Friday, December 01, 2023
View Blog
Jan 19

Written by: Diana West
Monday, January 19, 2009 2:45 PM 

After outlining in reverential (natch) tones our prez-to-be's utterly unremarkable (dare I say middlebrow?) reading tastes on the frontpage of the NYT--the backpage was a full-page ad for the upcoming New York Times-written-photographed-and-published-book Obama:The Historic Journey--critic Michiko Kakutani compares them to those of still-President Bush and, well, find them wanting (what else?):

Mr. Obama tends to take a magpie approach to reading — ruminating upon writers’ ideas and picking and choosing those that flesh out his vision of the world or open promising new avenues of inquiry.

His predecessor, George W. Bush, in contrast, tended to race through books in competitions with Karl Rove (who recently boasted that he beat the president by reading 110 books to Mr. Bush’s 95 in 2006), or passionately embrace an author’s thesis as an idée fixe.

Come on. If Obama "raced through" scores of books per year, we'd be hearing about intellectually questing and voracious reading habits. Similarly, if Bush read like "a magpie," we'd hear how awfully thin his reading list really was. As for Obama picking and choosing ideas that flesh out his vision and Bush embracing an author's thesis as an idee fixe, what the diff?

Mr. Bush and many of his aides favored prescriptive books — Natan Sharansky’s “Case for Democracy,” which pressed the case for promoting democracy around the world, say, or Eliot A. Cohen’s “Supreme Command,” which argued that political strategy should drive military strategy. Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has tended to look to non-ideological histories and philosophical works that address complex problems without any easy solutions, like Reinhold Niebuhr's writings, which emphasize the ambivalent nature of human beings and the dangers of willful innocence and infallibility.

Oh, brother.

What’s more, Mr. Obama’s love of fiction and poetry — Shakespeare’s plays, Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” and Marilynne Robinson‘s “Gilead” are mentioned on his Facebook page--


--along with the Bible, Lincoln’s collected writings and Emerson’s “Self Reliance“ — has not only given him a heightened awareness of language. It has also imbued him with a tragic sense of history and a sense of the ambiguities of the human condition quite unlike the Manichean view of the world so often invoked by Mr. Bush.

Kakutani ultimately takes a big dive into a vat of Lincoln--our new "trope"; get used to it--before coming up for air (or running out of column inches). Funny how she didn't mention Obama's fondness for two other well-known authors:  Malcolm X or Franz Fanon.


Privacy Statement  |  Terms Of Use
Copyright 2012 by Diana West