October 25, 2009

"President Obama's Top 12 Books."

Sign in a used bookstore:


Which of these books is it believable Obama really loves? Was "The Golden Notebook" personally transformative for him or did somebody — some insane person — tell him it would be a good inclusion on the list? And what's with "Shakespeare's Tragedies"? What was the thinking there? "The Complete Works of Shakespeare" seems too generic, but if you specify a play, people will compare you to a particular character.

(Here's the NYT article the list came from.)


traditionalguy said...

The tragedies, especially Richard the Third, need to be put on his teleprompter over and over until he gets it.

avwh said...

Sure as hell not the Bible (not with Rev. Wright's 20 years of sermons).

"Team of Rivals", maybe.

John said...

Didn't He write the Bible?

Kevin Gregory said...

#13 Rules for Radicals

Anonymous said...

No, apparently Taylor Branch wrote the Bible.

I also noticed that neither the books that US terrorist Bill Ayers wrote for him are on that list.

Jason (the commenter) said...

I believe every single one of them. Have you heard Obama speak? He's dull and boring and this is exactly the type of list you would expect someone like him to produce.

Oh, and I'm looking at everyone's profile who comments on this thread. I hope I don't see any "Moby Dicks" listed.

Automatic_Wing said...

I'm suspicious. Twelve favorite books and no Obama autobiographies among them?

Donna B. said...

I do not believe Obama has read Emerson's "Self Reliance".

Balfegor said...

The tragedies, especially Richard the Third, need to be put on his teleprompter over and over until he gets it.

Despite the title character's cartoonish villany, I thought Richard III was classified as a history? Or are only the boring ones histories?

dbp said...

"Oh, and I'm looking at everyone's profile who comments on this thread. I hope I don't see any "Moby Dicks" listed."

Moby Dick is in my favorites, I stand by my opinion that it is just insanely good.

Balfegor said...

Also, when I first looked at this, I thought the books on the shelves were supposed to be his favourite books. And wondered, "Isn't the Invisible Empire the KKK? I mean, I guess that makes sense . . ."

mariner said...

The tragedies, especially Richard the Third, need to be put on his teleprompter over and over until he gets it.

Better yet, Richard II should be performed repeatedly on every stage in this country, until WE get it.

(Richard II was originally titled "The tragedie of King Richard the second")

Unknown said...

avwh said...

Sure as hell not the Bible (not with Rev. Wright's 20 years of sermons).

My thought, too. Das Kapital (no, I really don't think he's bright (or disciplined) enough to wade through it) and Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, though.

John said...

Didn't He write the Bible?

Evan Thomas thinks so.

McClatchy Watch said...

#13 Rules for Radicals

That's #1, don't kid yourself.

WV "blogie" Some blogger from Casablanca.

Jason (the commenter) said...

dbp: Moby Dick is in my favorites, I stand by my opinion that it is just insanely good.

I'll believe it in your list; but I still won't believe that whales are fish or smoking prevents disease.

br549 said...

Perhaps someone from Fox News can ask Obama a question pertaining to one of the books at a future news conference.

The Crack Emcee said...

I like that the list is in the (NewAge) Eastern Religion and Philosophy section where his followers can see it best.

The Macho Response.

Hector Owen said...

The book list of a pretentious pretender.

Unknown said...

That looks (the little handwritten signs and notes) like Paul's Bookstore by the corner of Lake and State. I've always liked that place.

Bought Boswell's Life of Johnson there. One day I'll finally finish it and bring it back there to sell back.

Chip Ahoy said...

* sniff *

Oh, this list smells of ..

* sniff *

Hang on ...

* sniff *

* pause*

* processes *


Here's the real list that is also made up. Of course, the books are not actually read by the president, someone else does that then tells the president what's in them Cliff Notes fashion according to their best interpretation, and you'll just have to settle for that. Still, it's nice to imagine the president reading them, and you should read them too. (It's what we do -- recommend books)

* Here I Stand, Paul Robeson

* Politics the Wellstone Way, How to Elect Progressive Candidates and Win on Issues, Wellstne Action and Bill Lofy

* A Theory of Justice, John Rawls

* The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, Sam Harris

* The Law in Shambles, Thomas Georghegan

* People's History of the United States
* A Young People's " "
" " American Empire
* A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
etc., Howard Zinn

* The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Greg Palast

* Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, Rebecca Solnit

* What's the Matter With Kansas? how Conservatives Won the Heart of America, Thomas Frank

* Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, George Lakoff

* The Revenge of Gaia: Earth's Climate Crisis The Fate of Humanity, James Lovelock

* Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assult on America's Fundamental Rights, Molly Ivins

What? Thirteen not enough? FINE!

