Trump’s Summer Reading

“I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson famously declared, whose library at Monticello (now at the Libary of Congress) is an enduring testament to one of America’s best-read presidents.


For the past few decades, right around this time, presidents taking a few days of well-earned respite have released their summer reading lists. Former president Obama famously shared his copious and wide-ranging selections  and was often photographed at independent bookstores like Bunch of Grapes on Martha’s Vineyard carefully choosing from among the stacks.


Back in 2006, George W. Bush read for pleasure all year, having made a New Year’s resolution to read one book a week, which eventually led to a spirited reading duel with Karl Rove to see who could rack up the most reads.  Rove barely squeezed out a victory, with 110 books to Bush’s 95. During his summer vacation at his home in Crawford, Texas, Bush was spotted reading The Stranger by Albert Camus between ranch-related duties.


An avowed anti-intellectual, president Nixon proclaimed in his farewell speech to the nation that, “As you know, I kind of like to read books. I am not educated, but I do read books.” Tolstoy was a favorite author.


Lincoln often quoted Shakespeare in his personal correspondence and among friends, showing a preference for Macbeth. He also enjoyed reading and writing poetry--the Gettysburg Address contains many poetic elements no doubt pulled from his reading. 


Of course, this all leads up to what our current president reads for pleasure. When asked in March by television host Tucker Carlson what he likes to read, president Trump responded, among other things, that “I love to read. Actually, I’m looking at a book--I’m reading a book-I’m trying to get started.” Trump went on to say that he doesn’t read much because he’s always facing global emergencies. Yet, a profile in the Washington Post from July 2016 highlighted a presidential candidate who didn’t read, and didn’t much care for it--“I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” 


USA Today recently reported that Trump will not be releasing a reading list for his current seventeen-day vacation at one of his New Jersey golf clubs because he’s too busy for such pursuits. 


So, what’s the point here? Trump’s reading habits don’t place him among the top ten in the pantheon of presidential readers. Does a president’s reading habits impact whether he will effectively govern?


It’s a safe assumption that a wide-ranging and prolific reader will have a greater breadth of knowledge for any subject at hand, whether that’s policy making or political ideology.


To wit, last summer, the Vineyard Gazette hosted a roundtable with presidential scholars David McCullough and Evan Thomas just after the Republican National Convention. “The idea that the party of Abraham Lincoln has nominated this totally unhinged man, Donald Trump: Unacceptable, unqualified and uninterested in knowing more than he already knows, which is virtually nothing. I find that one of the most maddening qualities about the man,” said McCullough. “When he was asked if he’d ever read a book about the presidency, or a presidential biography, he said no. And he didn’t seem the least bit bothered by that, or understand why he would be asked that question.” Thomas offered that a president who reads is “reminded that however bad things seem now, they were pretty bad in other times.” 


Lifting the veil on a president’s personal reading habits is humanizing as well--we, the public, get a better sense of who the leader of the free world is, and perhaps even share in the joys of having read the same books. It’s not often the average American can look to a president and share something in common.


Trump doesn’t read, which speaks volumes.

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