“Obama is the most bookish of modern residents of the White House,”
August 14, 2015 12:48 PM   Subscribe

Mark Lawson Unpacks President Obama's Summer Reading Picks [The Guardian]
Barack Obama has reached the stage of his administration when plans are being made for the construction in Chicago of the Presidential library that former American leaders get to set up in their memory. But, before that, he – or his aides – have also had to think about a smaller library: the shelf of books that the American people are told their leader plans to read on his summer vacation.
1. "All That Is," James Salter
2. "All The Light We Cannot See," Anthony Doerr
3. "The Sixth Extinction," Elizabeth Kolbert
4. "The Lowland," Jhumpa Lahiri
5. "Between the World and Me," Ta-Nehisi Coates
6. "Washington: A Life," Ron Chernow
posted by Fizz (44 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
While you unpack, listen to Obama's Spotify playlists
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:54 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised he's the most bookish; isn't Clinton known for reading piles of books, quickly, and remembering what he read? (Cite: dunno, that's just what I remember from the time.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:58 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Between the World and Me is very, very, very good. I have the urge to gift a copy to everyone I know.
posted by naju at 1:04 PM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


When you talk about Presidents and lists of books, I think of how JFK more or less launched 1960s Bond-mania when Life magazine listed his ten favorite books and he stuck From Russia With Love in there.

I find myself wondering what the equivalent is here, something that can be launched into the next level of public awareness and celebrity. Maybe All The Light We Cannot See?
posted by Naberius at 1:12 PM on August 14, 2015


I haven't read the Kolbert book, but I've read many of her New Yorker articles, my takeaway from those was that we're basically screwed. How does a person process that when they're also the most powerful person on the planet?
posted by paper chromatographologist at 1:16 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


isn't Clinton known for reading piles of books, quickly, and remembering what he read? (Cite: dunno, that's just what I remember from the time.)

Well, anecdotal only but a friend was randomly seated next to Clinton on a transatlantic flight, and they spent a large portion of the trip geeking out about Tolkien and Lord of the Rings, so I'd say so.
posted by bluecore at 1:26 PM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


George W Bush booklist:

!. Goodnight Moon (Read to him by Barbara)
2. Captain Underpants
3. Green Eggs and Ham
4. Encyclopedia Brown and the Mystery of the Hidden Weapons (Read to him by Richard Chaney)
5. Millie's Book
posted by AugustWest at 1:30 PM on August 14, 2015 [12 favorites]


All the Light We Cannot See is THAT BOOK I see on every bookstore "featured" table, that all my aunts are passing around, and every magazine I pick up seems to mention. But for whatever reason it seems so unenticing...I'm a book fiend but it just seems like something I've read 1,000 times before.

(I wonder whether any of these are summer reading books for the Obama girls? I first discovered Jhumpa Lahiri through her book of short stories, which was my assigned reading going into senior year of high school.)
posted by sallybrown at 1:32 PM on August 14, 2015


"Between the World and Me," Ta-Nehisi Coates

Coates' book is something that I think everyone in N. America should read. It is an astounding examination of politics, history, race and culture. It cuts deep and is filled with brilliant commentary about recent events like Ferguson, and what it means to be black in America.
posted by Fizz at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


George W Bush booklist:

George W. Bush is a book-lover, says Karl Rove. I remember Bush II catching a bunch of shit for reading so many books. People wondered when he had the time to rule the free world while he had his nose in so many books.

I find myself wondering what the equivalent is here, something that can be launched into the next level of public awareness and celebrity. Maybe All The Light We Cannot See?

That one's already got about 8 zillion holds at the library. I hope it's the Coates instead.
posted by carsonb at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, how much of a mindfuck must it be to read a biography of George Washington while you're President?
posted by sallybrown at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


I find myself wondering what the equivalent is here, something that can be launched into the next level of public awareness and celebrity.

JFK's Bond-springboard got legs because it was something you wouldn't expect a president to admit to reading. It was a pulp novel (kinda) favored by a guy that won a Pulitzer for historical biographies. It had "Russia" and "Love" in the title. And the kicker: It's a spy thriller read by a guy that actually employs spies.

Obama's list doesn't have that kind of surprise. Of course the black president is reading Ta-Nehisi Coates. Of course the Democratic president is reading about climate change. Of course the latest president is reading about the first one.

