November 13, 2014

Reading about U.S. Presidents.

From "41: A Portrait of My Father," by George W. Bush:
IN THE SUMMER of 1948, George H.W. Bush had two immediate tasks: start his job, and find a place for Mother and me to live. While he scouted for housing in Odessa, Texas, we stayed with my great-grandfather G.H. Walker at his summer house in Kennebunkport, Maine. Life was a lot more comfortable on Walker’s Point than in West Texas. In those days, Odessa was a town of under thirty thousand people located twenty miles from its sister city of Midland and more than three hundred fifty miles from the nearest major airport in Dallas...

[My father] didn’t know a single person when he arrived. People he met were more like the folks in the Navy than those he knew back home. Odessa was a blue-collar town, home to oil field laborers: mechanics who fixed the equipment and roughnecks who worked on the rigs. One of my father’s coworkers once asked him whether he’d gone to college. As a matter of fact, Dad replied, he had just graduated from Yale. The fellow thought for a second and said, “Never heard of it.” The fashion in West Texas was different too. Dad once walked out of the house wearing Bermuda shorts. After several truck drivers honked at him, he went back home and packed away the Bermuda shorts for good. Even the food was unfamiliar. My father always remembered the first time he saw someone order a West Texas delicacy: chicken-fried steak.

Dad found a house on East Seventh Street. The good news was that it had a bathroom, unlike most residences on the street, which had outhouses. The bad news was that we had to share the bathroom with two women who lived on the other side of the duplex— a mother-daughter pair who made their living by entertaining male clients throughout the night....
I'm reading the whole book, but I had to tell you about that men-in-shorts business. And sharing a bathroom with prostitutes is quite something.

I saw that this book is #1 on the Amazon list of books about U.S. Presidents,so I wanted to see what else was on that list. Who are the Presidents that people are reading books about these days? The top 20 is dominated by Bush (this book, in various, versions as well as "Decision Points"), Theodore Roosevelt, and JFK. There's also one book about Lincoln and one about — was he really a U.S. President? — Jefferson Davis. I was going to say JFK seems to be the only Democrat of interest, but one of the Teddy Roosevelt books is "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," and that includes FDR. And let's be fair: Jefferson Davis was a Democrat.

Moving onto the next 20 — and wondering how far I need to go to get to Barack Obama — we get a book about George Washington and 6 books about Lincoln and 4 more about Teddy Roosevelt. There are those old David McCullough books about John Adams and Harry Truman. There's a book about the assassination of James Garfield! There's a book about LBJ and Ronald Reagan, "Landslide: LBJ and Ronald Reagan at the Dawn of a New America." Who reads that? Reagan people or LBJ people? Are there LBJ people? There's a book about Reagan and another book about Bush I.

Finally, on the third set of 20, at #49, there's a book about Obama, and — why does this seem so sad? — it's "Dreams From My Father." I'm reading Bush II's book about his father, and now here's Obama's book about his father, and it's not really a book about his father. It's a book about himself. And it's not a book about a President. It's a book by a man who didn't know that some day he'd be President. And it's as if he's become small and little known all over again, even as he is still President.

I keep searching for another book about Obama. I have to go all the way to the last page on this list that ends at 100. There, at #85, it's "The Audacity of Hope." This symbolism of isolation and apathy is painful. Is Obama the only one who cares about Obama?

And what about Bill Clinton? Not a single book about Bill Clinton in the top 100 books about U.S. Presidents? Isn't he the hero of the Democrats? Isn't he on a heroic quest to retake the White House in a clever end run around the 22nd Amendment? Doesn't anyone care?

Now, these are historical biographies and memoirs. Maybe that genre doesn't jibe with the liberal/progressive mentality. Maybe there's something conservative about reading history. Checking the overall bestseller list at Amazon, I'm not finding anything oriented to liberal politics. I see that Bush's "41" is #2. #1 is a children's book, as is much of the top-selling reading material. Isn't it funny how we love to "raise a reader"? But do they read later? Maybe just not books. We grownups mainly want to read the internet. (I started reading the internet, and I just couldn't put it down.)

What about Chuck Todd's book about Obama, "The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House"? That's gotten some good publicity. You might think Democrats would read that. But it's #1,629 in Books.  At least that's better than Hillary Clinton's "Hard Choices." I guess it was an easy choice not to read that book. "Hard Choices" languishes at #1,778.