* The Cheating Culture Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, David Callahan

* Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance, Noam Chomsky

* Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, John De Graaf

* The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, John Micklethwait

* A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Samantha Power

* The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Government, Mary M. Shaffrey and Melanie Fonder

* Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, Justin Frank

* Conservatives Without Conscience, John W. Dean

* Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire and Myra Bergman Ramos

* Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Derrick Jensen

* Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001, Benny Morris

* The Left Hand of God: Taking Back our Country From the Religious Right, Michael Lerner

* The Shock Doctrine The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein

* The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, Daniel Yergin

That should keep you occupied for awhile and give you half a chance at becoming properly informed and righteous citizens.

lohwoman said...

I would like to thank the Althouse commenter who suggested Jim Webb's "Born Fighting" as a book Mr. Obama should read. This was in a thread in July or August. I bought the book, read it on vacation and value it highly.

Shanna said...

This is such a made up list. The bible? Shakespeare's tragedies (Didn't have a favorite there? I mean, lots of people hate one and love another).

Oh, and I'm looking at everyone's profile who comments on this thread. I hope I don't see any "Moby Dicks" listed.

Heh. Now I'm trying to remember what I put on mine.

traditionalguy said...

Balfegor...Your are right. I always thought Shakespear's "Histories" were tragedies too.They certainly were not comedies. I guess when a bad character is king it's only called a history, but when a good character is king it always turns into a tragedy. William Shakespear was always the best to ever put truth about humans onto paper.He was so good that no one wants to admit one man wrote them.

I'm Full of Soup said...

That was excellent.

Unknown said...

The Golden Notebook is Lessing's worst book, IMHO, and I would imagine frequently cited as read but rarely actually read, but I guess whoever cooked up this list had to include one for the feminists.

Phil 314 said...

It is odd? Ironic? that at the top of the list is the Bible and yet the list is posted in the Eastern Religions section.

Shanna said...

Whenever I see these kinds of lists I think of an early episode of Friends (scoff if you will) where they say what Rachel tells people her favorite movie is (some artsy thing) and what her actual favorite movie is (weekend at bernies). I wish these lists were real. They would be far more fun. As it is, it seems like a race to see who can be more pretentious/political. Feh.

traditionalguy said...

How can we sneak Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations into Barry's reading room under a cover about Famous Maoist conquerors.

jaed said...

It occurred to me, after watching the Obamas' respective speeches in support of Chicago's Olympic bid, that neither of them was what you could call a persuasive or sales speech. They didn't try to persuade their audience, the IOC, that it would be to their advantage or the advantage of the Olympics to give them to Chicago.

No, the speeches were all about the Obamas. How much they wanted the Olympics to go to their hometown. How this would benefit Americans, who would then be able to learn to ride bikes (?) and defeat the Scourge of Childhood Obeeeesity(??). How proud and happy they, Barack and Michelle, would be should the Olympics go to Chicago. It was just very... off. Very self-centered, compared to the sort of speech that might be effective in that situation.

And thinking about this, it occurred to me that the tone of these presentations would have been completely appropriate in one circumstance: a college admissions essay. In an admissions essay, you might (with due modesty) refer to the diversity the college would acquire with you as a student, or even the great scientist/historian/writer/etc. the field might acquire as a result of your admission, but it's far more likely that you'll talk about the benefits to you. How much you want to go to this particular school, how hard you've worked for it, how much it will mean to you. The Olympic speeches didn't work, felt off, because they did just this.

Now this list. What kind of a poseur generates such a list when asked for his favorite books? (What kind of uber-poseur puts "the tragedies of Shakespeare" on the list, instead of making the minimal effort needed to dredge up one title from a half-remembered high-school English class?) I'll tell you: a poseur who's writing a college admissions essay. A smart high school senior is expected to put something like this on such a list. Hopefully he or she gets over it by college graduation, having learned enough to actually have a list of favorites, rather than needing to generate one on the basis of what sounds impressive.

