Newspaper Blogs

November 25, 2003

A FEW OF HIS FAVORITE THINGS....Bill Clinton has been catching a bit of flak for his list of 21 favorite books. Here they are:

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," Maya Angelou
"Meditations," Marcus Aurelius
"The Denial of Death," Ernest Becker
"Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963," Taylor Branch
"Living History," Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Lincoln," David Herbert Donald
"The Four Quartets," T.S. Eliot
"Invisible Man," Ralph Ellison
"The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century," David Fromkin
"One Hundred Years of Solitude," Gabriel Garcia Marquez
"The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes," Seamus Heaney
"King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa," Adam Hochschild
"The Imitation of Christ," Thomas a Kempis
"Homage to Catalonia," George Orwell
"The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis," Carroll Quigley
"Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics," Reinhold Niebuhr
"The Confessions of Nat Turner," William Styron
"Politics as a Vocation," Max Weber
"You Can't Go Home Again," Thomas Wolfe
"Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny," Robert Wright
"The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats," William Butler Yeats

Now, I don't blame him for including his spouse's book — I hope Marian would display the same loyalty to me if someone asked for a list of her 21 favorite websites — but I have to admit that this list does look a mite calculated, doesn't it?

It doesn't reflect very well on me, either. Out of the entire list, not one is a favorite of mine. In fact, I've only even read one of these books — because it was assigned in class.

The worst part, though, is that I've never even heard of 11 of these books, and that's even giving myself credit for the Yeats, which I've technically never heard of but certainly assumed existed. (And no, I don't intend to reveal the extent of my ignorance by listing the ones I haven't heard of.)

So do you think these are really the books Bill would take to a desert island? Personally, I'd probably prefer the collected Doonesbury.

And I'm sure it goes without saying that the entire point of this post is to allow people to make jokes in comments about W's favorites, so have at it.

Posted by Kevin Drum at November 25, 2003 11:06 AM | TrackBack


Isn't The Hungry Caterpillar one of them?

Posted by: WK at November 25, 2003 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Actually, I think his favorite is The Little Porkbarrel That Could.

Posted by: Yellow Dog Dem at November 25, 2003 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Oh c'mon, you gotta love Yeats!

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity."

So true, so true, and so relevant today.

Actually, "The Second Coming" is the only Yeats I know. I'm convinced that it's not the greatest poem ever written, but rather the most quotable poem ever written.

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,s louches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Posted by: Alex Parker at November 25, 2003 11:16 AM | PERMALINK

Let me see: Read Aurelius, Eliot, Ellison, Marquez Kempis, Styron, Wolfe, some Yeats

Hochschild on my list of must reads, I think Heaney is doing a multi volume rewrite of the Iliad that I might get to as soon as I win a couple times at Angband(old-fashioned dungeon game)

Appears we wasted our youth in different ways, Kevin. Read a ton of stuff in the seventies, can't say there was much of a point or use for it except in pseudo-intellectual my reading list bigger than yours contests

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

It does look calculated, but not calculated very well.
Big Mistake -

Where's the BIBLE?!?!

Not that it would be on my REAL list either, but a list calculated for political advantage among the American people? I mean, if you are going to show favortism to your wife, why not not your God (who Bill, unlike me, professes to believe in)? Of course, God didn't write about Bill Clinton.

Although Nonzero would be on my real list.

Posted by: Decnavda at November 25, 2003 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Okay, so he put Hillary's book on there. Can you blame him? I do, however, take issue with the fact that (assuming they're listed in descending order of importance) he stuck her above both Orwell and Marquez.

Filial loyalty is one thing, but that's ridiculous.

Oh, and I bet there are at least 2 Tom Clancy books on Dubya's list. And don't forget the Bible - he may not have ever really read it, but you know he'd cite it.

Posted by: Phil at November 25, 2003 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Excerpt edited out of the Brit Hume interview:

HUME: What books do you read?

BUSH: I get briefed by Dick Cheney and Laura in the morning. They come in and tell me. In all due respect, Michael Moore has a sweet ass and everything, but...

I glance at the cover just to kind of a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the inside, and get briefed by people who are probably read the books themselves. But like Laura, in her case, she's getting her book reviews directly from the publisher, and...

HUME: Has that been your practice since day one, or is that a practice that you've...

BUSH: It's been my practice since day one.

HUME: Really?

BUSH: Yes. You know, look, I have great respect for the publisher. I mean, our society is a good, solid intellectualopoly because of good, solid bookers. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in the books. And I...

HUME: I won't disagree with that, sir.

BUSH: I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in words. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening at bookathons.

Posted by: John Q. at November 25, 2003 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

The Hochschild book is not to be missed.

Posted by: Randy Paul at November 25, 2003 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Here's the original interview I used as a source of my entry:,2933,98006,00.html

Do a find for 'newspaper'.

Posted by: John Q. at November 25, 2003 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

The list seems to be sorted alphabetical by author, so Hillary's book isn't necessarily more favorite or important than the others.

Posted by: Skeptic at November 25, 2003 11:25 AM | PERMALINK

The Invisible Man is a pretty incredible book.

Posted by: Green Boy at November 25, 2003 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

Yeats is drop-dead magnificent, one of the truly great original voices in the English language. Eliot's "Four Quartets," on the other hand, is one of the most overrated works in existence. His earlier stuff, including "The Wasteland," "Gerontion," and even the done-to-death "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," is significantly better.

Posted by: englishprofessor at November 25, 2003 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

It's just "Invisible Man" (yeah, it is great). "The Invisible Man" is what, HG Wells?

Posted by: Stone at November 25, 2003 11:28 AM | PERMALINK

One wonders why there are 21 favorite books, rather than 20, unless A) Bill just couldn't make the final elimination; or B) Hillary's book makes it 21, in a "wink wink" kind of thing (she gets the publicity, anyone paying attention sees that her book is not one of his favorites).

As for W, I'm thinking those old Mack Bolan novels, about special forces saving the world from communism and terrorism, and there's another fiction series starring a guy named Ted Rockford that is set in post-apocalyptic America after we've been nuked. Rockford is a mutant, but America's greatest hope and guerrilla war leader against the occupying communists.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

And, by the way, Ernest Becker's "The Denial Of Death" is a must-read. The man is brilliant, and Clinton has duly surprised me by including this on his list.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know why you think the list is contrived.
I'm sure Bill reads Maya Angelou all the time.
I know I do.

Posted by: WillieStyle at November 25, 2003 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

W's favourite book:

_An Andover Yankee in King Arthur's Court_

Posted by: WillieStyle at November 25, 2003 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

I say this as a supporter of Bill's:

Is there anything he says or does that is not calculated?

Posted by: Amitava Mazumdar at November 25, 2003 11:35 AM | PERMALINK

It all depends on your definition of "favorite," doesn't it? I don't see what's wrong with this list, Kevin -- just because these might not be, say, what he reads when he's on the can for a couple of minutes, or wants a half hour of escapism, doesn't mean they aren't truly his "favorite."

For example, I would list among my favorite books a sort-of biography of Albert Speer by Gitta Sereny, called "Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth." I've read it three or four times and find it fascinating and troubling each time. I would say it's a favorite because it is enjoyable, uplifting, and makes me think. But I wouldn't say it's as much pure enjoyment as (to follow your example) a collection of Bloom County comics. But I would choose to put the Speer book on a list of favorites. So what's wrong with Clinton doing the equivalent? And here's another thought: I love Thomas a Kempis' "The Imitation of Christ." It's a profound, moving work. I might also put that, or something like it (say, Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castles") on a favorites list. Does that mean I'd always choose to read it over some trashy suspense novel? Of course not. It just means it meant something to me, something important -- so it's one of my favorites.

I don't know, Kevin, this post has the slight scent of "cheap shot."

And finally, the requisite Bush swipe: I'd bet money that Oswald Chambers' devotional "My Utmost for His Highest" would be on Bush's list. It's a nice little book, but "The Imitation of Christ" makes it look like one of those little pamphlets you get from the Jehovah's Witnesses. Score one for Clinton!

Posted by: jackson at November 25, 2003 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

I'm thinking more along the line of that prolific writer Cliff Notes.

Posted by: Spinning Tops at November 25, 2003 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, I actually own several of these books. Yeats is one of the greatest English poets, bar none.

Ah, I long for the days of having a President that might actually have an erudite readingl list.

Posted by: Timothy Klein at November 25, 2003 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

It doesn't look contrived to me. I'm sure if I put together a list, there'd be books you hadn't heard of there too. I probably wouldn't know all the books on your list. BTW, "Invisible Man" should be must reading for any American (probably also "Native Son" by Richard Wright and at least something written by WEB. DuBois).

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 25, 2003 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

"Yeats is drop-dead magnificent, one of the truly great original voices in the English language. Eliot's "Four Quartets," on the other hand, is one of the most overrated works in existence."

I prefer four quartets, early stuff feels like a post-grad who can't find a job...whiney self-importance

And Joyce didn't much like Yeats, which is good enough for me

Anyway, Eliot is the poet-laureate of cats, which ought to be decisive on this blog

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

I dislike comments like ""Invisible Man" should be must reading for any" because it makes the book out to be some sort of manual regarding the black experience. I don't think Ellison would've wanted it to have been seen that way - the burden of having written something seen as that haunted him for much of his life.

The book's awesome, but there are a lot of books I'd rather every American read - Montaigne's Essays be my suggestion.

Posted by: Stone at November 25, 2003 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

I recall that Clinton liked the Walter Moseley "Easy Rawlins" detective series. Caught shit for: (1) Reading detective stories. So anti-intellectual. (2) Pretending to read detective stories. Pandering to Bubba. (3) Picking a politically correct African-American author.

Just shows good taste IMHO.

