President George W. Bush has a voracious appetite for reading. On his most recent five-week vacation, his pleasure reading is said to have included three dense five-hundred page tomes. These were: Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, The Last Great Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky and The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John Barry. Not one Harry Potter novel in this lot.
This is a particularly impressive reading list considering that the President was on a “working vacation.” The President even mentioned at his press conference on Tuesday that “Mr. Barry’s book” about the 1919 flu epidemic helped inform his thinking about the possible desirability of declaring a nation-wide state of martial law in the event of an avian flu epidemic.
Other evidence suggests that the President indeed loves books. In May, the President was seen walking around his Crawford ranch (during a different five-week vacation) carrying Tom Wolfe’s six hundred and eighty-eight page novel I am Charlotte Simmons. At first, there was a mystery concerning the fact that the President had reported finishing the book several months earlier. The mystery was solved when the President’s handlers explained that one of the President’s biking partners had recently returned the book after borrowing it. That a multi-millionaire such as the President would request a $15.95 book back demonstrates that he is indeed a bibliophile. I, for one, am glad that the person representing me in negotiations with North Korea has just reportedly finished reading Kang Chol-Hwan’s Aquariums of Pyong Yang.
Given the President’s well-established intellectualism, two things are surprising. The first is the rather unjustifiably low regard for the President in the rest of the world. In the “Global Election” survey recently conducted by the BBC, President Bush finished in forty-third place based on the responses of 15,000 participants voting for a hypothetical unified world leader. This was a disappointing forty-one spots behind former President Bill Clinton who placed second, and only twenty-seven spots ahead of Osama Bin Laden, who placed seventieth.
The second paradox is that although the President likes to read long, dense treatises in his spare time, when he’s on the job he reportedly likes information to be delivered to him in short, monosyllabic memos that are monolithically clean of divergent opinions. An example of the type of materials used in these “Presidential Daily Briefings” is the famous PDB for August 6, 2001 reprinted below:
While it does seem rather strange that a man who apparently reads volume J of the encyclopedia when he takes a dump would choose to be briefed in this manner for the most important job in the world, it just goes to show that even the greatest human beings remain a mass of contradictions.
Ed/Pub:LisaMPowered by Sidelines