Our president is a bright college sophomore.

SteveR said...

Yeah, the list is B.S.

Penny said...

Hopefully Obama is putting all these books aside to read the overwrought healthcare legislation he proposes we all need.

In words, that is probably the equivalent of 12 books.

ddh said...

I think Obama listed Gandhi's autobiography because it sounds high-minded.

I read An Autobiography as a teenager, and I came away thinking Gandhi was an unattractive kook. I was amazed that so much of the book dealt with Gandhi's obsessions about his diet and so little about politics. Several times, he limited his diet to nuts and berries (no pulses, green leafy vegetables, or tree fruit) to the point of hospitalization.

Penny said...

This is an aside comment.

I was watching David Axelrod at Harvard on C-Span today. He was talking about Obama being uncomfortable with the requirements of running for office, particularly with the rigors and time constraints of debates, but also with working for the sound byte.

When he heard who McCain had selected for his running mate, he commented on how hard it would be to hit the ground running, given how long it had taken him to essentially learn how to "run". Palin had three weeks to learn what he had been working on for a year.

The story continues as Joe Biden is told that McCain selected Sarah Palin. Biden responds, "Who is she?"

This was just weeks before the Biden/Palin debate.

Penny said...

If only Katie Couric had asked Obama what he read one week after he started running for President.

rcocean said...

Very diverse list. Lots of women. A few dead white males. Some asians and blacks too. I guess the Jews are covered with the Bible. He needs a some president books so Lincoln and Goodwin cover that.

Very political. Checks all the boxes.

mrs whatsit said...

The Golden Notebook was SUCH a depressing, dull, bleak, pointless book. I remember plowing along trying to enjoy and appreciate it because Everyone Said That It Was So Meaningful For Women. At some point I just dropped it and walked away from it. Such a relief. I don't believe for one moment that Obama has read three pages of it.

This is such a funny line in the NYT article: "(which surely stands as the most evocative, lyrical and candid autobiography written by a future president)" Talk about damning with faint praise! How many future presidents have written autobiographies? Did ANY other future presidents write autobiographies? It can't be a very competitive field!

blake said...

Plays are not books.

Ann Althouse said...

"That looks (the little handwritten signs and notes) like Paul's Bookstore..."

You're right.

Skipper50 said...

Wouldn't it be fun to quiz the Prez on Shakespeare's plays? Let's see if he's actually every read or seen one.

Unknown said...

"You're right."

I doubly appreciate the photos then.

Three great memories from State: browsing that bookstore as a kid with the promise that my mother would buy me a book if it was suitably challenging, getting a hard salami sandwich at Ella's with my grandmother the week of my first communion, and holding hands on the sidewalk with my first girlfriend after I impulsively bought her an geeky, cheap mouth harp (boing, boing, boing) for her birthday at a music store.

The ladies of State.

The Crack Emcee said...

"I read An Autobiography as a teenager, and I came away thinking Gandhi was an unattractive kook. I was amazed that so much of the book dealt with Gandhi's obsessions about his diet and so little about politics. Several times, he limited his diet to nuts and berries (no pulses, green leafy vegetables, or tree fruit) to the point of hospitalization."

Gandhi was an unattractive kook - and you don't see any connection between his actions and the dietary insanity (and/or "wellness" hysteria) of the unattractive kooks in contemporary NewAge liberal culture? Controlling our diets is a huge part of the indoctrination process into the NewAge:

First they control what you think, then they control what you eat, culminating in eventual control over your life.

Mind/Body/Spirit, baby.

Ain't shit left for you, except for Obie's reading list, maybe.

Unknown said...

"an geeky"

See, I'm exactly awkward to enough to buy a mouth harp for a girlfriend.

Penny said...

And I am thinking that, soon enough, J will only recall the "two ladies" in this story.

David said...

"Our president is a bright college sophomore."

With a gigantic allowance.

Mr. Forward said...

