June 10, 2006

Rudy Giuliani picks the top 5 biographies of leaders.

How can you read this list and not think that he first decided which 5 leaders should be on his list and in what order and then came up with the names of books for the 5 slots?

I'm not blaming him. He's a politician. It's like all those politicians who let us know what is in their iPods. The demonstration of balance is too obvious, the need to show the right frame of mind, so we'll trust them with what they want us to let them do.

Giuliani briefly explains why he picked each book, and each explanation is perfectly honed as a campaign pitch -- deniable, yet unmistakable.

For book #1:
On the night after the attacks of Sept. 11, I remember getting home at about 2:30 a.m. and seeing on my nightstand a book I had been reading, a prepublication copy of Roy Jenkins's forthcoming "Churchill."...
Mmmm... yeah... who's to say it didn't happen?

Book 2 is about Jefferson. Book 3 is about... guess!... Lincoln:
My mother was a great storyteller and a natural teacher. She introduced me as a child to the life of Abraham Lincoln....
Don't you tell me she didn't! You don't appreciate Mom?

Book 4 is... love me Democrats... President Kennedy's "Profiles in Courtage"!
One profile in particular that stuck with me was that of Edmund Ross, the Kansas Republican who cast the deciding vote for acquittal in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Ross was no fan of Johnson's but sensed that the trial was more about rounding up votes than weighing the evidence. His decision to break ranks with his party ended Ross's political career, but his principled stand has been vindicated by history....
Yay, Republican!

Book 5 is... note, Democrats, I put him after Kennedy... Ronald Reagan!
My wife, Judith, recently bought me Richard Reeves's book (subtitled "The Triumph of Imagination"), which excels in depicting Ronald Reagan's management style and unrelenting pursuit of his core principles: the restoration of the American spirit, limited government, a strong defense and the defeat of communism.
First, Kennedy, then, Reagan. First, Mom, then, Wife. Do you love me yet? Did I present my admiration for Reagan in a way that makes both Democrats and Republicans feel good? Management style! Principles! Like the principles I extracted? Come on, they're really good ones! What? You're for unlimited government?

Hey, I love the guy. I'm just saying I can read.


bearbee said...

Like him or not, one of the best bio's I have read is the first volume of a trilogy on Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro The Path to Power

Ann Althouse said...

Which just underlines my point... Giuliani had to pick admirable characters who represented himself and bios that inspired by example.

bearbee said...

Yes, and if I were asked to make a list I too would begin with those I most respect even though I have read stunning bio's on Stalin and Mao. I just don't think I could manage to have them on my list.

Manipulative, self serving? Maybe........

Henry said...

Roy Jenkins' biography of Churchill is really quite good. Jenkins happily treats Churchill as a political animal, and does so with insight and balance.

In the category of principled Republicans (Edmund Ross), I recommend Barbara Tuchman's essay on Thomas Reed in The Proud Tower. Reed was an anti-imperialist who presided, as the Republican speaker of the House, over the McKinley administration's annexation of Hawaii. "You do not want to hear the things he says in private" they said of him.

Jenkins' Churchill and the essay above would probably be top two on my list.

So I don't mind Giuliani picking admirable characters. It can be interesting to read about monsters, but I think we are inspired by heroes.

Still, I wish the selection of heroes had been more idiosyncratic. Giuliani loves opera. Is there not some inspirational biography of Maria Callas or Gioacchino Rossini in his bookshelf?

Or he could have thrown the NASCAR crowd a bone and picked Mark Donahue's racing autobiography, The Unfair Advantage.

Dave said...

Giuliani has been well known to be an admirer of Churchill for a long time.

amba said...

I like the way he emphasizes that Judith is "my wife." For the longest time, they were just . . . going together. When she saw him through prostate cancer, she was only his dear companion. Can't have the base thinking of that and scowling. "My wife" is moral Lysol that wipes out messy history -- wipes out Donna, divorce, fleeing to his gay friends' home, and then living in sin with Judith for the longest time.

vw: bywds (short for bywords)

Craig Ranapia said...


