The Jon Stewart Reading List: 20 Books 'The Daily Show' Host Featured On-Air

The Jon Stewart Reading List: 20 Books 'The Daily Show' Host Featured On-Air
Source: AP
Source: AP

Ostensibly a political comedy show, Jon Stewart's The Daily Show usually ends each episode with an interview. Often, these are actors talking about their new film or show. His first month on the job, for example, Stewart interviewed Michael J. Fox, Gillian Anderson and Carmen Electra. But even his early years showed his eagerness at expanding the role of that final interview segment, specifically to include people promoting the type of books you'd never find being branded by the Oprah's Book Club seal.

By 2003, Stewart was hosting Caroline Kennedy, Fareed Zakaria and Henry Kissinger to discuss their recent books. Interviews during the mid-2000s featured not only esteemed journalists and authors like Tom Brokaw and Stephen King, but up-and-coming nonfiction writers whose books were driving and encouraging necessary — and at times controversial — conversations on-screen and off.

First Lady Michelle Obama promoting her book on Stewart's 'The Daily Show'
Source: 
Frank Franklin II/AP

In his 16 years at The Daily Show, Stewart's featured everyone from Suzanne Somers (Suzanne Somers' Get Skinny on Fabulous Food) to Condoleezza Rice (No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington). He's discussed religion with Peggy Noonan (John Paul the Great: Remembering a Spiritual Father) and fracking with Newt Gingrich (Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less: A Handbook for Slashing Gas Prices and Solving Our Energy Crisis).

As Stewart's time as host of The Daily Show comes to an end, we've compiled a list of 20 books he recommended for your summer reading list. These range from the obvious (a certain presidential memoir) to the obscure (ever wonder how astronauts go to the bathroom?). They're but a snapshot of the type of fascinating conversations about politics, religion, comedy and America that Stewart fostered on his show and, in turn, with his audience.

Reza Aslan's No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam

Interview date: April 21, 2005

"The voice of moderation and reform is so overwhelmingly larger than the voice of extremism and fundamentalism, but it's just not as sexy so we don't pay much attention to it." If religious scholar-turned-pundit Aslan's quote about his 2005 book sounds familiar, it's maybe because of his decade-old interview with Stewart. More likely, it's because he's been forced to rehash this same argument about a liberal interpretation of the religion of Islam for ten years. He said it, perhaps most famously, in a CNN interview that went viral last fall when attempting to answer the loaded and biased question of whether Islam promotes violence. Since that first interview, Aslan's become a regular guest on The Daily Show.

Maziar Bahari's Then They Came For Me: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival

Interview date: June 6, 2011

In Then They Came For Me, Iranian-Canadian journalist Bahari chronicles his time spent in Iranian captivity, including the laughable allegations that, by agreeing to be interviewed by The Daily Show correspondent and "spy" Jason Jones, he was admitting to working with American secret services. It's understandable why Stewart felt compelled to adapt Bahari's book into a film (Rosewater, released in 2014) even though, as Bahari pointed out in his 2011 appearance, his taped segment for The Daily Show wasn't responsible for landing him in jail.

Paula Broadwell's All In: The Education of General David Petraeus

Interview date: Jan. 25, 2012

In late 2012, Broadwell, a former military officer and then-Ph.D. candidate at King's College London, was outed as having had an affair with her book's central figure, CIA director Gen. David Petraeus. That alone would warrant revisiting this book (and Broadwell's visit to The Daily Show months earlier). But the political repercussions of her affair, which included Petraeus' resignation, an FBI investigation and the media firestorm that followed make it a fascinating time capsule. 

Indeed, Stewart asking Broadwell, "Is [Petreaus] awesome or incredibly awesome?" in the clip above best represents just how low the general's fall from grace was just mere months later — and how on-the-pulse Stewart has always been.

Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me

Interview date: July 23, 2015

"In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body — it is heritage," Coates writes in Between the World and Me. In interviewing the Atlantic writer, Stewart accurately diagnosed the "feeling of fear" that permeates Coates' writing, which is part autobiography, part meditation on the reality of being a black man in America.

Compared to James Baldwin's work (by none other than Toni Morrison), Between the World and Me has emerged as one of the most-discussed books of 2015.

Ann Coulter's Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right

Interview date: July 17, 2002

Stewart: "I read the book!"
Coulter: "Well, that makes you so much better than most people interviewing me."