Posted by: Ignorant Hand at November 25, 2003 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

john Q - what's going on? I don't see any of that dialog at the link you gave?

Posted by: ismellarat at November 25, 2003 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Actually I think this list shows why Bush is superior to Clinton. Clinton justs reads his favorite books, wheras Bush colors them in and everything.

Posted by: H.F.W. at November 25, 2003 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I'll bet good money that Clinton can quote extensively from all of these books. I don't understand how you could at once call this calculated and yet not recognize many of the titles.

Posted by: praktike at November 25, 2003 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

W's Favorite book is The Pet Goat.

He found it so compelling, he couldn't put it down even while the WTC was under attack

Posted by: Sovok at November 25, 2003 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

Don't feel bad. The only one on the list that I've read (other than flipping through Hillary's tome in a bookstore for 2.5 minutes until overcome by . . . well, my memory goes blank at that point) is Orwell's, and that was an excerpt of a few chapters in an anthology. Although Ellison's book and "Imitation of Christ" would at least make my list of books I feel I ought to have read.

I'm quite certain Bush would name the Bible at the top of his list, if he hasn't already. He reportedly reads it daily.

Speaking of calculated, much as I like the guy, John McCain had a 'summer reading list' on his website and it included Margaret Carlson's book. Buttering up the Beltway press, anyone?

Posted by: Crank at November 25, 2003 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

OK, but answer the question, Mr. Blogger-Man: Calculated how?

Posted by: Boog at November 25, 2003 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I don't doubt that he's read all of these, even that he's liked all of them. I've only read a few myself (the Eliot, the Ellison, the Wolfe, half of the Garcià Marquez), partly because I'm not theologically inclined, but my wife has read the Marcus Aurelius, the Thomas à Kempis, and (I believe) the Niebuhr, because that's her schtick. What seems contrived to me is the notion that they're his favorites. My favorite books, though pretty respectable, are less highbrow than any of these. I mean, I've got T.H. White's "The Sword in the Stone," Michael Innes's "Lament for a Maker", P.G.Wodehouse's "Uncle Fred in the Springtime", and Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy" on my list. Bill, suspiciously, doesn't have anything that's fun (except for the Ellison, and that's a bit close to the bone).

Posted by: Theophylact at November 25, 2003 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

What's really sad, and what should be truly scary, is that Bush probably could not name 21 books, much less claim that number as his favorites.

The proof of Bush's illiteracy comes from his own speech patterns. Those who have read even reasonable amounts of books generally do not mangle and cripple the language as he does. While this is seen alternately as his down-home everyman honesty or his blatant stupidity, I think what it really belies is the complete lack of intellectual stimulus in all aspects of his life.

Indeed, I would not be at all surprised to discover that his daily intelligence brief during August, 2001 explicitly stated the exact plans for 9/11. But actually reading something was just too much trouble for Bush, so the brief got tossed aside. Condi and Card might then have found it impossible to bring him up to speed because of his resistance to admiting that he hadn't actually done his "homework" of reading the damn thing.

As for Clinton's list, the inclusion of Maya Angelou makes me wonder about him. He named her Poet Laureate when he was president, so I don't doubt he likes here work. However, her poetry is truly dreadful stuff.

Posted by: Derelict at November 25, 2003 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

Yes to "Uncle Fred in the Springtime"! And "Code of the Woosters" too! And almost everything else Wodehouse wrote.

Posted by: englishprofessor at November 25, 2003 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Reminds me of a joke a friend told me last week.

The George W. Bush library burned down the other day. George is very upset because both books were destroyed. And he wasn't yet finished coloring one.

Posted by: jsg at November 25, 2003 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

What Jackson said. I don't see what's so remarkable or obviously contrived about this list. My own list would certainly include some difficult books that had a strong influence on me, even though I might currently prefer to read something lighter and more entertaining.

Oh, excuse me, I forgot, anyone who refers to reading challenging books must be obviously lying, or calculated, or otherwise pretentious.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at November 25, 2003 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

No Walker Percy? Love in the ruins. What the world needs now is a little more temporal lobe massage, eh?

Not sure what the point is, Kev.

Posted by: fouro at November 25, 2003 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

Ms. Clinton's book doesn't belong on any list of the twenty "most important" books or "greatest," but favorites? Why the hell not?

The inclusion of his wife's book on the list is either a charming example of rose-colored glasses or a simple display of loyalty to one's partner. Or both.

Posted by: Laertes at November 25, 2003 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

In his defense, I've read about Clinton citing "Meditations of Marcus Aurelius" and "100 Years of Solitude" as favorite books years ago.

But... yeah. It does seem calculated.

Having said that, I've started to think about my favorite 21 books. Without intending to, I immediately started calculating. I know that none of the esteemed commenters on this thread would take into consideration things like "This book makes me sounds awfully nerdy" or "This book is a real cliche on Top X lists", but I couldn't help it. I can try to not let considerations of image affect my judgement, but I'd be lying if I said that I would succeed entirely.

My conclusion: Most Top X lists sound kind of calculated, including my own. And books are for ugly nerds.

Posted by: Ted Barlow at November 25, 2003 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

I dislike comments like ""Invisible Man" should be must reading for any" because it makes the book out to be some sort of manual regarding the black experience. I don't think Ellison would've wanted it to have been seen that way - the burden of having written something seen as that haunted him for much of his life.

Good point, although I didn't mean it that way -- and I didn't actually see the book that way myself. But I can see how others might see it that way (damn my liberal empathy! :-)

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 25, 2003 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Homage to Catelonia is Orwell's best and is in my top 10.

Posted by: aphid at November 25, 2003 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

I second (third? fourth?) the recommendations of King Leopold's Ghost and Invisible Man. (In fact, those two would be an interesting, if depressing, back-to-back read.) I also vouch for (in more or less this order of preference) Homage to Catalonia, Parting the Waters, Lincoln, and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Not saying they'd all make my list of favorites, but they are insightful, well-crafted, thought-provoking. Each one has a character, a scene, even a sentence I can still remember, even years after reading them. If the list is calculated, the calculators get nina-points for content.

As for Fearless Leader — do you really think a list like this from W wouldn't be relentlessly calculated, polled, tweaked, focus-grouped and otherwise Rove-ified? Different selection criteria, that's all. And there's this difference, too: chances are, Bill has actually read most, if not all, of the books on his list, all by himself.

Posted by: nina at November 25, 2003 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I have to echo Kevin's issues. The thing about "favorite" books is that there are always some books that aren't the best things in the world, but something that was really influential in your youth, and that you hold near and dear to your heart. I don't see any of those books on this list.

Bill is a baby boomer. Where's the from Kurt Vonnegut or William Borroughs or Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein that you knew he just loved in college or high school? There's none of that here.

Posted by: Constantine at November 25, 2003 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Ism-- It's not a straight quote for quote; it's parodying Bush's answer to "How do you get your news" over at,2933,98006,00.html

While I don't have an ear for parody, I'm rather proud of" Yes. You know, look, I have great respect for the publisher. I mean, our society is a good, solid intellectualopoly because of good, solid bookers. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in the books. And I..."

Intellectualopoly and 'bookers' sounds like something Bush WOULD say, doesn't it?

Posted by: John Q. at November 25, 2003 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Another thing you have to remember is that a list like this is like a poll -- you have to wonder just exactly what he was asked and how he interpreted that question. Given a request to list "my favorite books", I might easily make several lists -- a list of those books which influenced me the most, my most enjoyable reading, the books I reread most often, or those I find myself consulting. Actually, there's a couple of books I've read which were important even though some, or even most, of the book I didn't care for -- but they contained concepts which were important for me. In one case that was 2 pages out of a book I thought was useless trash otherwise, in another it was the way I remembered (one might almost say "misremembered") one article from an anthology -- the oh so much better way I would've written the ending.

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 25, 2003 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Homage to Catalonia is one of the best books ever. Seriously, it is a wonderful read and provides more insight into Europe in the 30s than possibly any other book. amazing, wonderful

Posted by: MDtoMN at November 25, 2003 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not sure what's calculated about it, since I bet 90%+ of Americans haven't heard of more than two of those books, if that. I've only heard of 10, read 3.5, and I have a Humanities degree, which in theory should give me a well rounded education (mostly makes me unemployable, so I got a computer degree later).
Who'd cite a book subtitled "An Introduction to Historical Analysis"? May be a fine book, but sure sounds like a snoozer.

Posted by: sal at November 25, 2003 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Think Shrubya has made it through "Go Dog Go" yet?

Posted by: Skail at November 25, 2003 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Joyce didn't much like Yeats, which is good enough for me

Joyce didn't "like" anybody. But Joyce did appreciate Yeats, especially for prying money for him out of the British government. He sent a wreath to Yeats's funeral. And "Who Goes with Fergus" does show up in Ulysses.

The Seamus Heaney version of The Cure at Troy is one of my favorites.

I don't find either of these contrived choices. Clinton did spend time in Ireland where he is still basically remembered well. Part of why he is liked abroad is that he bothers to learn at least a bit about the places he visits. Unlike some presidents...

I'm not Clinton's biggest fan but good grief do I miss the slippery bastard these days.

Posted by: Thersites at November 25, 2003 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

The thing I find interesting about this list is that that some of the books on it are fairly recently published, and nearly all were written in the 20th century. To me, that says that this really is his list of favorite books at this particular moment. If he were really trying to be pretentious, there'd be a lot more Classical and pre-20th-century European and American literature on the list, plus maybe some stuff from Asia.

I'm just glad that nobody has ever asked me to list my favorite 21 books. And that, if asked, I wouldn't feel compelled to comply. If I did try to do it I'd be tied up in knots within a couple of minutes. If asked two weeks earlier or later I'd probably come up with a completely different list. Plus, I'd probably beg to be allowed two lists, one for fiction and one for non-fiction. Good thing I'm not famous enough to be asked stupid, unanswerable questions like this one!

