President Barack Obama’s Reading habits

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U.S. President Barack Obama And Michelle Obama Read Chicka Chicka Book Boom To Children. credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

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US President Barack Obama shops at Politics and Prose bookstore, an independent bookseller, in Washington, in November 2014 CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES/JIM WATSON

President Barack Obama is a voracious reader and drew attention last year to independently owned bookshops, when he bought 17 books at Politics and Prose in Washington. Among the books the president purchased were Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by surgeon Atul Gawande and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. His purchases also included the young adult fiction Redwall trilogy by Brian Jacques, as well as the children’s novels Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms, by Katherine Rundell, and Nuts To You, by Lynn Rae Perkins. Jacques, who was born in Liverpool, died in 2011.

A literate President of the United States is nothing new, of course. Abraham Lincoln loved the Classics (fiction didn’t interest him) and stodgy old Herbert Hoover lapped up books on metallurgy. Few book-lovers anywhere, let alone the man occupying the hot seat in the White House, could match Theodore Roosevelt, who consumed books at a rate of one a day when busy and two to three when he had a free evening. Jimmy Carter couldn’t get near that rate despite being the only President to attend speed-reading tutorials.

Obama has been a prodigious reader since attending Occidental College in California where he said he read “tons of books”. What is noticeable about Obama’s reading habits is the range of books he enjoys. He praised Moral Man And Immoral Society and cited Reinhold Niebuhr as “one of my favourite philosophers”, while also being happy to extol the virtues of children’s classic Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Obama once told Rolling Stone co-founder Jann Wenner that Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls was one of the books that had most inspired him.

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Obama has even done his own (brief) stint as a book reviewer – praising A Kind And Just Parent by William Ayers in the Chicago Tribune in December 1997 during his spell representing the 13th District in the Illinois Senate. He called it: “A searing and timely account of the juvenile court system, and the courageous individuals who rescue hope from despair.”

Now, by merely being seen with a book (as he was in 2008 when photographed at Montana airport in 2008 holding The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria), the Presidential seal of approval can give a publisher a sales boost.

In August 2015, it was announced that he has brought six books with him on his summer vacation in Martha’s Vineyard. They were: All That Is, by James Salter; All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr; The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert; The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri; Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow.

No matter how fast he keeps reading, though, Obama has got some way to go to match the library of FDR, who’d amassed 22,000 books by the time he died in 1945.

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Among the other books Barack Obama is known to have read in recent years are:

• Lush Life by Richard Prince
• Philosophy & Literature by Peter S Thompson
• Parting The Water by Taylor Branch
• Team Of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
• The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
• Collected Poems by Derek Walcott
• Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
• To the End of the Land by David Grossman
• Lessons in Disaster by Gordon Goldstein
• The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
John Adams by David McCullough
• Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
• Song Of Solomon by Toni Morrison
• Moby Dick by Herman Melville
• Plainsong by Kent Haruf
• The Way Home by George Pelecanos
• Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How It Can Renew America by Thomas L Friedman
• What Is the What by Dave Eggers
• Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
• Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet by Jeffrey D. Sachs
• Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan
• Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alte
• FDR by Jean Edward Smith
• Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll
• Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age by Larry Bartels
• Team of Rivals:The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
• Gilead by Marylinne Robinson
• All That Is by James Salter

Culled from Telegraph books written by Martin Chilton

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