It's almost Nov. 6. Do you know what books Obama and Romney have been reading?
John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson – many of America's presidents were avid readers, and that informed their decisions. It gave them critical perspective. Americans should be curious about the reading habits of President Obama and Mitt Romney.
Baton Rouge, La.
This month’s observance of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis offers many lessons for Americans, including the value of having a president who’s an avid reader.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
John F. Kennedy, locked in a titanic struggle with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev over the USSR’s plan to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, had read historian Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” a few months before the crisis began. As Meredith Hindley points out in a recent article on Tuchman in Humanities magazine, Kennedy took to heart Tuchman’s cautionary tale of the political miscalculations that escalated into World War I.
“I am not going to follow a course which will allow anyone to write a comparable book about this time: The Missiles of October,” Kennedy said.
That’s how the insights gleaned from a president’s reading quite possibly helped save the world from nuclear oblivion. With that in mind, voters this year should probably pay more attention to what the contenders for the White House are reading – and to what degree they read at all.
Kennedy was a voracious reader whose love of books helped him understand how the world worked, according to JFK biographer and confidant Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. “He read mostly history and biography, American and English,” recalled Schlesinger. He noted that Kennedy’s reading helped cultivate “a moderate and dispassionate mind, committed to the arts of government, persuaded of the inevitability of change but distrustful of comprehensive plans and grandiose abstractions, skeptical of excess but admiring of purpose, determined above all to be effective.”
Harry S. Truman, historian David McCullough has observed, was also a great reader, absorbing volumes of history that convinced him of the power of strong individual leadership in shaping human destiny. Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the modern presidency’s biggest bibliophile, read anywhere and everywhere. Combing the volumes of bird artist John James Audubon no doubt helped deepen TR’s appreciation of wilderness areas, inspiring his role as a champion of national parks.
Lincoln’s love of Shakespeare sharpened his eloquence as a public speaker, helping to shape the rhetorical brilliance he used to save the Union. Shakespeare also cultivated Lincoln’s keen eye for human foibles, a valuable asset for any leader.
Thomas Jefferson’s wide reading nourished the intellect behind the Declaration of Independence. “I cannot live without books,” he wrote to another former president and equally avid reader, John Adams, late in life.