Oh, for f***s sake, he is married to Judith Nathan isn't he? the man calls his wife his fracking wife.

As for the list itself - well, I don't know why anyone does these things. Guiliani comes across as a man with pretty middle of the road tastes in political biographies. I suppose if he'd come up with a list of esoterica we'd all be snarking about which poli. sci. major working at Guliani Partners got drafted to make his poseur boss look like an intellectual.

And when my father died, I couldn't sleep and spent the evening reading C.S. Lewis' 'A Grief Observed'. I just did that so I'd have something to write about if the WSJ came knocking.

Zach said...

Sooner or later some really canny politician is going to latch onto Ulysses Grant. (Actually, I wish they would.)

By far the best general in the Civil War, he hated military life. He had no inclination toward politics, but ran for president strictly because he thought it was the only way to advance civil rights, and because he felt a responsibility to take up the dead Lincoln's mantle. Heck, before the war, when he was dead broke and making his money by chopping and selling firewood, he was given a slave worth $500 -- and freed him immediately.

In a just world, he would have Teddy Rooseveldt's (totally undeserved) spot on Mount Rushmore.

The recent Brooks D. Simpson biography of Grant is excellent, by the way. Most others are very bad.

Zach said...

Entries 4 and 5 seemed like nods to politics.

One subtle way of showing off: Giuliani offhandedly mentions other biographies of the same men that he's read and enjoyed. It reminded me of one of my favorite Neal Stephenson quotes, from The Diamond Age:

The door opened. One of Judge Fang's constables entered the room and bowed deeply to apologize for the interruption, then stepped forward and handed the magistrate a scroll. The Judge examined the seal; it bore the chop of Dr. X.

He carried it to his office and unrolled it on his desk. It was the real thing, written on rice paper in real ink, not the mediatronic stuff.

It occurred to the Judge, before he even read this document, that he could take it to an art dealer on Nanjing Road and sell it for a year's wages. Dr. X, assuming it was really he who had brushed these chracters, was the most impressive living calligrapher whose work Judge Fang had ever seen. His hand betrayed a rigorous Confucian grounding — many decades more study than Judge Fang could ever aspire to — but upon this foundation the Doctor had developed a distinctive style, highly expressive without being sloppy. It was the hand of an elder who understood the importance of gravity above all else, and who, having first established his dignity, conveyed most of his message through nuances. Beyond that, the structure of the inscription was exactly right, a perfect balance of large characters and small, hung on the page just so, as if inviting analysis by legions of future graduate students.

Judge Fang knew that Dr. X controlled legions of criminals ranging from spankable delinquents up to international crime lords; that half of the Coastal Republic officials in Shanghai were in his pocket; that within the limited boundaries of the Celestial Kingdom, he was a figure of considerable importance, probably a blue-button Mandarin of the third or fourth rank; that his business connections ran to most of the continents and phyles of the wide world and that he had accumulated tremendous wealth. All of these things paled in comparison with the demonstration of power represented by this scroll. I can pick up a brush at any time, Dr. X was saying, and toss off a work of art that can hang on the wall beside the finest calligraphy of the Ming Dynasty.

By sending the Judge this scroll, Dr. X was laying claim to all of the heritage that Judge Fang most revered. It was like getting a letter from the Master himself. The Doctor was, in effect, pulling rank. And even though Dr. X nominally belonged to a different phyle — the Celestial Kingdom — and, here in the Coastal Republic, was nothing more than a criminal, Judge Fang could not disregard this message from him, written in this way, without abjuring everything he most respected — those principles on which he had rebuilt his own life after his career as a hoodlum in Lower Manhattan had brought him to a dead end. It was like a summons sent down through the ages from his own ancestors.

He spent a few minutes further admiring the calligraphy. Then he rolled the scroll up with great care, locked it in a drawer, and returned to the interrogation room.