How to Read Like a President

From The New York Times:

Book_2 McCain and Obama are so different in so many ways, but they do share one thing: a kind of tragic sensibility. Judging from the books they cite as most important, they embrace hope but recognize the reality that life is unlikely to conform to our wishes. They mention Shakespeare’s tragedies, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and David Halberstam’s “Best and the Brightest.” Like Robert Jordan, they want to make things better and are willing to put themselves in the arena, but they know that nothing is perfectible and that progress is provisional. Things fall apart; plans fail; planes are shot out of the sky. Their attraction to Hemingway suggests a willingness to acknowledge unpleasant facts not always found in those who enter elective politics.

When I asked him by e-mail to send a list of books and writers that were most significant to him, Obama offered American standards: The Federalist, Jefferson, Emerson, Lincoln, Twain, W. E. B. Du Bois’s “Souls of Black Folk,” King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.” Among writers from abroad, he singles out Graham Greene (“The Power and the Glory” and “The Quiet American”), Doris Lessing (“The Golden Notebook”), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward” and Gandhi’s auto­biography. In theology and philosophy Obama mentioned Nietzsche, Niebuhr and Tillich — writers consistent with his acknowledgment that while life is bleak, it is not hopeless.

More here.