Posted by: Janet Lafler at November 25, 2003 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

whatever you think of Maya Angelou's poetry, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is absolutely wonderful, and it's easy (and poetic) to read. I can easily see this making a lot of people's favorite books, and also falls into the category of desert island books, though it also has a serious social message.

What I love about this list is that while it may be "calculated", who doubts that Clinton has read them all?

Posted by: halle at November 25, 2003 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

I've only read 4.5 of the books on Clinton's list, but I'm not surprised given how many books there are. Bill Clinton's interests took him in a certain direction as a reader, just as everyone else's does. This is one reason why I'd encourage teachers to allow their students more choice about what they'd like to read in high school English. (Goodness knows, it would be more fun for the teachers.)

Posted by: David W. at November 25, 2003 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

If I were making lists of favorite books, I'd probably have two different lists, one of serious books that have affected my outlook on the world, and the other, books that are fun. Looks like we got Clinton's first list. There might be a bit of overlap between the two, in my case.

Posted by: rea at November 25, 2003 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

the list didn't strike me so much calculated as refreshing. i'm tired of anti-intellectualism. the right does it all the time, but i especially cringe when liberals and centrists do it too.

what passes for thinking in this country any more? why are people so ashamed of it?

that the Bible's not on Clinton's list...that's utterly refreshing too, especially coming from a southerner.

Posted by: petra at November 25, 2003 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

A list of my favorite books would maybe not seem calculated, but it might make people wonder "how did that get on there?" And mostly, it's because I read a good book at a point in my life which gave it an opportunity to be extremely influential. Wayne Booth's Rhetoric of Fiction; Carole Pateman's The Sexual Contract; Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach -- they might not make a "greatest books" list, but they had an effect on me which I still cherish, even if I've outgrown it.

Posted by: JoXn Costello at November 25, 2003 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Ya know, maybe it were calculated...

But what if were true, Means we had one smart edacated sumbitch as president, at home at any Georgetown party with Sally Quinn

And Carter just wrote an acceptable novel

Why do Dems like these intellectuals (Stevenson) and republicans like anti-intellectuals? Nevermind, I can answer that one.

And what does Nixon mean in the history of the GOP?

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

A quick google led me to a list of what is supposedly Bush's actual favorites...
"The Raven: A Biography of Sam Houston," by Marquis James;
"The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement," by Robert J. Samuelson;
"The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties' Legacy to the Underclass," by Myron Magnet

Posted by: What he actually says... at November 25, 2003 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

What's scary is that I have a lot of these books - at least a third - on my shelf.

My VRWC membership may be in jeopardy

Posted by: mark safranski at November 25, 2003 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

About Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, the great thing about that book is how Orwell is so devastatingly honest as a witness to a history he was a part of.

Posted by: David W. at November 25, 2003 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

"good grief do I miss the slippery bastard these days"

Being a slippery bastard is something of a job qualification for a successful president, as Lincoln's contemporaries and rivals would attest. :)

Posted by: rea at November 25, 2003 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

It looks like a classy list, but not "calculated". I've only read 5 of these plus parts of two others, but the ones I read were all good -- indeed very good.
But no Walt Whitman?! (or was that just for picking up girls).

Posted by: walden at November 25, 2003 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

I think including Hillary's book is really sweet. (Or really calculated. Ahem. Depending.)

Other than that, this booklist has a consistency to it - I can easily believe it's a real list. (Though, like others, if I were asked to list my favorite 21 books I'd end up making several different lists depending how the question was phrased and how I felt at the time.) I've only read two of the books named - the George Orwell and the Maya Angelou - and while they wouldn't show up on my 21 favorites, I wouldn't be surprised to see them on anyone's list. (Oh, and I've read Yeats, though by no means all - he's not one of my favorite poets.)

FWIW, I hadn't heard of seven of these books - but then, that's about what I'd expect from a list of favorite books from an avid reader whose background is so dissimilar to mine. This, to me, makes the list more convincing, not less - if Clinton were choosing books for effect, I think he'd pick classics that people "knew they ought to have read".

Posted by: Jesurgislac at November 25, 2003 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Two comments:

* I think "Politics As A Vocation" is an essay, not a book, although it could have been the title of a Weber collection that Clinton read as an undergrad.

* I note that not many of these postdate Bill's undergrad years. A number of these books really are entertaining reads (Angelou, Donald, Marquez, Orwell, Styron, Wolfe, Wright) for the young and intellectually ambitious, or even for us oldsters if that's the sort of thing you are in the mood for. I read my way though Roth, Updike, Mailer, Styron, etc. as an undergraduate, and though I would lack the patience to spend that much time reading serious novels now, I would still count some of those as among my favorite books.

Posted by: alkali at November 25, 2003 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

I've heard of perhaps 10 of the actual titles, but I've heard of all the authors, either by reputation or other works of theirs, and the only one I've read is "Politics as a Vocation" by Weber. That said, I can see why someone would put it on a list of favorite books, and I've had friends who did love "100 Years of Solitude", so the rest of the books on the list don't seem like a problem at all for me. But then, I'm also surrounded by academics all the time.

Oh, and to Phil, the list is in alphabetical order by author's last name, so there's no rating to it.

Posted by: Trickster Paean at November 25, 2003 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

100 Years of Solitude is one of the greatest books ever written, and if you haven't read it, I would recommend it. My mother sent it to me when I was in the Gulf, and I loved it.

And what is wrong with the Invisible Man?
A lot of the rest look like cures for insomnia, though. Personally, I use C-Span to cure most of my insomnia.

Posted by: John Cole at November 25, 2003 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Ditto re "100 Years of Solitude" (cien anos de soledad). It's not only a great book, it is really seminal to understanding lots of modern American authors like Thomas Pynchon. I would take W.H. Auden over Yeats or Eliot but that's a game one should stop playing soon after college. And even though there's no Walker Percy, there is Marcus Aurelius, reportedly one of Percy's favorite classical writers. It's not a bad list. Even if it is calculated (wouldn't yours be calculated too?).

Posted by: Barbara at November 25, 2003 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Theophylact: Carping about the relative highbrow-ness (?) of other peoples' reading lists is a difficult proposition.

You mention "Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy"" as one of your favorite books. That seems like a pretty erudite choice to me. I had to choke it down - there seems to be something perversely highbrow to me about the process of enjoying 650 pages of 18th century dick jokes, particularly when you consider who the average Shandy reader is. I couldn't really call the book fun, either, goddamn footnotes.

This is coming from someone who loves Fielding, Richardson, who enjoyed "Sentimental Journey" well enough, and would put "Ulysses" at the top of his favorite book list.

I guess all I'm saying is that any well-read person's top 20 list of books is going to be a weird conglomeration of snobbishness, calculation, erudition, and genuine taste.

If I say "Joy In the Morning" is my favorite Wodehouse book. I say that because it's my favorite Wodehouse book - but, also, probably, because: I think it's the connoisseur's choice, because I think it's Alexander Cockburns favorite and I like the irony of my having the same favorite Wodehouse book as a Stalinist I dislike, because no one's mentioned it on this thread yet, so on and so forth.

I don't think trying to unpack "Best Of" lists is ever profitable. The motives behind them are too intricate, too complicated. All that's left is discussing the relative aesthetic value of whatever's on the list.

Posted by: Stone at November 25, 2003 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Invisible Man really is a great book.

Kevin is right about the rest of the list, though. I don't doubt that Clinton has read these, but are they really his favorites?

Clinton can't possibly spend his time reading nothing but these intellectual books. There has got to be some easy reading on any legitimate list of facvorite books. I have read maybe half of the books on that list, and I wouldn't say that any of them are my favorites, except for Invisible Man.

My favorites include books like Flight of the Falcoln by Wilbur Smith, and A Time to Hunt by Stephen Hunter.

The only heavy intellectual books which I would include among my favorites are Homer's Ulysses (becuase it's so exciting -- he totally kicks some tail at the end) and the Count of Monte Cristo (ditto).

These other books, like 100 Years of Solitude, are rewarding, but not really my favorites. They are too profound to really be enjoyable.

It's like Schindler's List v. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Raiders will always make my list of favorite movies, Schindler's list never will. It's a masterpiece and is obviously far more profound than Raiders, but I've only seen it once. It's too deep and depressing to watch more often than that. Radiers, on the other hand, easily qualifies as a favorite becuase it is fun.

Posted by: Joe Schmoe at November 25, 2003 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

OT, but I think a good story...
I have a friend who is a sports fan, and not much of book reader, and he hails from Chicago.
Because he is not much of a reader, he was asked about the last 5 books he had read. His response, was 1) The Firm 2) Some Tennis book I cannot recall 3) Outrageous by Charles Barkley 4) The Bulls: A Championship Season 5: The Bulls: Another Championship Season

The way he sheepishly pronounced "another" was one of the funniest things I have ever seen in my life, but you probably had to be there.

Posted by: theCoach at November 25, 2003 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus. I bet most of the people posting here voted for Clinton and support his politics, and even they batter him about the head and shoulders for being "calculated."

Why is it that we think this way instinctively about smart people? Why are we so convinced that, in some way or another, he's just trying to lord over us how smart he is?

This is why Clinton and Gore got bashed year after year. They weren't stupid, and so everyone assumed that they must be calculating and devious. After all, only a Forest Gump can really tell the truth, right?

GW is a fucking idiot. You think his every move and word aren't calculated? Yet he still, even among people who know better, gets credit for being direct and straightforward. Kinda like Lenny was in Of Mice and Men.

