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Reading Like The President

The NYT Sunday Book Review published a great essay by Jon Meacham this weekend called “How to Read Like a President.”  Meacham argues that you can tell a lot about a person based on the books they read, and that presidential candidates are no exception.

So what do the two candidates like to read?  John McCain enjoys the character Robert Jordan from For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.  He also loves The Great Gatsby, The Last of the Mohicans and other James Feminore Cooper stories, and William Faulkner in small doses.  Via an e-mail interview, Barack Obama told Meacham he enjoys books like The Federalist, and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, and authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and James Baldwin.

My favorite line from Meacham’s essay was this one:

McCain and Obama are so different in so many ways, but they do share one thing: a kind of tragic sensibility. Judging from the books they cite as most important, they embrace hope but recognize the reality that life is unlikely to conform to our wishes.

I love thinking about the books that have most influenced us, and the idea that a good idea can be timeless.  If I could make the next president read any book, I think I’d have him read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, if only for this quote by Dumbledore about power:

It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.

If you could make the next president read any book before he takes office, what would it be?

This post is part of National Blog Posting Month for the month of November. You can find out more about NaBloPoMo here and view my NaBloPoMo profile page here. Thanks for reading!

Photo by flickr user “CAVE CANEM”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andi November 4, 2008, 7:25 am

    HP and the Deathly Hallows is a great choice! I love that particular line. If only we could tattoo it on the foreheads of all politicians!

  • bermudaonion November 4, 2008, 7:27 am

    I wonder if those are really the candidates favorites or if some spin doctor chose those titles. I’ve become quite the pessimist with politics these days.

  • Kim November 4, 2008, 7:54 am

    Andi: I love that quote; it’s tied for my favorite Dumbledore quote of all time.

    bermudaonion: I’m pretty cynical about politicians too. I think it’s more likely the Obama books were decided by a spin doctor — Meacham only got to interview him via e-mail. The author actually sat down with McCain and had a discussion about the books with him, so I’m more inclined to think those are true. But who knows 🙂

  • Rebecca Reid November 4, 2008, 10:32 am

    I saw that article too! very interesting. I’m kind of with bermudaonion: I imagine that someone helped them make up a good list. But, like you said, McCain answered in an interview.

    The whole Martel-Harper concept (the author sending the CA PM a book every two weeks)has got me thinking about this. I think I need to read more before I could recommend books that I think leaders should read. I do, however, think that leaders should still read fiction, busy as they are!

    It makes me want read the books on their list, though, just to see why the “spin doctors” I mean the candidates find them interesting.

  • bkclubcare November 4, 2008, 4:14 pm

    I can never think of good books to recommend… and YES! I voted today.

    So, I wonder what someone would think of me by what books I’ve read this year…

  • Lisa November 4, 2008, 5:28 pm

    Yes, I voted!

    What about To Kill a Mockingbird? It’s a favorite over and over, but it does have a pretty good lesson about doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.

  • fyreflybooks November 4, 2008, 5:34 pm

    Oooh, just one book? Maybe Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society. Hooray for the First Amendment!

  • Kim November 4, 2008, 5:48 pm

    Rebecca: I was actually thinking about the Martel-Harper thing as I was writing this. I don’t know a lot about it, but the concept seems cool.

    bkclubcare: I was thinking about that too! Clearly we all think similarly. I think my book choices would show I’m in school having to read a lot of the same topic, and then choose to fill in with fluff reading like comic books 🙂

    Lisa: That’s a good one, I wouldn’t have thought of that. Doing good even when it’s not the easy thing would be a great lesson for a president.

    fyrefly: That book sounds good too. I think the First Amendment is one of the most fascinating things about our country.