

Here are a selection of book recommendations from this year’s 40 Under 40 in government and politics.

How to Say It at Work by Jack Griffin

What I learned both from the book, and through some great management coaching, is how important it is for a leader to adapt to the needs of their team. It’s not just about managing tasks, it’s about managing and caring about people. You have to truly take people’s experience into account and evaluate how your message is being received. It seems intuitive now—of course that would be the most effective. But, especially when you are new to management, if you’re only focused on getting to the outcome, executing tasks and achieving the goal, these aspects are easy to underestimate. When I truly internalized that understanding my team—not just their tasks—would make us more effective, I became a better leader and that propelled me through my career. —Melissa Kilby, executive director, Girl Up, United Nations Foundation

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Reading Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye in eighth grade was life-changing. I was assigned to read the book a couple of years after arriving as an immigrant kid from the Philippines. A year after reading it, while applying for a driver’s license, I discovered I was in the country illegally. That was when Morrison’s book and her reason for writing it––she said she wanted to expose “the master narrative” of America––became a personal and professional touchstone. I refuse to surrender to “the master narrative” of immigration and undocumented people like me. —Jose Antonio Vargas, founder, Define American

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

The book that has had the most meaningful impact on my adult life is All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister. I first read this book right before my 30th birthday during a long plane ride. This book was really validating for me. The concept of the book is that young, single women have been trailblazers, taking risks, and changing the world for decades. Women who have shown us that it’s okay to defy expectations and take big risks. Because there is a whole sisterhood of women who are ambitious, visionaries, and who recognize the change that we need to see in the world. After reading this book, I was in a mindset that allowed me to take risks. It was a risk that eventually resulted in my decision to run for Congress, be elected, and become the youngest Black woman ever to serve in Congress. This book is so meaningful to me, and I recommend everyone read it—especially young women who may be unsure of decisions you are facing and how they may impact your ability to reach your dreams. I say, girlfriends, go for it! —Lauren Underwood, U.S. Representative for the 14th Congressional District of Illinois

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston writes about the disappointments of everyday life and about a Black woman finding her voice in a hostile world. When you start working in politics you have a West Wing–esque vision of what the workplace is going to be—fast talking, getting things done, full of camaraderie. What you usually get is messy, frustratingly slow progress, and self-doubt about your own voice and skills.

In Hurston’s book, power is shown through who is given a voice. The same thing is true in politics, and I’ve always evaluated my workplace not by what they say but by who is doing the most talking. And politics isn’t like most workplaces; the people I’ve worked for control the lives and livelihoods of millions. If it’s clear that they’re only there to hear themselves or a privileged few speak, it’s probably also true that they are deaf to the concerns of the people they represent. In more traditional workplaces, this power dynamic is still there. Does your boss give you the ability to own your work product? Are you empowered to do your job to the best of your ability and lead in your expertise or are you micromanaged and questioned? Looking at who is given the microphone is the best way to identify the values of an organization. —Jalisa Washington-Price, vice president, political and advocacy, iHeartMedia

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer

Jane Mayer’s book gave me a deep understanding about the problem I wanted to fix. I was in the job to help fix it, but did I really realize the tentacles of dark money and how it has permeated our political system and the neutral institutions we rely on? I also believe that we should always have a healthy skepticism of our institutions, of our politicians, and our government. Dark money has gotten us away from having a healthy skepticism, and now we have a total distrust of government. So I guess I would say that Dark Money gave me my drive and purpose. —Nicole Galloway, Missouri State Auditor