I'm with petra above: I am so sick of anti-intellectualism in the U.S., even among progressives. I'll bet you dimes to dollars that Clinton's read and enjoyed every one of these books. Maybe he's not including his trashy college faves. Maybe he's proud that he's smart and he's trying to show the world that he's smart. I say bully for him! He IS smart. What the fuck is wrong with that? Wouldn't you rather have a president that's proud of being smart than one who's proud of being an ill-informed, superstitious, puckish, belligerent bully?

Pant, pant.

Posted by: Realish at November 25, 2003 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Where's the...William Burroughs

You really think he'd admit to reading Naked Lunch, Junkie, Nova Express, or The Yage Letters? That would be like throwing red meat to the wingnut jackals. This list will only make them sniff in disdain about how it proves he's not a regular guy like Shrub, the "steely-eyed rocketman" (in La Noonan's memorable description) who don't have no truck with them girly-man intellekshals.

Posted by: Basharov at November 25, 2003 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

'tis an interesting list. I own or have read about half of them --product of a liberal arts education ;-)--
what would nicely bookend the list-and be more convincing to me of the "desert-island" nature of this one-is a list of his top 21 favourite LPs (not necessarily CDs)

Posted by: susan at November 25, 2003 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

I've read thirteen of them, none of them for a class. So why wouldn't Bill have read these? Back in the distant '50's Reinhold Niebuhr was standard reading for anti-Communist liberals. Why is he forgotten today? Is watching 'Survivor' and college football on tv all it takes to be a pundit these days?

Posted by: fyreflye at November 25, 2003 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Schmoe, I think I've got you figured. The real reason you didn't like Clinton is because you thought he must be smarter than you are. And I think he probably is. ;-)

I am so sick of anti-intellectualism in the U.S., even among progressives.

I'm with you on this one. (And I did say it looked like a real list.)

Posted by: Jesurgislac at November 25, 2003 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

These other books, like 100 Years of Solitude, are rewarding, but not really my favorites. They are too profound to really be enjoyable.

I totally disagree. That's the only book in this list that I've read, but it would be on my top 21 list as well. The first time I read it, I read the whole book in one sitting without even taking a break to eat. I found it that captivating.

Posted by: Alex Elliott at November 25, 2003 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

You think that's pretentious?

Here's my attempt to compile a far more pretentious list (given about 15 minutes to cogitate). Everything on the list contributes to the whole, so I'm certainly not saying that listing any one (or two, etc.) books on this list would be pretentious. Some of the books on this list I like; some I don't; some I haven't read. But this is all beside the point!

“A Pattern Language.” Christopher Alexander.
“Politics.” Aristotle
“The Divine Comedy.” Dante
“Crime and Punishment.” Dostoevsky.
“The Souls of Black Folk.” W.E.B. DuBois
“The Mill on the Floss.” George Eliot.
“Faust.” Goethe.
“The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Gibbon.
“King Solomon’s Mines.” H. Rider Haggard.
“A Short History of Time.” Stephen Hawking.
“The Odyssey.” Homer.
“The Tao te Ching.” Lao Tzu.
“Waist-High in the World.” Nancy Mairs.
“Moby-Dick.” Herman Melville.
“The Tale of Genji.” Lady Murasaki.
“Remembrance of Things Past.” Marcel Proust. (Extra points for using the French title and/or identifying a specific translation.)
“The Social Contract.” Rousseau.
“The Collected Works of William Shakespeare.” (Extra points for identifying a specific edition.)
“Innocents Abroad.” Mark Twain. (You thought I’d list Huckleberry Finn? Are you kidding?)
“In Pharoah’s Army.” Tobias Wolff.
“The Upanishads” or “The Epic of Gilgamesh.”

Posted by: Janet Lafler at November 25, 2003 01:06 PM | PERMALINK

Hear, hear Realish!! And I didn't even vote for him, having been an immature conservative whelp until early 2000. Anti-intellectualism is so fucking annoying. I think it's an excuse for not wanting to work hard in school -- and thus an excuse for the individual cases making up the general ignorance of the American populace.

And why exactly are books seen as "intellectual" or "classic" so scorned? "War and Peace" is practically a punchline by itself -- but that book is so much fun (excepting the tedious battle scenes). It's such a page-turner. But I hate admitting I think that, people just laugh....

Posted by: jackson at November 25, 2003 01:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Anyway, Eliot is the poet-laureate of cats, which ought to be decisive on this blog"

Well, Yeats was king of the cats. So there.

Becker's book fits perfectly in this list - it's just the sort of really-deep-man stuff that one can imagine a great bullshitter (and I say that with affection) enjoying. Takes you right back to your senior undergrad hum seminar.

But anyway, I prefer Larkin to either Eliot or Yeats, and Larkin said it best: books are a load of crap.

Posted by: jgl at November 25, 2003 01:07 PM | PERMALINK

For people who read lots of books, read fast, and read widely the question isn't really fairly answered by a list of twenty. I've read a bunch of the ones on this list, though I wouldn't consider any of them my favorites, and I've read a bunch more. I sometimes read a murder mystery or a piece of science fiction a day, I can't even remember most of the books I've read. If I had to list my favorites, how would I go about it? If I've read Proust three times (and I have) can I list it as one of my favorites even though I don't read it much anymore and have recently read Lois Bujold's Barrayar series more times? If I love Troyat's biography of Tolstoy and have read it twice, does that seem calculated or shallow if I don't then include War and Peace, which I read but didn't love as much? Every list is "calculated" in that it can't include everything and is aimed at an audience. No one produces such a list voluntarily, or for themselves, unless they are some kind of anal compulsive, self abosorbed geek. At leat all of us can imagine Clinton reading these, and hundreds of other books.

I wasn't crazy about his politics, but boy oh boy do I miss having a president I can imagine having an educated conversation with .

Posted by: aimai at November 25, 2003 01:09 PM | PERMALINK

>>but something that was really influential in your youth, and that you hold near and dear to your heart. I don't see any of those books on this list.

>>Bill is a baby boomer. Where's the from Kurt Vonnegut or William Borroughs or Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein that you knew he just loved in college or high school?

Judging from your post, I KNOW that you didn't go to Georgetown, and I doubt very much that you are a boomer - so much for assuming that "you knew he just loved" certain books in college and high school just based on his age. As someone who went to Georgetown a few years after Bill, I can vouch that this list has MANY expamples of what you "don't see".

Anyone who took any history or government classes at Georgetown in the 60s and 70s absolutely revered Carroll Quigley - not a surprise at all to see him on the list. We were also fed a healthy dose of Nieburh (who just died a few weeks ago, btw) and Weber and most of us had to read Kempis in our required Theology classes - so I would say the inclusion of these books definitely reflect favorites from his college period also - as well as 100 Years of Solitude - which was extremely hot in the early 70s (I read it freshman year and still remember the thrill). As an educated son of the South, it is no surprise that Thomas Wolf is on the list - the great non-cynical southern coming of age novel - I can't imagine him NOT having read and loved it during high school or college. "Confessions of Nat Turner" - one of the huge books of 1968 the year he graduated - and a Pulitzer Prize winner at that. As someone who later became known as the "First Black President" there is no surprise that Ralph Ellison is on the list either.

I'm rather surprised reading so many of these responses. You all forget that Clinton has been a wonk or wonk-wanna be for all his life - so is it a surprise that his tastes run in a more serious vein than yours? I'm sure he's read *fun* stuff, but I think the list is more to his most memorable or most shaped his thinking rather than "looking for a good read on a Saturday night".

What is it about Generations X and Y that so many seem to think that this is somehow contrived - or even worse, that you haven't read or even heard of most of these? Didn't they make you read important and thoughtful books when you were getting your computer sciences degrees? Did growing up with Nixon and Reagan as your role models not inspire you through a period of youthful idealism about your world and events around you the way the Kennedy's did Clinton and many of the rest of us? - but yet you claim to "know" what we would have read, because.... ??

I'm sorry to say it's been both extremely embarassing and extremely enlightening to read through this thread.

Posted by: Andy at November 25, 2003 01:12 PM | PERMALINK

One Hundred Years of Solitude... yeck! Hated it! I thought it is a book that only college kids read to try to look intellectual - kind of like a lefty Ayn Rand.

Homage to Catalonia - bravo! Great, great book.

The others - those that I know, anyway - I have no real feeling about.

Posted by: Al at November 25, 2003 01:12 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I've read one-third of the books on Clinton's list, but I can't say I'd classify any of them as my favorites. I'd have to think about it for awhile, but my preliminary list of favorites would probably start with "Crime and Punishment" and "Slaughterhouse Five." I doubt if many non-fiction titles would make the cut, unless Machiavelli's "The Prince" qualifies as non-fiction.

Posted by: Big Tex at November 25, 2003 01:21 PM | PERMALINK

The Bible
Essays, Montaigne
Fleming, Casino Royale
Samuel Johnson's Newspaper columns
Essays, Second Series, Emerson
Shakespeare's Collected Works (Norton)
Joyce, Ulysses
Stevens, Palm at the end of the mind
Bellow, Augie March
Wodehouse, Joy In The Morning
Milton, Paradise Lost
William Penne Dubois, Twenty-One Balloons
Hornby, High Fidelity
Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
WFB, God and Man at Yale
Calvino, Invisible Cities
Baker, Gentlemans' Companions (North America and South America)
Wodehouse, Carry On Jeeves
Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
Koestler, Darkness At Noon

Posted by: Stone at November 25, 2003 01:22 PM | PERMALINK

“A Pattern Language.” Christopher Alexander.

Yes! Truly, a one-of-a-kind book that changes the way one looks at the world.