57 comments:

Amichel said...

"Is Obama the only one who cares about Obama?"

Yes, but her cares enough for all the rest of us combined.

Gahrie said...

This symbolism of isolation and apathy is painful Is Obama the only one who cares about Obama?

How can you write a book about Obama? Everything in his life is a secret!

Unknown said...

This (these?) observation(s) is(are) so meta.

traditionalguy said...

Interesting. I have never understood that move to the oil patch of west texas by the taipan grandson of the Episcopalian family of Prescott Bush of Connecticut with its vacation home on the coast of Maine as close to their beloved England's Empire as possible.

The only answer is getting the family's cut of the coming oil wealth.

Laslo Spatula said...

Oil Rig Worker clothing is going to be the new gay clothing style. I've got the Keystone Pipeline... in my pants.

kcom said...

"The only answer is getting the family's cut of the coming oil wealth."

Because adventurous young men have never struck out on their own before. Especially ones who felt hemmed in by their family history. Not once.

Although that oil conspiracy sounds plausible, too.

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Brando said...

I still find Nixon one of the most fascinating modern presidents--reading Nixonland right now and find it very engrossing. Clearly, the author is no fan of Nixon, but he seems to be appropriately skeptical of the Kennedys as well, and is at least trying to understand the motivations behind the Nixon coalition without chalking it up to bigotry and stupidity.

LBJ makes a great subject as well. Perhaps there's something about a fall from grace and self-inflicted wounds that makes a compelling story.

Strangely, for all his scandals, I still feel like a book about Clinton would be a snooze.

Ron said...

The LBJ people pick their dogs up by the ears and need a little more breathing room in the groinal area of our pants. And they'll chat with you through the door of the john when they're takin' a dump.

khesanh0802 said...

I have to disagree with traditionalguy. For all his privileged upbringing G.H.W. seems to be a have been a regular guy, certainly willing to strike out on his own and not dependent on daddy. That he foresaw the coming oil boom and was willing to get his hands dirty to partake speaks volumes.

Remember, at the time his plane went down (in combat!) he was the youngest naval aviator flying.

jacksonjay said...

Maybe a sympathetic tome in Swaggy Black English Spice (John McWhorter) would get the Democrats to start reading. Remember when McWhorter said, "...when Obama does things like “dropping his g’s,” he is enhancing the dignity of his office and helping bring the country together." In fact maybe John will write it.

Perhaps Minority Leader Harry could write something in a Negro dialect.

J2 said...

Christopher Hitchens' "No One Left to Lie To" may make a comeback. Not boring.

khesanh0802 said...

I agree, Brando, a book about Clinton would have one theme only: the acquisition,by any means, of power and wealth through the political system. It could be titled " It's all about me!"

Brando said...

"I agree, Brando, a book about Clinton would have one theme only: the acquisition,by any means, of power and wealth through the political system. It could be titled " It's all about me!"

That would be the central theme--for all of his "roguish" criminality and sociopathic tendencies, it's remarkable that Clinton is as boring as he is.

jacksonjay said...

khesanh0802 said:

Remember, at the time his plane went down (in combat!) he was the youngest naval aviator flying.

He was the guy that the Clintonistas and Time magazine called a wimp. Now, in true Bush fashion, they think Bill is a champ! You gotta say, the Bush clan has a lotta class!

Michael K said...

My oldest daughter, a hard line lefty, gave me a copy of "Audacity of Hope." I didn't read it as I never read campaign biographies. If she had given me "Dreams" I would have read it as an interesting loo into his mind. I remember when somebody published a section of one of his books but attributed it to Sarah Palin. The lefty media all trashed it as illiterate.

It was one more example of hilarity in their lemming like rush to the bottom

Laslo Spatula said...

I am reading a biography on Charles Manson, who had his own kind of Audacity. Manson and Obama share a similarity in followers.

John Christopher said...

Before I had a Kindle, the majority of the books I read came from the Chevy Chase branch of the DC Public Library. I remember back in 2003 and especially 2004 when the New Arrivals shelf was overwhelmed with books each straining to be more strident in their criticisms of W. There was definitely an audience for those books at the time, but that moment in publishing seems to have passed.

