Nota Bene: A President Who Reads

In this year’s annual New Year’s address, Chinese president Xi Jingping sat in front of a wide array of bookshelves, as always. And as always, viewers scoured the shelves to see what the president is reading. To wit:

Xi is said to be a voracious reader, and other books spotted on his shelf this year included a growing collection of Western classics (from War and Peace and The Old Man and the Sea to The Odyssey and Les Misérables), economic texts like Money Changes Everything by William N. Goetzmann and Michele Wucker’s The Grey Rhino, and numerous titles on Chinese history and military strategy.

Apparently, per his remarks at a Seattle speech in 2015, Xi is also a Hemingway fan:

He said in his younger years he read Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Payne, and…

” ‘I was most captivated by Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea,’ Xi said.

“And that’s not all. When he visited Cuba, the Chinese president said, ‘I dropped by the bar Hemingway frequented and ordered his favorite rum with mint on rocks.’

Interesting. A president who reads. Books.

(h/t: MobyLives!)

Reader’s Corner: Eisenhower and Book-burning

Nobody associates Dwight Eisenhower with much of anything literary or particularly high-minded. After all, his presidency was typified by pragmatism and political small-ball more than grand oratory and lofty goals.

But, then there was the graduation speech he gave at Dartmouth in June 1953, six months after taking office. According to Jim Dwyer, it started off in the usual way: platitudes and bromides. Pleasantly dull as a summer’s afternoon. But other matters were afoot. It was the age of Joe McCarthy, after all. Just a few days earlier, it had been reported that books by politically suspect authors like Langston Hughes and Jean-Paul Sartre had been purged from libraries run by the United States Information Service in Europe.

Dwight Eisenhower (c.1954)
Dwight Eisenhower (c.1954)

With that in the background, the president made a sharp detour: “Don’t join the book burners!” He exhorted those in attendance:

Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency … We have got to fight [Communism] with something better, not try to conceal the thinking of our own people. They are part of America. And even if they think ideas that are contrary to ours, their right to say them, their right to record them, and their right to have them at places where they are accessible to others is unquestioned, or it isn’t America.

With sentiments like that, what’s not to like about Ike?

Quote of the Day: LBJ’s Rules of Life

lbj1

A few select items from Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Rules of Life:

 

  • Remember the CIA is made up of boys whose families sent them to Princeton but wouldn’t let them into the family brokerage business.
  • Never trust a man whose eyes are too close to his nose.
  • The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character.
  • When things haven’t gone well for you, call in a secretary or a staff man and chew him out. You will sleep better and they will appreciate the attention.

 

These rules might be tough to follow for those of us who are not leaders of the free world, but many are just plain good sense.

(h/t Conor Friedersdorf)

Readers’ Corner: The President’s Book List

obamabooks1

Peter Baker, one of the Times‘ more prolific and thoughtful chroniclers of goings-on in the nation’s capital, published an interesting piece earlier this week on Obama’s reading list. He keeps the psychology to a minimum, fortunately, but does find a few things to parse out here about the president’s personality and how it’s reflected in his choice of reading material:

Unlike many of his predecessors, who devoured American history and biographies, Mr. Obama’s tastes lean toward the literary, in keeping with a man whose first memoir deeply explored issues of race and self. While Mr. Obama has read his share of Abraham Lincoln, he seems more intent on breaking out, mentally at least, from what Harry S. Truman once called the crown jewel of the American penal system.

Dubya, for instance, was particularly fond of the biography, reading some 14 books on Lincoln while he was in office. But the current president has more of a literary taste, not surprising in a man who first came to national attention for his facility with the written and spoken word.

Here’s some of what Obama’s been reading of late:

New in Theaters: ‘Our Nixon’

Our_Nixon_2

Ournixon-posterEvery now and again, you’ll hear something about how a certain politician couldn’t make it if they ran today. Venal, conspiratorial, and far too fond of late-night drunk dials, Richard Nixon was one of those never-again guys.

The fascinating new documentary Our Nixon, constructed out of hundreds of hours of home movies shot by Nixon staffers, aired earlier this month on CNN and opens Friday in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

For those raised on The West Wing and stories about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most surprising thing about President-focused documentary footage is always how good-natured everybody seems to be. That’s because, while the White House might be the most singularly powerful political office in the world, it’s still an office like any other. You can’t deal with issues of detente and Congressional brinkmanship 24 hours a day; occasionally even the most dedicated wonks need to gossip, play pranks, and complain about coworkers. This workaday domesticity is one of the reasons Penny Lane’s absorbing home-movie documentary Our Nixon so inexplicably fascinating…

You can watch the trailer here:

Readers’ Corner: Teddy Roosevelt

teddyrooseveltBooks are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another…. I am speaking of books that are meant to be read. Personally, granted that these books are decent and healthy, the one test to which I demand that they all submit is that of being interesting…. Personally the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.

—Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography

 

Weekday Reading: Pre-Election Edition