91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Here are some books on journalism that have inspired Michigan Radio staff

Penguin Random House; Simon & Schuster; The University of Chicago Press; Grove Press; Hachette Book Group; Little, Brown & Co.;Thomas Dunne Books; Island Press; Fordham University Press
Michigan Radio

For 75 years, Michigan Radio has been reporting on the world around us. In that time, the idea of what journalism can do has only grown. Our reporters and producers take lessons and inspiration from other journalists all the time, constantly striving to make their own coverage better.

From autobiographies or writings about what journalism is to books by journalists themselves, here are a few of the stories that have enlightened, informed, and enthralled our staff:

All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Recommended by Zoe Clark, Political Director & Interim General Manager

How can it not be All the President's Men?!

Personal History by Katharine Graham
Recommended by Emma Winowiecki, Digital Communications Specialist

My mother started her career in journalism, and as a child of the 70s, was deeply inspired by the Washington Post's investigation into and coverage of the Watergate scandal. When I told her I was thinking of going into journalism, she gave me her copy of Kay Graham's autobiography. Not only does this (admittedly very long) book cover Graham's experience of being a woman in charge of one of the most influential papers in the country, it is a unique account of the 20th century from the point of view of a woman who faced many personal tragedies.

Emma also recommends How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith

The View from Somewhere: Undoing the Myth of Journalistic Objectivity by Lewis Raven Wallace
Recommended by Rachel Ishikawa, Podcast Producer and by Vince Duffy, News Director

Rachel: I hear that in journalism school you're taught to be objective. But in the words of Howard Zinn, "You can't be neutral on a moving train." Lewis Raven Wallace brings his own experiences working at an NPR-affiliated station, and the fallout after questioning the role of objectivity in the Trump era.

Vince: Wallace is an important voice in journalism, sharing an argument I disagree with, but want to be sure I understand. It's an important read for anyone wanting to increase the power of marginalized voices in the news media.

In Front of Your Nose (The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, v.4) by George Orwell
Recommended by Jodi Westrick, Digital Director

My undergrad experience was a little, well, different at Hillsdale College, but I appreciated the approach of the journalism program there, particularly because it introduced me to the journalistic works of George Orwell. In Front of Your Nose features some of my favorite essays, Politics and the English Language and Good Bad Books, both of which I've turned to throughout my career. Language and linguistics fascinate me, and it's always interesting to see how it has developed and continues to develop, particularly through works from writers like Orwell. For more from Orwell, another favorite not featured in this collection is Why I Write.

War Reporting for Cowards by Chris Ayres
Recommended by Brett Dahlberg, News Editor

Ayers was a Hollywood reporter for the Times of London, happy to vacuum up and print the easy gossip of LA... until his editors decided he belonged embedded with the Marines fighting in the Second Gulf War in Iraq. He most certainly did not belong. He lasted nine days before retreating to an air-conditioned hotel and spa in Kuwait. Ayers communicates the danger, fear, and trauma of war with a generous touch of self-deprecation, and no hint of an idea that he's a hero for being there.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
Recommended by Beenish Ahmed, Criminal Justice Reporter

When reading this portrayal of life in a Mumbai slum by New Yorker staff writer Katherine Boo, it's easy to forget that this book is a work of a reportage. It's not just the intricacy and intimacy with which the stories of people who scavenge a trash heap for survival are woven that makes Beyond the Beautiful Forevers feels like a work of imagination, but the dramatic -- and ironic -- turns their lives take. One college student struggles to understand the meaning of Mrs. Dalloway, for example, while her friend attempts suicide to escape an arranged marriage.

I read this book years ago and still wonder how its writer was able to so fully immerse herself in a world so different from her own. It helped me see how fully trust can be built, and reminded me that there are stories everywhere, if only we look — and listen — closely enough.