Posted by: David W. at November 25, 2003 01:22 PM | PERMALINK

The one thing that's well known about Clinton is he's a biiiiig reader and an there's no reason to believe he hasn't read all 21 of those books. To the degree that it's calculated, at least it's not Dean listing Wyclef songs as his favorites.

Posted by: Justin at November 25, 2003 01:22 PM | PERMALINK

As mentioned in an earlier post the way one uses language when speaking gives direct evidence as to the learned mind. I think that Mr. Clinton's reading list is what to be expected of a "brilliant" mind (former Rhodes scholar) who has a thirst for intellectually stimulating and challenging ideas rather then just the "quick reads" of any gaggle of contemporary popular authors.

I simply dread listening to King Bush speak because he can't even speak in public one full sentence without pausing or including the "uh". What I do find of interest as mentioned in "The Bush Dsylexicon" that Bush can speak fluently when in anger or other negative emotions, moods, and throughts occupy him.

Posted by: hank at November 25, 2003 01:23 PM | PERMALINK

Glad you asked! Let me see if I can recite my perosnal favorites from memory... *quickly reads through Clinton's list one more time*

Okay, here goes:

"I Know Why, the Caged Bird Fly," Maya Babalou
"Medi...Meditid...Thoughts," Richard Harris
"Denial Is a River," Ernest Hemmingway
"Parting the Waters," Moses
"Living History," Hillary Rodham Clinton
"Lincoln Logs: The Instruction Manual," David Herbert Donald
"The Four Quarters," E.T. Eliot
"Memoirs of an Invisible Man," Chevy Chase
"The War of the Worlds," Orson Wells
"One Hundred Years of War," Some Hispanic Guy
"The Cure at Troy: Live in Concert," Seamus Tache
"King Saddamn's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Terrism in Colonial Iraq," Adam Rothschild
"The Imitation of Crab," Jack Kemp
"Homage to California," Orson Wells (or was it Ernest Hemmingway?)
"The Creation of Civilizations: An Introduction to Fundamentalism," Lewis Carroll
"Moral Man and Immoral Society: Whatever," Judge Reinhold
"The Confessions of Ted Turner," William Shatner
"Politics on a Vacation," Max Weeble
"You Can't Steal Home Again," Virginia Wolfe
"Armageddon: The Logic of Human Destiny," Robin Wright Penn
"The Collected Poems of W.C. Fields," W.C. Fields

Thank you! I'll be here all week!

Posted by: George W. Bush at November 25, 2003 01:28 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Andy, being a member of the ever-so-annoyingly named Generation X, allow me to respond to some of the points in your ultra-snotty post, with some snark of my own.

Our role models were not Nixon and Reagan, unless we were unbelievable dorks. As an example, growing up in the 80s my role models were more along the lines of the Police and Boomer Esiason.

Among those on this thread who thought the list seemed "contrived," I would guess that the reason was more that an "uncontrived" list would include a mix of the intellectualism in evidence with a healthy dose of humor, trash, suspense, light romance, or whatever. The reason is most assuredly NOT that they were whining about such a display of intellectual erudition represented by Clinton's list.

You moron.

And next time, you might want to think about spelling Niebuhr and Wolfe's names correctly.

Posted by: jackson at November 25, 2003 01:29 PM | PERMALINK

"As for Clinton's list, the inclusion of Maya Angelou makes me wonder about him. He named her Poet Laureate when he was president, so I don't doubt he likes here work. However, her poetry is truly dreadful stuff."

No, he didn't. She might have been the Clinton Administration house poet, but she was never Poet Laureate. The Poets Laureate during the Clinton Administration were Rita Dove (1993-1995), Robert Hass (1995-1997), Robert Pinsky (1997-2000), and Stanley Kunitz (2000-2001).

The Poet Laureate is not named by the President, btw, but by the Librarian of Congress. I doubt that Dubya would have named the current PL, Louise Gluck.

Posted by: NedRock at November 25, 2003 01:31 PM | PERMALINK

That Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison is on the list should not be much of a surprise. He taught at Yale and was a very famous for that one book. But most of the books look like a freshman's reading list.

Posted by: Steve at November 25, 2003 01:33 PM | PERMALINK

Such cynics!

Personally, I am entirely certain that Bill Clinton has read all these books, and that he genmuinely considers them the best by some standard.

Me, I've read the Angelou (in high school), Parting the Waters (still working on it, actually), Four Quartets, Invisible Man, 100 Years of Solitude, Homage to Catalonia, the Confessions of Nat Turner, Politics as a Vocation (just a month or two ago -- it's an essay, tho, not a book), You Can't Go Home Again and much of the Yeats collection. Every one of them made a big impact on me.

See, it's not that hard.

I think it's a fine list, even if I don't agree with a couple picks (Nonzero?) and if only a couple would make it onto my top-21 list. The claim that Bill couldn't really like these books because they're too serious is, frankly, stupid.

Posted by: jw mason at November 25, 2003 01:34 PM | PERMALINK

Changed my mind. My list would start with "The Great Gatsby," THEN "Crime and Punishment," THEN "Slaughterhouse Five."

And Nabokov's "Lolita" would probably appear somewhere towards the end of the list, which if I were a politician, would force me to make a "calculated" choice - list it honestly or choose a more politically expedient title?

Posted by: Big Tex at November 25, 2003 01:34 PM | PERMALINK

Liked Stone's list. I could talk to this guy.

If that is a conservative's list, I would take out a Wodehouse and add a CS Lewis religious work, just for variety. Lewis is very readible and always made me feel good.

Johnson and Stevens, though different sources than Stone's are two of my favorite all-time people. Flat out. My father, grandfather, Johnson and Stevens and Lewis

Posted by: bob mcmanus at November 25, 2003 01:35 PM | PERMALINK

Two more little things:

* He really should have gone with Look Homeward Angel rather than You Can't Go Home Again.

* This list wins mad props from me just for including Parting the Waters. Along with Caro's LBJ books, Brannch's books on King are one of the monuments of contemporary American history writing.

* But, I will grant the "calculated" team just this much, that One Hundred Years of Solitude might not be one of Bill's favorites. The reasons for including it are kind of obvious, and it's kind of insubstantial -- as someone once said, it's a good book for listening to music by.

Posted by: jw mason at November 25, 2003 01:43 PM | PERMALINK

I've read only four of the books (Lincoln, Invisible Man [HS English], One Hundred Years of Solitude [HS AP Spanish, in Spanish], and Homage to Catalonia), but I'd heard of almost all. In fact, a few have been on my "when I retire" list for ages.

Clinton's taste in fiction and history looks outstanding to me, since it's a lot like mine. I don't think we share as much in terms of poetry, political science, or religion.

And I think he really did read these books. A lot of people thought it was better to have a manly president whose heart was in the right place, instead of a nerd. They were dead wrong.

Posted by: Andrew Lazarus at November 25, 2003 01:43 PM | PERMALINK

You mention "Laurence Sterne's "Tristram Shandy"" as one of your favorite books. That seems like a pretty erudite choice to me. I had to choke it down - there seems to be something perversely highbrow to me about the process of enjoying 650 pages of 18th century dick jokes, particularly when you consider who the average Shandy reader is. I couldn't really call the book fun, either, goddamn footnotes.

Erudite it may be, but if you didn't laugh at the Widow Wadman's futile pursuit of Uncle Toby or the coitus interruptus of Mr. and Mrs. Shandy (Pray, my dear, quoth my mother, have you not forgot to wind up the clock ? ---- Good G -- ! cried my father, making an exclamation, but taking care to moderate his voice at the same time, ---- Did ever woman, since the creation of the world, interrupt a man with such a silly question? Pray, what was your father saying ? ----
) then you did miss all the fun.

And 650 pages of "dick jokes"? I think not.

By the way, I'm curious to find out who the average reader of Tristram Shandy might be.

Posted by: Basharov at November 25, 2003 01:56 PM | PERMALINK

Calvin & Hobbes needed on that desert island

Posted by: edward kleist at November 25, 2003 01:58 PM | PERMALINK

You gotta read "Nonzero." It's magnificent and would be on my list of faves, easily.

Posted by: Kimmitt at November 25, 2003 01:59 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think he read "The Imitation of Christ" (or, at least, he didn't understand it ; )

Posted by: Charlie at November 25, 2003 02:05 PM | PERMALINK

But, I will grant the "calculated" team just this much, that One Hundred Years of Solitude might not be one of Bill's favorites. The reasons for including it are kind of obvious, and it's kind of insubstantial -- as someone once said, it's a good book for listening to music by.


Posted by: tbogg at November 25, 2003 02:07 PM | PERMALINK

Where the hell is Leaves of Grass?

Posted by: Roger Ailes at November 25, 2003 02:13 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of people thought it was better to have a manly president whose heart was in the right place, instead of a nerd. They were dead wrong.

Yeah. They elected George W. Bush, who isn't particularly "manly" by any sensible definition. Heart in the right place? Well, he jogs regularly.

Posted by: Jesurgislac at November 25, 2003 02:20 PM | PERMALINK

"Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963," by Taylor Branch is the definitive history of the civil rights movement.

It is an amazing book and it's hard to believe parts of our country were once so hateful and mean.

Posted by: joe at November 25, 2003 02:21 PM | PERMALINK

W's choices:
The Bible - it looks good on the shelf and he HAS to say that one (Al Franken showed that he doesn't actually read it)
Hop on Pop - because he has ridden the family name to Every Success he Has Ever Had and because he challenged his dad to go mano-a-mano with him. Oh, and it's about his speed and within his attention span.
Just as calculated as Clinton's. But who would expect a president or president-hopeful to provide an uncalculated list? If you come across this person, please ask them what it's like it Oz!
Clinton should've really been, um, cheeky and listed the Kama Sutra.

