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.
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Adams, writes Mr. McCullough, “read Cicero, Tacitus, and others of his Roman heroes in Latin, and Plato and Thucydides in the original Greek, which he considered the supreme language. But in his need to fathom the ‘labyrinth’ of human nature, as he said, he was drawn to Shakespeare and Swift, and likely to carry Cervantes or a volume and English poetry with him on his journeys.”Skip to next paragraph
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Such engagement with the written word by some of America’s most accomplished chief executives suggests that for many of the most successful presidents, reading has been not merely a hobby, but an essential resource in building their world views.
That reality argues for the continuing value of a reading life for today’s occupants of the Oval Office, in spite of the many pressures of presidential duty that leave little time for perusing novels, poems, or popular histories. Given the demands of the nation’s highest office, reading might seem, almost by necessity, a low priority for commanders-in-chief. But precisely because the presidency involves dozens of urgent decisions a day, presidents need the critical perspective and broader vision that an active reading life can nurture.
With that in mind, Americans should be deeply curious about the reading habits of this year’s presidential candidates. We hear occasional reports on this subject – we know, for example, that President Obama has read McCullough’s “John Adams” biography and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on Abraham Lincoln, “Team of Rivals,” and that GOP nominee Mitt Romney has read George W. Bush’s White House memoir. But voters know very little about the quality and quantity of reading done by Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney.
As they go to the polls to decide the next leader of the free world, Americans would be wise to remember a proverbial directive: “Show me the books you read, and I’ll show you who you are.”
Danny Heitman, a columnist for The Baton Rouge Advocate, is the author of “A Summer of Birds: John James Audubon at Oakley House.”