Before The Daily Show with Jon Stewart even became The Daily Show as we know it today, Stewart hosted the no-holds-barred conservative author and grilled her on the assertion from her book that "liberals hate America."

It was an early stab at Stewart's usual format with guests he disagreed with: congenial, if still contentious, discussions about the issues at hand. He'd continue to do it with authors far removed from his own politics like Marco Rubio (American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone) and John Gibson (Hating America: The New World Sport).

Maureen Dowd's Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk

Interview date: Aug. 10, 2004

In explaining the central tension of her book, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dowd — playing to Stewart's crowd — quipped, "It's just like Star Wars; Bush is the new Skywalker." Bushworld, a collection of her columns on the Bush family for the previous 25 years, covers the family politics of one of America's most-famed political families. In that Star Wars quote, she referred to the second Bush president, George W. More accurate, perhaps, was her characterization of Dick Cheney as — you guessed it — Darth Vader.

Thomas L. Friedman's The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century

Interview date: April 5, 2005

Back when he still had a setup akin to nightly network talk shows, Stewart was able to host thinkers and writers who'd perhaps never imagined sitting in a couch talking about the personal anecdotes like those movie stars that chatted with David Letterman and Jay Leno. That was the case when Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, talked casually about the phone call to his wife that lead to writing one of the most-popular (if still heavily criticized) visions of a global economy. 

"Honey, I think the world is flat," he remarked, positing an image of a flattened world where, regardless of geography or culture, the playing field is leveled for all involved. It's the type of pop economy book (like another fellow 2005 Daily Show recommended book, Steven Levitt's Freakonomics) that played well to Stewart's audience.

Gwen Ifill's The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama

Interview date: Jan. 27, 2009

Ifill, a political analyst and the managing co-editor and co-anchor of PBS Newshour, focused her book on what she saw as the changing landscape of American politics. As she told Stewart in 2009, she had been covering these small breakthroughs. What she found: This "new generation" of politicians (like Barack Obama and Cory Booker) necessarily but also implausibly had to fight the very people (like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton) who had made it possible for them to get to where they are. 

Half a decade later, Ifill's optimism remains an informative reminder of the giddy elation that followed the 2008 election results. It's no surprise her book was released on Obama's inauguration day.

Rachel Maddow's Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power

Interview date: March 29, 2012

"You appear to have invested a great deal of research into this," Stewart joked. Indeed, Maddow's book on the history of American military interventions, from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, is heavily researched on the role of Congress, the president and the various arms of government which have, according to her, increasingly diminished the democratic say of the American people when it comes to if, and how, the United States goes to war. 

It's a dense read, as Stewart suggested in 2012, but it is precisely the type of contentious and potentially incendiary book that the host loved to discuss on his show.

Bill O'Reilly's Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

Interview date: September 28, 2011

Stewart: "It is an excellent book and a nice read."
O'Reilly: "Somebody read it to you?"

O'Reilly, a prolific writer in addition to being a Fox News personality, was a regular guest on the show, promoting many of his books. His history books, much like his various appearances on Stewart's show, are a mere excuse to engage with a conservative thinker that both baffles and awes The Daily Show's host, as well as many of his most ardent fans.

Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Interview date: Nov. 7, 2005

First published in 1995, Obama's memoir — which, as all political memoirs do, also traces and spells out his political ideology — was republished in 2004 with his July keynote address at that year's Democratic National Convention. His rousing speech at the DNC and his charismatic persona (exemplified in his jovial satellite interview with Stewart in 2005) showed the great oratorical skills which would come in handy in his successful 2008 presidential bid. 

Lest you think Stewart plays favorites, potential candidate Obama promoting his latest notch on the campaign trail was not alone. Stewart's show often featured politicians — regardless of their political association — discussing their newest books, from Hillary Clinton (Hard Choices) to Rick Santorum (It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good).

Mary Roach's Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void

Interview date: Aug. 2, 2010

Even when Stewart booked people promoting books on seemingly buzzy themes (like NASA), he always aimed to find the unexpected angle. That was the case with Roach's book on space travel, which focuses, as Stewart did in his interview, on questions like "How does waste management work without gravity?" 

Her book is a fascinating entry precisely because of its off-kilter approach to America's space program. Of course, Stewart also hosted Neil DeGrasse Tyson (The Pluto Files), the poster boy for that topic for many Americans.