Beenish also recommends Brothers of a Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian Civil War by Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple

Don't Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo by Mansoor Adayfi
Recommended by Ronia Cabansag, Stateside Producer

Mansoor Adayfi was held without charge in Guantanamo Bay for 14 years. In this memoir, he chronicles his time there in painful detail - the hunger strikes and force-feedings, beatings and solitary confinement, and every rare moment of light. It's a powerful account, and one of the only books I've sobbed into. Today, Adayfi works as a writer and advocate for detainees.

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival and Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott
Recommended by Kate Wells, Health Reporter

Andrea Elliott, a Pulitzer-winning New York Times reporter, follows Dasani and her family for roughly a decade as they navigate life in and out of homelessness in NYC. You immediately fall in love with Dasani, and just as you're in awe of her, you hope against hope that she will somehow be able to "make it out."

But Elliott doesn't let anything be that stereotypical or pat: What does it actually mean to make it out? What if it means leaving your entire family and life behind? Why do we expect kids in poverty to somehow singlehandedly subvert oppressive systems through sheer talent, will luck? Elliott also makes no secret of that fact that she grew close with Dasani and her family during the years spent reporting on them, and that her presence also impacted the story itself - a transparency that's refreshing and interesting in its own right.

Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński 
Recommended by April Baer, Stateside Host

Kapuściński was a journalist who grew up in the '40s and '50s in Communist-controlled Poland. When he came of age and was assigned to India as a foreign correspondent, the only titles he could find in his university's library (subject to Soviet censorship practices) was Herodotus' The Histories. He later went on to report from China, Ghana, the Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan, among other assignments.

I read this book shortly after September 11, 2001, keenly aware of the limits of my own education in matters outside the U.S. border. He sets up thoughtful parallels between the Orientalist approaches that were present in Ancient Greece, and the way Western journalists were talking about the rest of the world at the close of the 20th century. I'll read any book by anyone who does our job, but this one has remained close to me over the years, and it's one I return to again and again.

The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? by Francisco Goldman
Recommended by Sarah Cwiek, Detroit Reporter

This book is a gripping, incredibly detailed account of the assassination of Guatemalan Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was widely beloved as a champion of Guatemala's poor and indigenous people. He was murdered in April 1998, just two days after a commission he chaired released a report that found the Guatemalan military was responsible for the vast majority of atrocities committed during the country's brutal 30-year civil war. Goldman, an American journalist and writer with family roots in Guatemala, chronicles the twisting and bizarre murder investigation that followed, which ultimately landed some of the country's top political and military figures in prison. He follows the case for years, detailing the dogged efforts of the lawyers, human rights defenders, and journalists who fought to see justice done.

This book is a must-read for understanding the "why" behind Central America's ongoing struggles with violence, corruption, and impunity, as well as an excellent real-life mystery that highlights how the past never stops shaping the present.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Recommended by Briana Rice, Detroit Reporter

This epic, over 500-page book tells the story of why millions of Black Americans left the south between 1915 to 1970. Wilkerson followed the lives of three people, Ida Mae Gladney, George Swanson Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster, for decades showing their part in the Great Migration. I barely learned about this period in school and definitely didn’t realize my family was part of that migration as my ancestors left South Carolina to land in Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio.

This book reads like fiction and the author Wilkerson interviewed more than 1,000 people. It’s such an impressive feat that she was able to boil their lives down to one cohesive narrative that was able to tell the story of the Great Migration, make me feel like I understood these people and their families and allowed me to learn so much about the story of Black migration in America.

It’s everything you ever want to do as a journalist, and she was able to use people’s real stories to tell a narrative that spans 55 years. I still remember so many moments from their lives and think about them often. This is an epic, heroic tale and really convinced me of the power of documenting people’s stories and just knowing more about where we come from.

