Alex Massie

Obama’s Summer Reading List

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Since we're speaking of lists and, you know, it's still August, Barack Obama's summer reading list  is a mixture of the good (George Pelecanos) the middlebrow (David McCullough) and the too-contrived-and-appallingly-written (Tom Friedman). Joe Carter critiques the list and asks:

In all seriousness, though, what books would you recommend the President read during his vacation? Assuming you had to stick to the same  3:1:1 ratio (3 novels, 1 biography, 1 policy-oriented nonfiction) what books would you slip into his travel bag?

1. Lincoln by Gore Vidal. When Hillary Clinton was asked to be Secrtary of State there was plenty of talk about Doris Kearns Goodwin and her Lincoln book, Team of Rivals, but Vidal's novel about the old Railsplitter is still the best treatment of his presidency there is. Vidal's masterpiece and one of the great Washington novels.

2. Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser. Obama might want to remind himself that his torubles in Afghanistan are trivial by comparison with those faced by Harry Paget Flashman in the First Afghan War. It's all there: the siege at Jalalabad, the last stand at Gandamak and, of course, the heroic disaster of the retreat from Kabul itself. A warning from history? Perhaps. But rollickingly good fun anyway.

3. Turbulence by Giles Foden. The President ought to try at least one contemporary novel and the latets book from the author of The Last King of Scotland is a good, solid, middlebrow place to start. Also, it's about weather forecasting. Which means it's really a novel about uncertainty, even when there's plenty of data to work with. Set during World War Two as rival camps of weather forecasters attempt to work together to provide a "go date" for the allied invasion of Normandy, it's a novel that wears its learning lightly while making the useful point that predicting the future is often a mug's game even when it's played by experts. Experts and preperation matter but they're not much match for events and the great unknown future.

4. The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power by Gene Healy. Does exactly what it says on the tin. Healy's book should be required reading for every member of Congress and, for that matter, journalist or White House staffer in Washington. It's a splendid, if frequently alarming, history of the Presidency from its appeallingly modest beginnings to the appalling, bloated, imperial behemoth it has become. Not, admittedly, that one would expect Obama, or any other President, to pay much attention to Healy's excellent book. But one may hope...

5. Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith. The President needs to get away from it all. That means immersing himself in a subject entirely alien to him. What better topic could there be than cricket? And what better book than Frith's exhaustive "biography" of the 1932-33 Ashes series between England and Australia? Better known as Bodyline, the series is also a useful exploration of diplomacy, game theory, problem solving and the limits of means when contrasted with the value of ends. How far it is permissable to go? The story of DR Jardine's attempt to control Don Bradman is gripping stuff and a useful resource for a President confronted by hostile powers and intractable problems at home and abroad.

Anyway, what would you have Obama read this summer?

UPDATE: Dan Hannan thinks Obama's list was compiled by a spin-dctor while Marbury compiles a (very entertaining) list that would horrify the White House press spokesman...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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