If Obama admitted to reading, say, The Hitchhiker's Guide, then people would jump up and go, "Whaaa...?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:36 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


4. Encyclopedia Brown and the Mystery of the Hidden Weapons (Read to him by Richard Chaney)

It's got to be embarrassing when you're deriding someone as an illiterate goon and you can't bother to spell a Vice President's name correctly.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:37 PM on August 14, 2015 [21 favorites]


I'm thrilled that he's reading The Sixth Extinction! I would be even more thrilled if it changed the way he engaged with ecological/environmental policy, but hey.
posted by dialetheia at 1:39 PM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I wan to see the Youtube history of POTUS, FLOTUS and the entire white house staff.

I want to imagine them laughing at clips of bad lip reading, the GOP debates and Henri the existentialist cat. I dearly want to know that people in the corridors of power can giggle without killing people.
posted by srboisvert at 1:39 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I imagine it must be natural to wonder what some of the very few other people who have had your job were like.

It's not like there self-help books on how to be President of the United States.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:45 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't get the criticism. Obama has been the best president on the environment since TR.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:50 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


Coates' book is something that I think everyone in N. America should read. It is an astounding examination of politics, history, race and culture. It cuts deep and is filled with brilliant commentary about recent events like Ferguson, and what it means to be black in America.

Perhaps after President Obama reads it he can go explain it to the Netherlands.

I'd be curious to see the book lists for all the current presidential candidates. The real lists, not the ones created by political consultants.
posted by fuse theorem at 2:01 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


shakespherian: 4. Encyclopedia Brown and the Mystery of the Hidden Weapons (Read to him by Richard Chaney)

It's got to be embarrassing when you're deriding someone as an illiterate goon and you can't bother to spell a Vice President's name correctly.


That's a common error. Richard Chaney was Lon Chaney's second cousin.
posted by dr_dank at 2:08 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]




That's a common error. Richard Chaney was Lon Chaney's second cousin.

Was he also a Dick?
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:13 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember Bush II catching a bunch of shit for reading so many books. People wondered when he had the time to rule the free world while he had his nose in so many books.

Seriously? I don't doubt that, contrary to public perception, he actually read a lot of books, but that's certainly not a trait that I ever recall him being known for, let alone taking criticism for.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:16 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


As usual, I'm going to be off getting the books on his list I haven't read yet. (I can vouch that 1 and 2 on the list are great.) He always has fabulous taste, and I can never figure out how he picks such great books when he is plenty busy doing other things.
posted by bearwife at 2:22 PM on August 14, 2015


Richard Chaney was Lon Chaney's second cousin.

Was his hair also perfect?
posted by a halcyon day at 2:42 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


I was annoyed because I already read all of these (except the Coates, which is in my queue), except I'm stuck in 1778 on the Chernow biography of Washington because WAR IS MUDDY AND DULL sometimes and I went to go read The Martian instead. But apparently Obama ('s aides) and I have similar taste in books.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:18 PM on August 14, 2015


Hey what about the pet goat book from 9/11?
posted by maniabug at 3:19 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Given Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe and the excerpt from The Sixth Extinction I read, I sort of hope Obama doesn't decide to nuke humanity from orbit, as it's the only way to be sure.
posted by angrycat at 3:20 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The Sixth Extinction" was the proverbial final straw in my decision to not have kids.
posted by skycrashesdown at 3:57 PM on August 14, 2015


George W.Bush married a librarian at UT Austin.
posted by humanfont at 4:30 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's got to be embarrassing when you're deriding someone as an illiterate goon and you can't bother to spell a Vice President's name correctly.

Not in the least.
posted by AugustWest at 4:36 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


George W.Bush married a librarian at UT Austin.

Word is he was and is a bookish man. No doubt many here will call this rubbish, but I see no more reason to believe it an exaggeration than to believe Obama's list is an exaggeration. (Interestingly, both Obama and Mrs B agree on Toni Morrison.)

Look, I think W was possibly the worst president of my lifetime, and that against some pretty stiff competition in both parties, but cheap shots like this are more a reflection of the sneerer than the sneered at. snark and sarcasm are poor substitutes for wit. They play only to the cheapest of seats, and then only to the like-minded. Jokes, to be funny, must be true. Fail.

As to the list, well, as a politician, Obama would do better to jettison Chernow's Washington biography and try Thomas Fleming's study of Washington vs Jefferson as politicians. I think he would get more out of it. (Assuming, of course, that he hasn't read it already.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:10 PM on August 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Adding these to my Kindle.