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
Recommended by April Van Buren, Stateside Producer

Ronan Farrow is one of the journalists who broke the story of Harvey Weinstein's pattern of sexual harassment and assault, helping to launch the #MeToo movement. In this book, he details the long and winding road he had to take to actually publish his reporting. I had no illusions that reporting on sexual assault allegations against a powerful figure was a straightforward process, but this book really drove home how much people risked to bring these stories to light. Farrow's book details all the systems that protect the powerful and how they are able to bend the media to their own will. Both Farrow and his sources endured a campaign of intimidation from Weinstein, and the television network Farrow was working for at the time caved to pressure to bury the story. It was infuriating and inspiring to hear how hard the women sharing these profoundly vulnerable stories — and the journalists who were reporting on them — had to fight to bring the truth to light.

Trial By Fire: A Devastating Tragedy, 100 Lives Lost, and a 15-Year Search for Truth by Scott James
Recommended by Doug Tribou, Morning Edition Host

In 2003, a fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island during a show by the rock band Great White killed 100 people. In Trial by Fire, journalist Scott James recounts the horrifying details of the fire, and shares deeply personal stories about those caught in it. But James also digs deep into the work of journalists in Rhode Island who were covering the fire and its aftermath in real-time. James uncovers many reporting missteps and failures that shaped public opinion about who was to blame for the fire and affected the way criminal prosecutions were handled. The personal stories will stick with you and James' study of journalism is a great critical examination of the craft of reporting.

The Great Lakes Water Wars by Peter Annin
Recommended by Mike Blank, Stateside Producer

Q: What's to stop Great Lakes being diverted to water hungry states? A: The Great Lakes Compact. In this book, author and professor Peter Annin walks us through the many diversions of the Great Lakes in the past, explains how the international agreement came to fruition, and why one state still has the power to divert Great Lakes water as they see fit. A must-read for Great Lakes and water lovers.

Murrow: His Life and Times by AM Sperber
Recommended by Lester Graham, Environmental Reporter and by Steve Carmody, Mid-Michigan Reporter

Lester: Edward R. Murrow was the founder of broadcast journalism. Much of what radio and TV news accomplish well is because of his influence.

Steve: An exhaustive biography of one of the giants of 20th century broadcasting.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
Recommended by Mercedes Mejia, Stateside Producer

I really enjoyed this one. J. D. Vance's memoir not only tells his personal story it also sheds light on the larger issues of poverty, addiction and social mobility in Appalachia. It exposes the complexities of family dynamics, the impact of economic decline, and the resilience of those striving for a better life. Powerful read.

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton
Recommended by Matt Shafer Powell, Programming Director

This is a harrowing account of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the closing months of WWII. Doug Stanton guides you through the torpedoing of the ship and the horrifying days that followed, as sharks, hypothermia and madness claimed the lives of many of the survivors. I recommended it to my wife, who hates books about war and she couldn't put it down. Written by the same Doug Stanton who organizes and hosts the National Writers' Series from Interlochen, it's a book that sticks with you. I read it more than a decade ago and it still haunts me.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
Recommended by Danielle Seering, Digital Operations Strategist

I graduated high school a few years before the massacre at Columbine. I remember the weirdos in my school that wore black lipstick and listened to Marilyn Manson, the boys who wore kilts to school to “make a statement” and the ones that would self harm, right there in the commons by smashing their head against the wall repeatedly, which was, apparently "for attention." So it wasn't too far of a leap for me to believe that some weirdos in trench coats were the ones that came into their school that spring and murdered 13 people before dying by suicide. These kids were the bullied, the ostracized, they were striking back against the popular kids, and that made some kind of sense, in my mind.

But it turns out that was complete fiction, the real story quickly buried in the shock of the aftermath of what was the 'first' of so many more school shootings. The journalists at the time ran with whatever they could get the kids to tell them. The pair of boys that did this were made up of a “psychopath” and a “depressive.” It was interesting to find out that almost everything I thought I knew about this tragedy was wrong and it helps me keep current events in perspective when I'm hearing conflicting reports.

Want to join our book club? Find us on FacebookGoodreadsStoryGraph, or sign up for emails!

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.