Reading List

5 Books Set in Washington, DC


By Molly Korroch

It’s hard to find a book set in Washington, D.C. that doesn’t have some sort of political twist. Politics might not be exactly what DC does best, but it’s certainly what this town is most known for. (That and the cupcakes in Georgetown.) With that in mind, the following books each have a political spin, but their perspectives are unique. There’s the straight talking, the romanticized history, and the he-said-she-said. Each author and character has their own take on the same town. Each is wonderfully and sometimes hilariously accurate in its own way. Whether it’s raining outside or you’re feeling homesick for the District, if you want to take a mental wandering of this city one of these will hit the spot.

For imagination:

Henry and Clara by Thomas Mallon

Henry and Clara is one of Thomas Mallon’s first novels. Originally published in 1994, Mallon’s story brings the reader straight back to a certain Good Friday in 1865. He explores the idea of the bystander, which is a theme present in many of his books. Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris were the guests of President and Mrs. Lincoln the night of the infamous assassination. Despite there being little information about Rathbone and Harris, Mallon weaves an engaging story with the backdrop of nineteenth century Washington.

For fact checking:

All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein 

Couldn’t have a list about D.C. that didn’t mention Watergate, could we? All the President’s Men tells the story of arguably the most impressive bit of reporting of all time. The pair’s relationship and explanation of their method is perfect inspiration for anyone looking into the journalism aka the fact checking industry. (And, as they say, the book is always better than the movie.)

For action packed:

The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

Another classic written by D.C. action titan Tom Clancy. The Hunt for Red October is Clancy’s debut novel and is the first of his Jack Ryan series. While it may not take place in D.C. proper, The Hunt for Red October is packed with all the action we imagine is going on behind the scenes in Langley, VA. This novel tells the story of Russian submarine general wants to take his ship, Red October and defect to the United States. A young CIA analyst is the only one who seems to be able to understand the general’s signals.

For high brow:

Washington, D.C. by Gore Vidal

Washington, D.C. is the sixth novel yet first published (eat your heart out Star Wars) of Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series. Each epic novels, this one focuses on a Conservative senator, a congressional aide, and a newspaper mogul. The story starts in 1937 and continues in the fifties and sixties and the events surrounding the Cold War. Vidal offers us a thoughtful portrait of the city and the time.

For beach reading:

The Washingtonienne by Jessica Cutler 

We’ve saved the juiciest for last. Jessica Cutler’s book The Washingtonienne is based on her synonymous and defunct blog. Cutler infamously documented a variety of sexual encounters (paid and otherwise) around the city on her blog. Inevitably, she was found out and she was immediately fired from her job in a senator’s office. Her book is a sort of tell-all, but only if you read between the lines and do your research. Otherwise, a tale for those who delight in the guiltiest of pleasures.

Image via Washington DC Tours

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