The Drill SGT said...

we had to share the bathroom with two women who lived on the other side of the duplex

I suspect that the arrangement was similar to the configuration in Army Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) from the 50's to at least 80's. I know others here must have stayed in them. Two single rooms or two small suites (BOQ's next to the Hospitals) separated by a bathroom with a sink , shower and toilet. Door from each side. Each door could be locked from both sides.

The protocol was that you entered your side, locked the far door, shutting the other person out, did your business, then unlocked the far door, exited through your door, and locked your door to the bathroom.

Problems developed if you hadn't unlocked the far door :)

furious_a said...

You gotta say, the Bush clan has a lotta class!

Except for Neil, whoring for the Saudis.

Something to be said for Old Money is that along with the monocles and top hats came a sense of noblesse oblige.

The Drill SGT said...

Something to be said for Old Money is that along with the monocles and top hats came a sense of noblesse oblige.

I'm sure it's a shameful secret in Cambridge, but 5 Harvard Law Grads along with 2 Harvard Med Grads have won the MOH.

Harvard had the highest number of Medal
of Honor recipients among its alumni (i.e. 18) of any university in the world, except for the US Military Academy at West
Point with 83 and the US Naval Academy at Annapolis with 73. Second among civilian universities with Medal of Honor
alumni is the University of Washington with 8 recipients among its graduates. On the 3rd tier of universities with 7 Medal
of Honor alumni are: Virginia Tech, Virginia Military Institute and Texas A&M, all of which have a Corps of Cadets and
are located in the South which proudly fosters a long tradition of military service to our country. A limited but illustrative
sample of the Medal of Honor count at other universities include: Princeton (5), Dartmouth (3), Holy Cross (3) Columbia
(1), Notre Dame (1), Rutgers (1), The Citadel (1) & the US Air Force Academy (1).

Tyrone Slothrop said...

By far the most interesting biography of a president is U.S. Grant's of himself. But then you knew that.

William said...

I read the McCullough book on Truman. In that telling, Truman seemed thoroughly decent and likable. I also read most of the Caro books on LBJ. That man was a dickwad of monumental proportions. Liberals try to make Nixon the Richard III of American Presidents, but LBJ, so far as character goes, is far and away the most despicable. Burning cities, rampant inflation, a disastrous war, but he passed Medicare and the Civil Rights Act so all is forgiven.

furious_a said...

That and compare how the permanent White House staff felt about Barbara Bush vs. Hillary Clinton or Nancy Reagan.

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

And what about Bill Clinton? Not a single book about Bill Clinton in the top 100 books about U.S. Presidents?

What!! You mean Lady Chitlin's Lover has gone out of print!?

madAsHell said...

Second among civilian universities with Medal of Honor
alumni is the University of Washington with 8 recipients among its graduates.


Go Huskies!!!

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

James Elroy will probably be writing a book about Bill Clinton, but only if Elroy outlives him.

I'm interested in why Bill has never feared, nor experienced, a paternity suit. And then what accounts for Chelsea?

Birches said...

Don't knock all the children's books. #11 is a personal favorite.

I've got 41 on hold at the library. I don't buy books for myself, one time through is more than enough for most. I did buy The Blind Side though. It's my go-to book when I'm feeling a little down.

Michael K said...

"A limited but illustrative
sample of the Medal of Honor count at other universities include: "

USC has what may be the only dentist to win the MOH. It's quite a story

Michael K said...

"And then what accounts for Chelsea?"

John McCain explained that.

veni vidi vici said...

This was one of your most entertaining posts in recent memory; the free flowing ramble of thoughts to the page as you sifted the list was really funny, not least for the salty truth of your observations and how they square with the for-public-consumption caricatures of the presidents you mentioned.

mikee said...

Books on or by Clinton and Obama?

Who would any rational person believe anything contained between the book covers?

And why would any true believer need to read such propaganda, and how could any true believer be any further deluded by it?

Mitch H. said...

I had no interest in this 43-on-41 book, but that excerpt is something else. I'm picturing Barbara Bush sharing a toilet with two ladies of the night in the heart of wildcatter country, and it's just... wow.

I may get the book.

BTW, I'm probably a "LBJ" guy - I've got both the Caro multi-volume biography and at least two other books at least partially about LBJ on my shelves.

By far the most interesting biography of a president is U.S. Grant's of himself.

There was a time when many American bookshelves contained a family bible and a copy of Grant's memoirs and little else.

David said...