Posted by: mroberts at November 25, 2003 02:24 PM | PERMALINK

For proof of his integrity: You don't see
"The Bible" in there.

Posted by: Bartolo at November 25, 2003 02:25 PM | PERMALINK

Parting the Waters is a great book, and Taylor Branch has been a friend of the Clintons since the McGovern campaign. So, does that raise or lower the 'calculated' quotient?

Posted by: drinkof at November 25, 2003 02:26 PM | PERMALINK

They elected George W. Bush, who isn't particularly "manly" by any sensible definition.

No, they didn't.

Posted by: QrazyQat at November 25, 2003 02:41 PM | PERMALINK
As for Clinton's list, the inclusion of Maya Angelou makes me wonder about him. He named her Poet Laureate when he was president, so I don't doubt he likes here work. However, her poetry is truly dreadful stuff.

Not only did he not name her poet laureate (she did a poem of hers at his inauguration, and I thought it was fairly nice), but "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" is, at any rate, not poetry, but prose.

And one of the best things I'd ever read.

Posted by: cmdicely at November 25, 2003 02:44 PM | PERMALINK

Basharov - Maybe I'm being too tough on it. It was definitely a funny book, I enjoyed parts of it, it was clever as hell, I enjoyed the blank page, the black page, so on.

What hurt was all of the footnote-slogging necessary to get through the parts in between the jokes: The slang, the military stuff. I thought it was funny that it took 350 pages before Tristram Shandy was born in "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy" - still, 350 pages without much to it except a lot of screwing around. It's pretty juvenile, the humor's puerile (I hate the idea of some English professor guffawing over Tristram Shandy and then sticking his nose up (ho ho ho) at a Jim Carrey movie like Dumb and Dumber). The book doesn't have a lot of truth to it. Samuel Johnson might be right, I don't know if it has lasted as a novel - it's something else. Performance art? It's someone self-destructing under the weight of his literary predecessors. Very relevant for writers today. It's like a hopeless Ulysses.

Reading through "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius", if that's still around, is going to be a real pain in the ass for my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.

(Come on, the book is one long dick joke, too, that's the whole point, isn't it?)

Posted by: Stone at November 25, 2003 03:09 PM | PERMALINK

>>Our role models were not Nixon and Reagan, unless we were unbelievable dorks. As an example, growing up in the 80s my role models were more along the lines of the Police and Boomer Esiason.

You sort of made my point dude - people of Clinton's time HAD a role model such as Kennedy to inspire them toward serious thinking and intellectual curiosity. Is that why your contemps are so uncomfortable with the list - because your frame of reference is supposed to revolve around pop culture and the trivial?

As for my post being "ultra-snotty" - thanks for the props, btw, it couldn't have been more "ultra-snotty" than the post to which I responded which questioned the credibility of the list because it also didn't have the pop culture references that, like all things Clinton, the poster "just knew" the actual truth about what Clinton *really* liked rather than what Clinton actually said.

What is it about Clinton that all the detractors seen always compelled to portray their own fantasies, projections, and intellectual limitations as "the truth"?

PS - If I was going to start a list, I would start with Thomas Pynchon's MASON& DIXON - easily the best book I've read in the past 5 years. Marquez would be on there too.

Posted by: Andy at November 25, 2003 03:11 PM | PERMALINK

No, they didn't.


Posted by: Jesurgislac at November 25, 2003 03:11 PM | PERMALINK

as for w. bush being "manly", I'm missing that. the guy is clearly awkward in almost every public situation. if "manly" means being able to be tough in private, that's a new definition, because he's more of a blunderer and "friendly fool" type in public. more a jester than king. and that's why people like him. because he's as awkward as they, and yet blind to it and in a position all wannabes would love to get to.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 03:16 PM | PERMALINK

Unless you define "they" as "the American people, though and by the Electoral College as set forth in the Constitution" : )

Posted by: Charlie at November 25, 2003 03:17 PM | PERMALINK

as for the list, I still find The Denial of Death to be the most surprising (and welcome) entry. this book is a gem of existential analysis and synthesis, and definitely belongs with "greatest ever" lists as well. I would recommend this book to anyone - read it, then judge its merits. the insights of the book are stunning.

the rest of the non-fiction and non-poetry that clinton lists seems to be of the flavor of "history has a meaning and purpose", and that meaning and purpose is the evolution of greater complexity, cooperation, and intelligence. this movement is (of course) seen as embodied at its pinnacle by human beings, America, and freedom.

the interesting thing is that becker's book doesn't quite fit it in here, in the teleological sense, as the others. becker's insights and explorations are much more subtle and far less reductionist.

it's clear though that bill clinton believes in destiny, and that this destiny is not the sole province of scientific elaboration, but also of spirit and religion (in bill's case, christianity).

as the former president of the u.s., bill must feel lucky indeed that he was the leader and president of what he considers the pinnacle of all life and history. such indeed is ripe for fodder and "turning over" by the existential analysts in the tradition of otto rank, ernest becker, rollo may, and frankl.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 03:22 PM | PERMALINK

actually, I was a little too harsh on W. there. what I mean to say is that he does not really come across as that manly, like a john wayne, even though he desperately seems to want to. instead, he comes across as an amiable and stumbling caricature of the same. sort of like an inspector clousseau version of john wayne.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 03:24 PM | PERMALINK

To me it's a nice, eclectic list by someone whose interests are quite a bit different than mine. If he faked it, he did a great job. Bush couldn't do that, and nobody would believe he read the books anyway. There are a bunch of sleepers or unexpected books on the list which as far has I know have never been especially fashionable, and which really don't impress anyone or have a political constituency either.

I'd like to second what was said above about anti-intellectualism. Some people really like to read those kinds of books. And in Clinton's case, about half of the books listed probably formed his view of the political world.

Posted by: Zizka at November 25, 2003 03:27 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton and Bush - Similarities and Differences in Acting On and Characterizing the War on Terror

Bill's lesson: Don't undermine liberty in the name of liberty.

That's the gauntlet the Democrats, or anyone choosing to challenge Bush, should draw.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 03:28 PM | PERMALINK

Zizka, I agree. Clinton is a political animal, and I have little doubt that these are his favorite books. His formative books. And since he became the leader of the free world, I'm sure that carries a lot of weight with him.

He's not your normal joe.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 03:30 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, I'm not all that big a fan of Clinton but I expect he's read and enjoyed everything on that list.

If I were in his position and asked to provide such a list, I'd probably do the resposible thing and list books I thought were really good and that I'd recommend to any serious reader. That doesn't mean they would necessarily be my all-time favorites.

But I'd certainly put To Kill A Mockingbird on it, which is.

I think a Christian only really needs the NT, by the way, not the whole Bible. I've read the whole thing a few times, and believe me, it's only your favorite book if it's the only book you've ever read. (Most people get bogged down at the begats, but the trick is to skip that bit.) But, personally, I'd really only recommend the Gospels. If you're a serious political junkie, yes, go ahead and read the rest, but don't say I didn't warn you. But the first four books of the NT are the bit that really gets down to the cheese.

Posted by: Avedon at November 25, 2003 03:44 PM | PERMALINK

"King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa," Adam Hochschild

This was one of Clinton's top books, and he did shit in Rwanda. In fact, he made sure that nothing, not the UN, not the US, prevented the systematic murder of hundreds of thousands. Talks a good game, what an asshole.

Posted by: Triumph at November 25, 2003 03:45 PM | PERMALINK

this list isn't pretentious. i didn't finish college but i have read most of these books. some people do read demanding (as in "interesting") books for pleasure. i am not surprised that bc is one of them.

ps: catch-22 should be on there, i think.

Posted by: Olaf, glad and big at November 25, 2003 03:46 PM | PERMALINK

Avedon, I second To Kill A Mockingbird. We were assigned to read this in my junior year of high school, along with Heart of Darkness, Catch-22, and another book I can't recall. That was a great English class, and we got to watch the movies too!

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 03:47 PM | PERMALINK

And that is also why I love California's public school system. At least the one I grew up in. And my school was in a very conservative, reactionary farmer/grower-dominated area.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 03:49 PM | PERMALINK

What's so contrived about this list? I've heard of eighteen of the twenty-one and own twelve of them; and I don't have a Rhodes Scholarship or even a graduate degree. About the only one I don't have a clue about is Carroll Quigley's; have to look him up.

Someone commented about Reinhold Niebuhr. While he appears to have faded from current public discourse, he was a very well known intellectual in the sixties; and was assigned reading in my twentieth-century American culture course in college (mid-seventies).

Posted by: Jon Meltzer at November 25, 2003 04:03 PM | PERMALINK

the sexual century - e. james lieberman

the above is an essay by psychoanalyst e. james lieberman on sexual mores and bill clinton.

it's interesting.

The sexual century began, in a sense, with Sigmund Freud's theories in Vienna. It ended, after a fashion, with U.S. President Bill Clinton overextending a form of sexual freedom in the oval office of the White House. In the intervening 98 years the automobile, co-ed schools, modern contraception, lifting of censorship, media orgies and the internet brought sex everywhere. A 1950s high school definition of slow dancing was "navel engagement without loss of semen." The President and the intern spawned a thousand jokes about more sordid things. May we profit from their bad example.


Monica got "Leaves of Grass" for a present, not a Bible.


Otto Rank was a serious thinker before and after his fling with Anais. He was the guiding light for Ernest Becker's "The Denial of Death", which won the Pulitzer prize. Bill Clinton took that tome on his honeymoon. We don't know whether he inhaled.

Posted by: freelixir at November 25, 2003 04:03 PM | PERMALINK

I thought it was funny that it took 350 pages before Tristram Shandy was born in "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy" - still, 350 pages without much to it except a lot of screwing around.

