Many of our presidents have been great readers and writers of books, and of course, they have often been the subjects of books themselves! Want the next book you read to be a bit more presidential? Visit our display in the library this month, or try one of these:
Books by and about presidents
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, by Joseph J. Ellis (2000)
Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow (2010)
John Adams, by David McCullough (2001)
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson, by Joseph Ellis (1997)
Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, by Annette Gordon-Reed (1997) (related: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, by the same author, 2008)
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, by Jon Meacham (2008)
Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald (1995)
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005)
Personal Memoirs, by Ulysses S. Grant (Grant finished writing just days before his death in 1885)
The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters, by Karl Rove (2015)
Wilson, by A. Scott Berg (2013)
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in WWII, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (1994)
Eisenhower: In War And Peace, by Jean Edward Smith (2012)
A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1965)
Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert A. Caro (2002) (note: this is the third of four – so far – volumes)
Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man, by Garry Wills (1970) (note: this was published four years before Nixon was impeached)
Reagan, by Lou Cannon (1982) (note: this was published in the second year of Reagan’s first term as president)
My Life, by Bill Clinton (2004)
Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, by Barack Obama (1995) (see also The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006)
Many of these books were included in the article “17 Great Books About American Presidents for Presidents’ Day Weekend,” by Radhika Jones and Pamela Paul, The New York Times, February 17, 2017.
A selection of presidents’ favorite books
George Washington created his own book, Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, by copying 110 rules from the book Youth’s Behaviour, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men by Francis Hawkins.
Thomas Jefferson admired the writings of the Roman philosopher Cicero.
Abraham Lincoln read and re-read Shakespeare’s plays, particularly Macbeth, and the Bible.
Rutherford B. Hayes enjoyed The Collected Speeches of Daniel Webster.
James Garfield liked Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.
Theodore Roosevelt liked The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.
Herbert Hoover enjoyed David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was a fan of Rudyard Kipling’s poetry, particularly the poem “If.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower enjoyed Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Lyndon B. Johnson liked Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States.
Richard Nixon loved Tolstoy.
Jimmy Carter called Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Walker Evans and James Agee a favorite.
Ronald Reagan helped launch Tom Clancy’s career by praising The Hunt for Red October.
George H.W. Bush liked Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Bill Clinton liked I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, Living History by Hillary Rodham Clinton, The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, and more. He was also a fan of mystery novels, helping to boost Michael Connelly’s sales when he bought Concrete Blonde at a bookstore.
George W. Bush was a “behind the scenes” reader; while in office, he read fourteen biographies of Lincoln, as well as re-reading the Bible every year.
Barack Obama, a.k.a. “America’s Reader in Chief,” couldn’t pick just one favorite, but loves Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (read a conversation between Obama and Robinson here), and Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
From novels to poetry, history to biography, philosophy to photography, our presidents have been well-read. Will you read something “presidential” this month? Let us know what you choose in the comments!