And what about Bill Clinton? Not a single book about Bill Clinton in the top 100 books about U.S. Presidents? Isn't he the hero of the Democrats? Isn't he on a heroic quest to retake the White House in a clever end run around the 22nd Amendment? Doesn't anyone care?

This is part of the media triumph of the Clintons. True inquiry has been set aside. There's a narrative of who Bill Clinton was and what he did that friend and foe alike pretty much accept. There is more. Much much more. But the journalists and the witnesses to their conduct know that the Clintons are on the edge of power again. They either want a cut of that power or they fear it. Both really. Inquiry and revelation are dangerous.

Bobby said...

The "Bush is a wimp" meme was Newsweek, not Time. It had its origins in their October 1987 cover story by Margaret Warner. Of course, that was long before the Clintonistas were relevant anywhere outside of Arkansas.

khesanh0802 said...

@the Drill SGt.
It is NOT a shameful secret about the Medal of Honor. There was a significant ceremony celebrating that fact just a couple of years ago. Harvard Magazine article on same.

Believe it or not there is a contingent of alumni who are very supportive of the military. Mostly those who have served, but also those who understand that those from an "elite institution" owe a debt to American society. It was constant nagging by concerned alumni that finally got ROTC reinstated on campus.

Though none of us won the Medal, I am the second of three generations of Harvard graduates/officers in the US armed forces (Army Arty WWII, USMCR Viet Nam, USMCR "peace time"). We are quietly proud of our service and that of our fellow alumni.

khesanh0802 said...

@Madashell. Congratulations.

St. George said...

We're bound to see a string of Obama expose books written by ex-cronies soon enough.

After that, books about him will be about as popular as books about Nixon.

lgv said...

These several passages speak to the character of Bush 41. While one can look at his family history and Yale degree, he was also shaped by his military service. He was adaptable to his surroundings and had courage of character. It takes empathy to adapt to new culture. Odessa is still the blue collar relative of Midland, although no where near what it was back then.

I've always liked 41 the man. Even more now, especially since he had a Gremlin.

I recall leaving the northeast and driving to Lubbock for my first job out of grad school. This was over 30 years ago. I would walk into a Dairy Queen in some small dusty town. People would look at me like I was a total oddball.

The Drill SGT said...

khesanh0802 said...

Please forgive my sarcasm. In my defense I said it was a Secret in Cambridge, and your reply uses "contingent", and describes them as "mostly those who served", which these days at Harvard I expect is a small number. I follow closely the attempts to bring back ROTC to the Ivy's. My college experience was more Plebeian, but we fought some of the same fights at the University of California in the 70's.

I'm strongly in favor of service of course, and yesterday decried its absence among the "favored sons" of today's elites. I was commenting positively about the vanishing understanding among the upper classes (of which I wasn't while growing up, but might be today, at least based on income, if not wealth) of our society, of noblesse oblige.

PS: I was at Khe Sanh the last time it was open for business. (Jan 71)

buwaya puti said...

Open secret in publishing that the bulk of the audience for popular history are conservatives. There are whole market segments, like military history, that are largely oriented to them, but the phenomenon is not limited to that.
Academic historians tend to be liberals but they mostly write for each other or their students.
I see the evidence elsewhere - compare the defining fever-swamp sites for each "side" in US politics - Free republic and Democratic Underground. Both serve a bit as news aggregators, most threads begin with a post on a news story or link with political interest, on which members can post with some degree of bile, etc. However, Free republic also tends to post a large number of non- political articles on a very wide range of subjects from ancient history/archaeology to modern physics, very heavy on the history. And the comments on these threads can be very well informed. One could get very decent advice on a history paper by posting questions on FR.

Deb said...

(I want to try this again, in English this time.)
I suspect that the arrangement was similar to the configuration in Army Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) from the 50's to at least 80's. I know others here must have stayed in them. Two single rooms or two small suites (BOQ's next to the Hospitals) separated by a bathroom with a sink , shower and toilet. Door from each side. Each door could be locked from both sides.
Hey, Drill Sgt, I resided in one of those configurations as a civilian. They referred to us as "potty mates" - me and a female officer on a remote site in Alaska. It was interesting. :-)

traditionalguy said...

McCullough's book on Truman was a revelation. The FDR coalition despised him for standing up to Communists and the segregationist south and the conservative GOP that despised him for a being a better man than Dewey.

The only people who liked Truman in 1948 were the American realists back home from three years at war who knew a real leader when they saw one.