But that's the point. There's a lot of screwing around, but nobody ever gets anything done. As Tristram laments, he's taken a year to write about his first day of life, which means that he's already 364 days behind in trying to get to the present before he's even completed explaining about his birth. Of course, part of the joke is that the book is not really about Tristram's life (he's only five when the book ends), it's about how tiny things like his father's forgetfulness about winding the clocks in the house can have lifelong effects on people who were not even born at the time. Philip Larkin put it more succinctly: "Your mum and dad, they fuck you up." Sterne, however, has a lot more fun getting to that point than Larkin ever did.

What hurt was all of the footnote-slogging necessary to get through the parts in between the jokes: The slang, the military stuff.

You don't need the footnotes to understand the Widow Wadman's hilarious pursuit of the oblivious Uncle Toby. Besides, do you complain about all the footnotes to Hamlet? Maybe it's just me, but I find the footnotes to be part of the fun.

By the way, Sam Johnson turned out to be wrong about Tristram. It has lasted -- which is kind of hard to say (much as I like them) about "The Vanity of Human Wishes" or Rasselas.

Oh well, as long as I'm here, I might as well list my five favorites (other than Tristram):

Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano
William Faulkner's Go Down Moses
Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights
Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian
Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent

Posted by: Bashrov at November 25, 2003 04:05 PM | PERMALINK

Stone: William Pene Dubois: The Twenty-One Balloons

Wow. That brings back memories. Dubois was one of my favorite authors when I was a kid, but I've never met anyone else who had even heard of him. My favorite was "Peter Graves" and his illustrations for "The Magic Finger".

Posted by: Daryl McCullough at November 25, 2003 04:07 PM | PERMALINK

Where the hell is Leaves of Grass?

You forget, he didn't inhale . . . :)

Posted by: rea at November 25, 2003 04:20 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Triumph, did you ever think that Clinton may have read King Leopold's Ghost after Rwanda. It may have caused him to read it.

What prompted me to read King Leopold's Ghost was first reading Philip Gourevitch's We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow You Will Be Killed With Our Families -- a book about the Rwanda genocide.

Clinton clearly regrets Rwanda. When Clinton went to Rwanda in 1998, he spoke about the evils of the genocide, and how the world could not sit by again. He followed through on that promise in Kosovo.

Clinton was apparently well received by Rwandans. Gourevitch, who is very harsh on Clinton in his book, quotes a Hutu and Tutsi reacting to that speech:

"It was very startling to us. Here was a politician who had nothing at stake, and who told the truth at his own expense."

"What he said to us is that we are not just forgotten savages. Maybe you have to live somewhere far away like the White House to see Rwanda like that. Life here remains terrible. But your Mr. Clinton made us feel less alone."

Posted by: pj at November 25, 2003 04:28 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, I'm curious to find out who the average reader of Tristram Shandy might be.

Dead for 200 years.

Posted by: Ray Radlein at November 25, 2003 04:51 PM | PERMALINK

“The Upanishads”

For what it's worth, Yeats did a translation of the Upanishads which was a marvelous use of language (not sure how faithful to the original it was, but them words sure wuz purty).

Posted by: Ray Radlein at November 25, 2003 04:58 PM | PERMALINK

He named his dog after Heaney too. Of course, that and Yeats ain't really necessary to pander, all us Paddies idolize him anyway.

Posted by: seanoshaughnessy at November 25, 2003 05:07 PM | PERMALINK

Just looked up Quigley. He was Clinton's mentor at Georgetown.

Posted by: Jon Meltzer at November 25, 2003 05:11 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I've read the Garcia Marquez and the Wolfe and bits and pieces from the some of the others, but none of them are on my desert island list.

That would be (were I limited to 3)
Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison
The Complete Works of Shakespeare
The Bible King James version only please

Clinton's choices to seem a bit calculated for effect, but he is a policy wonk after all.


Posted by: Mary Kay at November 25, 2003 05:15 PM | PERMALINK

Well, that was interesting. Posted first and then read comments. Hey Janet! Good to 'see' you. I'm afraid I've read nearly a third of your pretentious list. Eeek.

And my favorites list would be different. It would probably inlcude those 3 (note the KJV is listed for its literary merit not its spiritual content) but also include the complete works fo Tolkien and a couple of Heinlein juveniles. That book on the Lindow man. Oranges by John McPhee. The complete works of Poe. Stuff like that.


Posted by: Mary Kay at November 25, 2003 05:31 PM | PERMALINK

From "The Imitation of Christ" Book One, Chapter 1:

"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone."

Posted by: Charlie at November 25, 2003 05:56 PM | PERMALINK

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius sits at my deskside--well, one copy does; the other travels with me--and is the surest guide to proper action I know. It's particularly good for anyone in public life--the last time I was at an O'Reilly conference, I mentioned it to Tim, who replied he had just bought a fresh reading copy himself--and especially someone on the downhill side of it looking back.

Yeats is arguably the greatest poet of the last century, at least in the English language. It'd be surprising to find a public figure with literary ambitions--Clinton has 'em, y'know--who didn't read Yeats. I look for a Collected Yeats every time I hit the used book stores--you'd think they'd be easy to find, but they aren't. That tells you something about whether people read Yeats, over and over again, or just skim it and dump it. I'll get that new soon, I expect, which I almost never do.

Parting the Waters is an okay book, but it's clearly inferior to the Garrow biography of King, Bearing the Cross.

I don't know David Herbert Donald, but do know a couple of his relatives, and they are an Arkansas family. The Lincoln book is quite good--I recommended it to a fellow shopper just a week or two ago. Personally, I think you get a better view of Lincoln by reading the mythic Sandburg bio, then picking up T. Harry Williams' Lincoln and His Generals, but the Donald book is the best factual (Sandburg is, at best, factually-based) biography I've read on Lincoln so far.

Those novels are good books (well, I don't know the Wolfe, but I do know the others), and I'm more than a bit distressed to see so many people trashing One Hundred Years of Solitude. What doesn't that book have to offer? (Granted, it's not Sometimes A Great Notion, but no other book is, either.) You can read it over and over and still get something new from it--in fact, I think I'll read it again, soon.

I'll kick in a book for those of you who like reading books that are intellectually challenging: The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America, by Louis Menand.

Posted by: adamsj at November 25, 2003 06:33 PM | PERMALINK

As far as all this crap about "calculated" goes, I don't see that there's any person alive whose list wouldn't strike someone as calculated. Either you look like you're putting your best foot forward, or you look like you're trying to come off as some kind of pop culture maven. I can guarantee one thing: if you ask Clinton about any of the books on this list, my money is on the proposition that he can discuss the books, and will gladly. And I can guarantee one other thing: Bush claims to read the Bible daily, but I'll bet that if you ask him about the Bible passage he supposedly read within the last 24 hours, he won't be able to recite it or paraphrase it--in fact he'd try to blow off the question without answering it. But I'll bet you the Bible would be on any list his minders put out in answer to a question concerning his N most favorite works. And for the soul who thinks Clinton's list is calculated and his own isn't, here's a Thanksgiving quote:

But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toll,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat and trimly dress'd,
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin new reap'd
Show'd like a stubble land at harvest home.
He was perfumed like a milliner,
And 'twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose, and took't away again;
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smil'd and talk'd;
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He call'd them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He questioned me, amongst the rest demanded
My prisoners in your Majesty's behalf.
I then, all smarting with my wounds being cold,
To be so pest'red with a popingay,
Out of my grief and my impatience
Answer'd neglectingly, I know not what-
He should, or he should not; for he made me mad
To see him shine so brisk, and smell so sweet,
And talk so like a waiting gentlewoman
Of guns and drums and wounds- God save the mark!-
And telling me the sovereignest thing on earth
Was parmacity for an inward bruise;
And that it was great pity, so it was,
This villanous saltpetre should be digg'd
Out of the bowels of the harmless earth,
Which many a good tall fellow had destroy'd
So cowardly; and but for these vile 'guns,
He would himself have been a soldier.

Where from, and who speaks?

Posted by: M LaGaly at November 25, 2003 06:42 PM | PERMALINK

3 brief comments:

"King Leopold's Ghost" is a great book.

Anyone's published list of their N favorite anythings, is going to be somewhat calculated.

There's a difference between being intellectual, and being especially intelligent. Bill is both. Dubya is neither.

Posted by: Synykyl at November 25, 2003 07:13 PM | PERMALINK

I'm betting W celebrates the entire catalog of Louis L''s so...cowboy-ey.

Posted by: Diana at November 25, 2003 07:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's a funny list of "favorite" books. (Come on, Bill, when you've got the flu and you're feeling absolutely rotten, are you really going to curl up in your blankets with Reinhold Neibuhr?)

But if someone were to compile a reading list to go with a interdepartmental course on "The Mind of Bill Clinton" it seems to me that this is an absolutely dandy list. Even, "Here are twenty(-one) books I think you should read, so we can talk about them."

Aside to Janet Lafler: When you emphasize style points for translations or editions of Proust and Shakespeare, why serve Lao Tse without blinking? There are more translations than you can shake a stick at, and every one of them has different virtues. (There's no Le Guin on your list; there's an obvious way to gain double pretention points in rectifying the omission.)

Posted by: Alan Bostick at November 25, 2003 08:28 PM | PERMALINK

"I'm betting W celebrates the entire catalog of Louis L''s so...cowboy-ey."

...if he ever gets beyond the illustration on the front cover.

Posted by: NC Progressive at November 25, 2003 08:38 PM | PERMALINK

What, nothing by James Lee Burke? (shameless plug for one of my favorites).

