What President Obama Should Read This Summer

Slatereaders recommend some books for the president’s vacation.

President Obama goes on his summer vacation to Martha’s Vineyard in less than two weeks. Time, then, for us to unveil our suggested reading list. A week ago we asked Slate readers to offer books that fit into several categories from which he and his predecessors have usually selected their material: presidential history, fiction, crime novels (based on last year’s list, a presidential favorite), and current events. We also asked for a “popular book” that might allow the president to look in touch with the citizenry. This is an election year, after all, so no gimmick to improve his falling approval rating will go untried.

Many of you may be disappointed that your suggestions were not accepted, but the U.S. Constitution wasn’t really in the spirit of the contest. We were looking for relevant reading. (Kidding!) But we’re pretty sure that as a former professor of constitutional law, the president has read the Constitution several times. Economics in One Lesson, When Presidents Lie, and a bound copy of his campaign promises were other wiseacre submissions.

The call to provide a book by a female author (to make up for last year’s omission of same) was met with gusto. The overwhelming favorite: Ayn Rand. But she is an author and not the name of a book. We didn’t know whether people meant to suggest Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead or perhaps this handsome box set, containing both.

Herewith is the final list, culled from your suggestions. Some were chosen because lots of people suggested the same book and some were picked because our readers offered a good reason the president should include them in his beach bag, which we’ve listed after some of the titles:

Presidential/Historical 1776, by David McCullough: “Portrait of a leader, George Washington, who in the face of every calamity continued to persevere with an iron will and a public persona that never spoke of his private anguish and despair.”

Benjamin Franklin, by Walter Isaacson: “The patron saint of sensible nonpartisanship.”

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, by Seth Grahame-Smith. If Obama is as big a fan of Lincoln as he says he is, perhaps he’s already read this.

Fiction Blindness, Jose Saramago: “This book taps into what is most sacred and fundamental about democracy and human cooperation. It tears down the bureaucracy of everyday life and reminds us how much we rely on one another and our inner sense of goodness to survive.”

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. This was a winner in the “transport the president out of his world” category.


Current Events or Issues Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew B. Crawford. Barack Obama is your new bicycle repairman. (Also a suggestion on Slate’s reading list for incoming college freshmen.)

Last Call, by Dan Okrent. * This story of prohibition was suggested by conservatives and liberals alike, though they seem to have taken different lessons from it. For conservatives, it’s the story of the “folly of government intervention.” For liberals, it’s a story that “shows how we as a country have always been richly endowed in wingnuts.”

The Rational Optimist, by Matt Ridley. “The best antidote to malaise.”

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers: “A good reminder of all that government can do wrong.”*

Crime Novels Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child: “Excellent urban crime drama, with international-politics implications.”

Savages, by Don Winslow: Crime novel set in Orange County, Calif. Interesting look at Mexican drug cartels. Withering political commentary. Very funny, which would be good for a president with no apparent sense of humor.



The Common Touch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson: “Everyone is reading it. It would connect him with a lot of readers. Plus it would be a good transporter for him.”

The Bible. “Show the common touch—best selling book in the world. Symbol of seeking comfort in touch times (economically, poltically). Helps deflect conservative attacks and the weird ‘closet Muslim’ rumors.”

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Correction, Aug. 9, 2010: Zeitoun was originally listed under fiction. (Return to the revised part of the list.)

Correction, Aug. 10, 2010: Last Call was originally misidentified as The Last Call. (Return to the corrected sentence.)