The Book List: What books did Barack Obama read during his last summer as president?

Every Wednesday, Alex Johnson delves into a unique collection of titles

Alex Johnson
Tuesday 10 April 2018 12:12
Only the hottest titles: Barack Obama released an annual rundown of his summer reading during his presidency
Only the hottest titles: Barack Obama released an annual rundown of his summer reading during his presidency

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

One of the annual traditions of Barack Obama’s presidency was the announcement of his annual summer holiday reading list. Above is his final list in 2016, and below is what he chose the year before:

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

But he is only the latest in a long line of presidents who enjoyed reading, starting with Thomas Jefferson, who owned so many books in his private library that he was able to donate most of it to the government to replace the Library of Congress, which was burnt by British soldiers in 1812. His various letters to friends with suggested reading lists are frighteningly long and erudite. Jefferson’s successor, John Adams (Obama included David McCullough’s biography of him in his 2009 list), was also well read and had a habit of annotating his books heavily, adding an extra 10,000 words to An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution by Mary Wollstonecraft.

More recently, John F Kennedy’s list of favourite books reflected his interest in the work of Ian Fleming – and James Bond – and sales of From Russia With Love were greatly helped by his public endorsement of it. These are the other titles:

The Price of Union by Herbert Agar
John Quincy Adams by Samuel Flagg Bemis
Montrose by John Buchan
Pilgrim’s Way by John Buchan
Lord Melbourne by David Cecil

I spy: JFK had a passion for James Bond

Marlborough by Sir Winston Churchill
John C Calhoun by Margaret L Coit
Talleyrand by Duff Cooper
The Emergence of Lincoln by Allan Nevins
Byron in Italy by Peter Quennell
The Red and the Black by M de Stendhal

Apparently Hillary Clinton remarked on the need to build more bookshelves into the White House when she and her husband Bill first moved in. Bill’s list of his 21 favourite books includes Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, which he apparently rereads every couple of years, as well as his wife’s memoir:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954–1963 by Taylor Branch
Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
The Four Quartets by TS Eliot

Top of the Bill: some weighty tomes make the Democrat’s favourite reads

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century by David Fromkin
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis by Carroll Quigley
Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics by Reinhold Niebuhr
The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
Politics as a Vocation by Max Weber
You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright
The Collected Poems of WB Yeats

Sandwiched between Clinton and Obama was President George W Bush. Despite Bush’s reputation in the media for not being a book lover, his former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove revealed that the two of them had an annual competition to see who could read the most books in a year. According to Rove, as well as reading the bible every 12 months, the president also enjoyed a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, from Albert Camus’s L’Étranger and Hugh Thomas’s The Spanish Civil War to numerous Travis McGee mysteries by John MacDonald.

Big and bold: Donald Trump’s brash personality comes through in his writing

Some presidents also write books. According to Donald Trump’s website, “All of Mr Trump’s personally written books have been bestsellers. For once, the mind of this internationally renowned business mogul is an open book.” This is that list:

Crippled America
Time to Get Tough
The Art of the Deal
The Art of the Comeback
The America We Deserve
The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life by Ivanka Trump
The Way to the Top
How to Get Rich
Think Like a Billionaire

The Best Golf Advice I Ever Received
Why We Want You To Be Rich
The Best Real Estate Advice I Ever Received
Think Big and Kick Ass
Never Give Up
Think Like a Champion
Midas Touch

‘A Book of Book Lists’ by Alex Johnson, £7.99, British Library Publishing

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