One week, 2,300 pages: Obama's holiday book list reveals gruelling schedule for his summer break

By Guy Adams
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:37

If Barack Obama's wife and kids thought they'd be getting his undivided attention during their long-awaited summer holiday on the well-to-do island of Martha's Vineyard, perhaps they should think again.

The US President kicked off his vacation by revealing that, in addition to endless games of tennis and golf, he plans to spend the week ploughing through five books, weighing in at an astonishing 2,300 pages. His summer reading list, unveiled by a White House apparently keen to emphasise Mr Obama's highbrow credentials, contains two heavyweight works of non-fiction and three novels.

On top of the pile stacked on Barack and Michelle's bedside table at the 28-acre estate they have rented for $35,000 (£21,000) on the western tip of the Massachusetts island is Hot, Flat and Crowded, the climate change polemic by New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman. Subtitled "why we need a green revolution", it makes a leftish call to arms regarding the future of the planet.

Mr Obama's second choice is historian David McCullough's magisterial biography of John Adams, the often underrated second US president, who was the subject of an award-winning HBO docu-drama last year.

The novels include two crime thrillers: Richard Price's Lush Life, and The Way Home, a novel by George Pelecanos set in Washington, DC – which, much like Obama's best-selling autobiography, explores the relationship between a father and his son.

Completing the set is the novel Plainsong, by a little-known writer called Kent Haruf. Set in a small town on the Colorado plains, its existence on the reading list may reassure voters that Middle America has not been ignored by their metropolitan commander-in-chief.

Publishers are keeping a beady eye on whether the famous "Obama bounce" – which has helped sales at the first family's favourite clothes stores, such as J Crew – will continue to apply to their troubled industry. The President's endorsement is said to have lifted sales of Joseph O'Neill's novel Netherland about cricket in Holland and New York last year.

The books were unveiled to reporters on Monday afternoon, at an official press briefing. Although world leaders have in recent years become accustomed to leaking details of their holiday reading, cynics often wonder if the lists might actually be little more than the fictional concoction of spin-doctors.

George W Bush caused bemusement in 2006, when he attempted to bolster his academic credentials by alleging that he was reading L'Etranger, by French existentialist Albert Camus, in translation.

Gordon Brown, for his part, once tried to counter his reputation as a joyless Presbyterian by taking the latest Harry Potter book on holiday.

Given that President Obama has already spent a portion of his week so far playing golf, beating Michelle at tennis, and visiting friends, questions will inevitably be asked about his ability to put any dent at all in the ambitious reading list.

To finish all five books, he would have to manage more than 300 pages every day – quite an "ask" when a small portion of his time must also be spent running the country.

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