"Albion Winegar Tourgee (1838-1905), also wrote under the pseudonym Henry Churton, was an American soldier, Radical Republican, lawyer, judge, novelist, and diplomat. A pioneer civil rights activist, he founded the National Citizens' Rights Association and litigated for the plaintiff Homer Plessy in the famous segregation case Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)"

"Though the discussion of sectional and racial problems is an important element in the book, A Fool’s Errand has merit as a dramatic narrative—with its love affair, and its moments of pathos, suffering, and tragedy. This combination of tract and melodrama made it a bestseller in its day. Total sales have been estimated as 200,000, a remarkable record in the l880’s for a book of this kind.

Though Tourgée later disavowed his early optimism about the role national education could play in remedying the race problem in the South, calling this a “genuine fools notion,” he might have been less pessimistic had he been alive in 1960, when the student sit-in movement began in the South. At any rate, today in what has been called the second phase of the modern revolution in race relations in this country, Tourgée’s novel about the first phase has an added relevance and interest for thinking American readers."

"The Invisible Empire investigates white supremacy as it emerged from the milieu of slavery, war, politics, and Reconstruction. Tourgée argues that organizations such as the Klan appealed to the mass of white southerners as a means of ameliorating their defeat and ensuring a measure of political control. He describes that Klan as the produce of southern hostility toward “any and all things” associated with the uplifting of the black population. Tourgée’s efforts in his books and in his life, were aimed at undermining racism and promoting egalitarian and democratic ideals."

David said...

I did not think it was possible, but it turns out that Obama is a bigger fake than John Kerry. Certainly a more effective one.

The article Althouse links was published January 19, 2009 by the NYT. A few days later the NYT published the following "correction."

Correction: January 26, 2009
An article last Monday about literary influences on Barack Obama misstated the time frame during which he found inspiration in “Parting the Waters,” the first installment of Taylor Branch’s multivolume biography of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was after Mr. Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago, not during that period.

Did the reporter really get that one little fact wrong? Or did someone blow the whistle, pointing out that Parting the Waters was published in 1989, after Obama's stint as a community organizer ended.

Looks to me like Obama was caught in a lie, and the NYT covered for him.

If Bush claimed to have read a book several years before its publication date, what do you suppose the NYT reaction would be?

Unknown said...

"And I am thinking that, soon enough, J will only recall the "two ladies" in this story."

Already happened, Penny, years ago. Just before prom. And, at a suitably old age, another passed, with services held just off State, at Holy Redeemer... at the very same church the one remaining woman attended grade school.

Penny said...

So "J" has only one lady on his mind now?

Kirk Parker said...

"but if you specify a play, people will compare you to a particular character."

Yeah, like Dogberry. :-)

William said...

I don't believe this list. I'm sure he has read the books, but, dollars to donuts, he has read the Autobiography of Malcolm X with more zest and appreciation than that of Gandhi. Shakespeare's tragedies: Is that a delicate nod to Othello? There's not a lot Lear or MacBeth in him that I can see, and every Harvard grad was Hamlet. I go with Othello. He's waiting for the big betrayal. His failures will not be failures but betrayals. His world is flush with Iagos.....Such an earnest, proper list is revelatory of nothing so as his wish to occlude his real enthusiasms.

Christy said...

I will not be intimidated, Kirk. I declare openly, I love Much Ado About Nothing.

Kirk Parker said...

No intimidation offered or intended, Christy: I mean to refer to Our President, and really Much Ado About Nothing doesn't seem off the mark, really.

wv - 'critchic' - a female critic

bearbee said...

Karl Marx The Communist Manifesto?

James H. Cone A Black Theology of Liberation?

Kirby Olson said...

He should read The Histories instead. Henry V was GW Bush. Obama's Henry VI. He means well, but doesn't have a clue. He doesn't realize there are people around like Richard III.

If he read more histories, he would start to tune in a bit.

He should also read The Black Book of Communism.

Michael said...

Every great liar accompanies his falsehoods with a few true details that he believes will solidify the perception of veracity. In this case, the President (if indeed he concocted this absurd list) may well have read Gilead from cover to cover. Jesus fucking christ what have we done to ourselves.

Chris said...

Did the New York Times write the Bible?

ace said...

this is my favorite handwritten bookstore sign, spotted in Hay-on-Wye, Wales:


Roux said...

Blogger John said...
Didn't He write the Bible?

No but he was the inspiration for parts of it.