Posted by: bobbyp at November 25, 2003 08:42 PM | PERMALINK

pj -

Well, think what you like, but i would advise you to do a little more research on the actions of Clinton during the Rwanda genocide, not about the pithy apology he offered later. He KNEW genocide was happening, they all did in the administration. The were WARNED by Sec of State Warren
Christopher not to use the word genocide in public, or they would be forced to act by international law.

Clinton is a hypocritical asshole who speaks a good game, as i said before.

If you're really interested, read up on some Samantha Powers.

Here's the URL for an article by her in The Atlantic.

You may be right about when he read the book, i really don't know. I DO know that he's an asshole who spoke out about genocide while enabling it.

Posted by: Triumph at November 25, 2003 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

sorry, change "while enabling" to "while actively prohibiting and preventing actions to prevent or curtail" that genocide.

Posted by: Triumph at November 25, 2003 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

Any list of favorites that does not include a single Dostoevsky or Dickens is not to be trusted.... There do not seem to be many novels listed at all, which is strange for the great empathizer, I think.

Posted by: Mike Kasper at November 25, 2003 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

Glad to see Robert Wright's "Nonzero" on the list. An amazing book -- will totally change the way you see the world.

Posted by: Mark at November 26, 2003 04:06 AM | PERMALINK

King Leopold's Ghost
* Hardcover: 384 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.28 x 9.35 x 6.37
* Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Co; (September 1998)
* ISBN: 0395759242

Woulda been a neat trick for Clinton's views on Rwanda to have been informed by this book, considering the genocide took place four years before the book was published.
Reminds me of the time Clinton went fishing with some favored reporters. They're out in the middle of the lake when somebody notices they've forgotten the tackle box. "Don't worry guys, I'll go get it," says Bill. So he gets out of the boat, walks across the lake, gets the tackle box, walks back across the lake and gets back in the boat. Headline the next day: "Clinton can't swim"

BTW, the Power book is very good reporting and documentation, but it definitely cherry-picks the cases it looks at.

I'll believe the list, especially after the post about what G'town undergrads read when Clinton was there. It shows his known interests pretty coherently: politics, black-white relations, history and poetry. It fits, it shows good taste, it's true to where he came from and what his life has been about. So what if there's not a "guilty pleasure" thrown in?

Posted by: Doug at November 26, 2003 04:35 AM | PERMALINK

Early in the Donald book about Lincoln I noticed that one of his few teachers was a guy named Jedidiah (sp?) Riney. Donald says little is known about him except that he was Catholic. I remembered it because I had a civics teacher and football coach named Riney. Both my kids had his daughter as a teacher. They are Catholic. I made nothing of it until my daughter came home and announced that her teacher, Miss Riney, told her class that her great, great (perhaps one or two more greats) grandfather taught Abraham Lincoln. I was able to substantiate her claim with Donald's book.

OK, a big so what, but it lent something real to our history lesson that week.

Posted by: LowLife at November 26, 2003 04:50 AM | PERMALINK

So what if there's not a "guilty pleasure" thrown in?

Of course, Clinton likes his guilty pleasures to be hands on. But its entirely possible he takes his pleasures from these types of books. He doesn't seem to sleep much, he's smart as a whip and has been a wonk all his life.

Posted by: LowLife at November 26, 2003 04:56 AM | PERMALINK

M La Galy's quote is Hotspur in Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part One."

Posted by: englishprofessor at November 26, 2003 06:07 AM | PERMALINK

Wow. A lot of people are dumping on magical realism. If you don't like Marquez try Gilbert Hernandez... its got pictures ;)

Not enough history or classics (Gibbon and Herodutus would top my list) for my taste, but that's me. And does the Bible count as one book or 66 books? The Bible would certainly not be among my favorites, but Ecclesiastes most definately is.

Posted by: Harry Tuttle at November 26, 2003 07:12 AM | PERMALINK

As far as his wife's books is concerned, any book that brought $7 million into my family would be a favorite book of mine, no doubt about it.

Posted by: Jon H at November 26, 2003 09:06 AM | PERMALINK

For whatever it's worth, in the introduction to "nonzero," author Robert Wright notes that not only did Clinton read the book, he made it mandatory reading for the rest of his cabinet.

Posted by: Jazz at November 26, 2003 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Bashrov, Stone - here's my personal book recommendation for you:

1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray

more here

It's an amazing book, I absolutely loved it, guess Clinton would have liked it too, but he couldn't possibly put it on his list of 20 favorites... ;)

Posted by: novakant at November 26, 2003 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

So many books, so little time.

Posted by: Basharov at November 26, 2003 11:54 AM | PERMALINK

At least Clinton has probably actually read these books. If he'd taken "Imitation of Christ" a little more seriously, Al Gore might be president today.

My own list would certainly include GULLIVER'S TRAVELS - an amazing read! If you haven't read it since grade school (and probably in an expurgated version), you're in for a treat. One my favorites, out of countless memorable passages, is Gullliver's disgusted description of the beautiful Queen of Brobdignag's face when he sees it close up.

Posted by: wvmcl at November 26, 2003 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

I guess I just don't get it.

Kevin and many-a-commenter find Clinton's list an irresistable opportunity for skeptical snarkiness because ... why? I really don't see the justification for it.

In the first place, I can't figure out why people seem to think this is a list of difficult, challenging, highbrow books. It's not.

I've read five of these works (six if I get credit for reading a fair bit of Yeats), and I've at least glanced through four others. I can testify that all of those works are a pleasure to read. The writing is (uniformly) that good.

I can also say that the depth of these books (at least the ones I know) is not arcane or abstruse. Any American with a decent high-school education would find them accessible. There's nothing here that requires an advanced understanding of microeconomics, a degree in comparative literature, or a background in theology to enjoy and understand.

Consider, for example, Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters. As adamsj points out, Clinton could have chosen Garrow's Bearing the Cross instead. If Clinton wanted to score highbrow points, that's the one he would have chosen. Garrow, after all, is an academic historian and Branch is not. But they are both serious, well-researched books, comparable in every aspect but one: style. Garrow is dry, and has little sense for the story in the history. Branch makes the history live.

The other thing I don't get is why people need to pretend that no one could like these books. I liked them, at least the ones I've read. Yes, they are about "serious stuff." That never compromised my enjoyment. Why should it? I'm not a doorknob. I like to think. I'm sure we all do. We wouldn't be reading a blog with a lot of stuff about politics and current events if we didn't. For me, the intellectual depth makes these books more fun to read, not less.

So the tone of contempt and disdain for Clinton's list here really makes me sad. From a political point of view, it also strikes me as stupid. Listen folks, the last thing liberals need to be doing is alienating people. We hear all the time what a bad idea it is to mock evangelicals or suburbanites or good old boys who like NASCAR. Well, guess what, folks -- that goes for "intellectuals" (for lack of a better term), too. It's OK if you don't want to read these books. But to express scorn for people who really like reading serious books (and pretending that such people don't and can't exist is a form of scorn) just makes enemies for no good reason. Grow up, already.

Posted by: aretino at November 26, 2003 12:26 PM | PERMALINK


I'm with you almost all the way.

You are absolutely right that these books--at least, the ones I know--are accessible to a high school graduate. I wouldn't say that means they aren't difficult or challenging, just that they aren't abtruse or obscure.

I thought Garrow had a fair sense of story, though I agree that Branch is stronger on that count. What I disliked about the Branch book was its hagiographic aspect--Garrow is better on that, though he, too, indulges in it at times.

Do you know the Lewis biography of King? I'm reading the second half of his DuBois right now--what a pleasure! It wouldn't be hard to get me to pick up his King biography sooner rather than later.

I'm entirely with you that pleasure comes from a book that has some substance. I read a certain amount of fluff--hell, I'll read whatever's at hand--but the deep enjoyment comes from feeling your mind get better from the engagement.

When I run, and when I did weight training, I don't (and didn't--and now enough of the verb verbiage) try to never break a sweat or tire my muscles. I want to get stronger, and that comes from working myself.

Brain, body--what's the difference?

Posted by: adamsj at November 26, 2003 03:46 PM | PERMALINK

Just seen in the Christian Science Monitor profile of Howard Dean: Dean's favorite book is none other than Sometimes A Great Notion! I think I'm ready to make a committment now.

Posted by: adamsj at November 26, 2003 06:36 PM | PERMALINK

Constantine: Bill is a baby boomer. Where's the from Kurt Vonnegut or William Borroughs or Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein that you knew he just loved in college or high school? There's none of that here.

Maybe they're not there because he kept reading after college. These are magnificent books, every one (as are Walter Moseley's as Ignorant Hand points out).

As far as calculation goes, for voracious readers these kinds of lists are frequent subjects of reflection and conversation -- and many of us do try to sort, catagorize, distribute what moved us, shaped us, intrigued us, made us work, entertained us, revealed us to ourselves through others revelations, and blew our minds away.

Reading is a place we go to, return to share our journey with others who have/have not traveled where we've been, then go back with shared impressions to visit that place again.

More and more frequently I suspect that Bill Clinton's greatest sin is an ability to experience pleasure, period. Those who lack this ability lack the ability to share, because when pleasure is experienced -- really experienced -- it's given back.

Posted by: cs at November 28, 2003 06:40 AM | PERMALINK

I dont know what to say, but i likeed it.

Posted by: Pulcifer Jeremy at January 19, 2004 05:49 PM | PERMALINK

Do give books - religious or otherwise - for Christmas. They're never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.

Posted by: Eisenberg Jenny at March 17, 2004 02:56 PM | PERMALINK

To be poor without bitterness is easy; to be rich without arrogance is hard.

Posted by: BonnerJackson Aaron at May 2, 2004 08:54 AM | PERMALINK

God had some serious quality-control problems.

Posted by: Rosenthal Marc at May 2, 2004 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

He who gives up freedom for security deserves neither.

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