Marilynne Robinson's Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self

Interview date: July 8, 2010

When dealing with thought-provoking non-fiction texts, Stewart was at his best whittling down complex ideas into layman's terms without sacrificing their insights. That is definitely the case in the clip above as he introduces famed novelist Robinson's Absence of Mind: "The crux of it is; there is science and there is religion. And the idea is that they are somehow exclusive and at odds. And you're suggesting, perhaps, that that is not as clean-cut as we may imagine."

Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry

Interview date: May 16, 2011

Do psychopaths rule the world? That's the underlying question, as Ronson put it, at the center of his book, which traces the characteristics of psychopathology and its prevalence in many corporate and government leaders. It's the type of off-kilter book that would make it onto The Daily Show, offering a new perspective on presumably a much-too-niche or otherwise exhausted topic. 

Ronson, a self-described overly anxious person, spent two years on the book, prompting the ever-neurotic Stewart to quip: "You've done an amazing service and put yourself through the test. You are the Highlander."

J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy

Interview date: Oct. 15, 2012

While Stewart tended to feature mostly nonfiction books (see: nearly every other entry in this list), he often showcased fiction titles, from Jamie Lee Curtis' children story Where do Balloons Go? to David Sedaris' short story collection Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary. But Rowling's first "adult novel" after the Harry Potter saga (and before the Cormoran Strike series, which she wrote under a pseudonym) about a local election had Stewart congratulating her on her bold move away from her children's literature success.

Amy Sedaris's I Like You: Entertaining Under the Influence

Interview date: Oct. 17, 2006

While Stewart was well-known for the type of insightful, mostly political, books he often showcased, he wasn't above sharing the work of his comedian peers, including former Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman and The Mindy Project creator/star Mindy Kaling. Yet it is Sedaris's take on the subject of entertaining that's truly worth checking out. As she noted in the 2006 interview, "It's very visual, so illiterate people can enjoy it!"

Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don't

Interview date: Nov. 7, 2012

"What I was really concerned about last night was that if your prediction model had wrong, that it would have been a defeat for arithmetic." Stewart's words in the above clip show how influential Silver, who made a name for himself via statistical analysis on election results for the past several years, including spearheading what was then the New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog, had become. 

Silver's book focuses on the practical art of model building using probability and statistics. Sales skyrocketed right after the 2012 election results — coincidentally the same day his interview with Stewart aired.

Andrew Ross Sorkin's Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of how Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System — and Themselves

Interview date: Dec. 9, 2009

"You're a kid!" Baffled by his age — he joked that he kept waiting for Sorkin's father to show up — Stewart nevertheless understood the value of this writer's Too Big to Fail. Years before it was adapted into a well-received HBO film of the same name, Sorkin's book provided a painstaking account of the 2008 financial crisis from the point of view of the Wall Street CEOs and those government regulators who saw it happen firsthand. 

This interview continued a long tradition in Stewart's tenure at The Daily Show to offer indicting studies that seemed to go against the uncritical patriotic narratives that Stewart is so fond of deflating with wit and rigor.

Ron Suskind's Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism

Interview date: May 13, 2014

Suskind had appeared on the show before to discuss Barack Obama's presidency, but he returned just last year to discuss what Stewart rightfully deemed a "very personal book." Life, Animated deals with Suskind's own family and the role animated films have played in his relationship with his son, who lives with regressive autism. The number of writers and thinkers Stewart hosted over the years who returned to The Daily Show desk willing and able to discuss these very personal issues was a testament to his ability to create an open and comfortable space.

Malala Yousafzai's I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban

Interview date: Oct. 8, 2013

Stewart often entertained celebrities talking up their recent memoirs. But considering his impressive pedigree with non-celebs, it's no surprise he also made time to showcase the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate and worldwide sensation. 

Yousafzai, who has become renowned globally since her assassination attempt in November 2012, co-wrote her memoir with British journalist Christina Lamb. In it, she chronicles her life and work. For those who have learned of Malala's story, it's no surprise to hear that, as he put in their 2013 interview, there are few things that give Stewart more joy than making her laugh.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Manuel Betancourt

Manuel is a NYC-based writer interested in all things media and pop culture. He's a regular contributor to The Film Experience, Remezcla, Slant Magazine, and his work has been featured in Film Comment, Model View Culture, and PopMatters. He also has a PhD but hates bragging about it. www.mbetancourt.com

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