Alan said...

That "limited list" of medal of honor winners is incorrect. Texas A&M has 8, not 7. See: Aggie Medal of Honor Recipients

Lucien said...

Jefferson Davis was emphatically not a United States President.

He was President of the CSA, which neither started nor ended well.

clint said...

Everyone who was going to read the Obama books already has. And it's too soon for the Obama administration tell-all books.

Four years from now, it will be all Obama administration tell-all books.

In the next few months, the interesting statistic will be comparing books by and about the various 2016 Presidential contenders.

Skeptical Voter said...

Well Barack Obama is now well known.

But he's still a very small man.
He has a distinctly second class intellect with no real intellectual curiosity, a third class personality, and based upon his risible lack of knowledge of economics and history, a fourth class education (despite attending first class schools).

Other than that, he's peachy keen.

Beldar said...

My hometown, Lamesa, is an hour's drive from Midland. Lamesa claims (with a smile, because it's an apocryphal legend at best) to be the birthplace of the chicken fried steak, and whether that's true or not, every summer Lamesa holds a Chicken Fried Steak Festival. Good eatin'! Mmm-hmmm!

Michael K said...

" I was at Khe Sanh the last time it was open for business. (Jan 71)"

A friend of mine from residency was a medical officer there about then. I'm trying to think of his last name. John Rosental. Found it.

Babaluigi said...

A long time ago, I drove straight through the night from Albuquerque to Midland-Odessa. The sun was just coming up and I rolled the window down to get some of that cold December air in to wake me up a bit. That was when I realized that my 15-year old vehicle must have developed a terrible problem, because the air was thick with the smell of oil. Turns out, nothing was wrong with my ride...I do not know if that was just a cold-morning phenomenon or what, but it was a strong smell coming from those oil fields!

...As to Texas "style", my father once told me about the first time he was on a flight which stopped in Midland-Odessa, in the early 60's. In a time when everyone quite dressed up for airplane rides, there were several men on board dressed very casually in jeans, (definitely not being worn by sophisticated adults in those days) and "cowboy shirts and boots". He said that he wondered who the limousines at the edge of the tarmac at M/O were for, and got his answer when the "cowboys" deplaned.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Khesahn,
Thanks - the principal of my high school was a chaplain there with the USMC during the siege.

Rhythm and Balls said...

Let's be fair. Jefferson's sort of Democrats left that party when Nixon invited them in.

khesanh0802 said...

@ the Drill SGT

Your apology is accepted, but you should be careful about assuming that the contingent I mentioned is small or without influence.

As far as number currently serving : how many openings are there in the armed forces these days? At the present time the services are indifferent about recruiting at the Ivies because they can easily fill their quotas elsewhere.

My personal experience is, perhaps, a bit unusual, but three of the four in my House room served; two USMCR officers and one in the Army Medical Corps. Of my son's four roommates, two were Marine Corps officers and one was a naval officer.

Harvard is a funny place and caters to all kinds of odd people. Some work out better than others!

I hope you enjoyed your visit to Khe Sanh. It once had the potential to be a very pretty place.

rcocean said...

I'm surprised there aren't more Nixon books on the top sellers. Liberals have a weird obsession with him. He's the man they love to hate.

Our dullest 20th Century Presidents have to be Ford and Carter. Mediocre men and very, very dull. Maybe Bush I should be included.

Biff said...

I recall hearing Yale history prof, John Gaddis, mention in a public lecture that George W was a voracious reader of histories and, if I remember correctly, biographies, and that W would contact Gaddis frequently to discuss them...quite the opposite of the "incurious George" caricature. (The Gaddis lecture would've been around '06 or '07, I think.)

Drago said...

Rhythm and Balls said...
Let's be fair. Jefferson's sort of Democrats left that party when Nixon invited them in.

LOL

You're only off by about 40 years.

The Republicans did not take control of the southern statehouses until the 2000's to present.

If Jeffersons dems left the dems when Nixon invited them in, the Republicans would have immediately taken control of those states.

But they didn't.

Thus you are wrong.

Again.

QED

But do continue with your "southern strategy" gambit.

At this point, what else have you got?

Deirdre Mundy said...

The Garfield book's been out a few years, but it's a fun read.

The Bush clan has always seemed pretty likeable- I suspect this book will be a fun read and a nice break from Obama fatigue.