I went to go read The Martian instead

Quick sidetrack, The Martian was the book the convinced me "real books" versus Kindle debates have a point. I have the Kindle edition and sent the "real" version to my dad. Even though (or perhaps) because I've a fairly strong science but not engineering background, I kept skipping past all the "and then I remembered I'm a bioengineer (or whatever)" parts because I understood what he was doing without needing the details. But Dad keeps referencing the details....makes it hard to discuss with him. In past times, I probably would have read the details because it was the only book I had rather than moving on to another book in my Kindle.
posted by beaning at 5:57 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Officially, he's spending the summer reading enriching books, but in reality you know he's probably just running around blasting things with his new Gjallarhorn.
posted by prize bull octorok at 7:02 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


cheap shots like this are more a reflection of the sneerer than the sneered at

Sometimes, sure, but in this case they're a reflection of a public persona Bush intentionally built of his own free will and worked to maintain. It's hardly unfair to make jokes about someone being an unread buffoon when they've gone to great efforts to make the world think they're an unread buffoon.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:31 PM on August 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I thought maybe the Norwegians had given Obama a new mountainous musical instrument.
posted by persona au gratin at 7:56 PM on August 14, 2015


I am suprised that there are no graphic novels on this list, given the President's well known comic geek cred.
posted by humanfont at 8:43 PM on August 14, 2015


George W.Bush married a librarian at UT Austin.

I think a more interesting factoid about Laura Bush is that when she was in High School, she killed a classmate (an ex-boyfriend, I read somewhere, but that isn't mentioned in the NYT article I linked) in a two car traffic accident in which she was at fault.
posted by jamjam at 10:27 PM on August 14, 2015


Dubya may have indeed been a wide and voracious reader. But the Karl Rove quote mentioned above had the side effect of reinforcing Bush's image as a thoughtless cowboy. Rove specifically made it sound like a contest. Devouring these often dense volumes at a breakneck speed, while holding down jobs which could often consume all waking hours, and basically making these books just pieces in some weird macho pissing match. Very hard to take Bush's reading seriously. It's as if he was skimming these books as quickly as possible for bragging rights over Rove, and getting that free pizza from the local library's summer reading program.

However, he is the president I'd most like to speak with about his consumption of certain media. Reportedly, he was watching West Wing obsessively during his second term. Always wondered what the hell was going through his head.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:29 AM on August 15, 2015


> I think a more interesting factoid about Laura Bush...

It's more gossipy, but I don't see how it's relevant.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:07 AM on August 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a more interesting factoid about Laura Bush...

No, not really.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:00 AM on August 15, 2015


I don't doubt that, contrary to public perception, he actually read a lot of books, but that's certainly not a trait that I ever recall him being known for, let alone taking criticism for.

Well Karl Rove wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal and you must not have hung out with me much back in 2008.
posted by carsonb at 8:16 AM on August 15, 2015


George W.Bush married a librarian at UT Austin.

I find it fascinating when people trot this out as some sort of invocative totem to hold up against the haters. Maybe Dubya is bookish, maybe he's not. How does Laura Bush having been a librarian have anything to do with that? Do you imagine her toting carts full of books to read home to him from UT? Or what?

Also, she was not a librarian at UT Austin. That's where she got her degree.

cheap shots like this are more a reflection of the sneerer than the sneered at. snark and sarcasm are poor substitutes for wit. They play only to the cheapest of seats, and then only to the like-minded.

Which is why Dubya, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney were all devoid of wit, and consummate masters at the art of sneering, snark, sarcasm, and cheap shots, throughout their years in the White House and beyond.
posted by blucevalo at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2015


I am suprised that there are no graphic novels on this list, given the President's well known comic geek cred.

Well, maybe he's waiting for the TPB of Bitch Planet to drop next month. He's a busy man, no time for single issues...
posted by palomar at 1:00 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which is why Dubya, Karl Rove, and Dick Cheney were all devoid of wit, and consummate masters at the art of sneering, snark, sarcasm, and cheap shots, throughout their years in the White House and beyond.

How did Cheney get into this? I was speaking only of W. Alexandra Pelosi said he was really quite charming and not in the political hack's Love Me Now sort of way. Having seen the doco, I can believe it.

Still wouldn't vote for him for president.

(And, as Reagan said, there you go again....)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:42 PM on August 31, 2015


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