Susurro at Like a Whisper has tagged me with a meme to compile a list of books to give to President Obama. He’s a bright guy who always has a book in his hand, and I imagine that he reads much more broadly than most people. Herewith is my annotated bibliography of five titles, which I humbly submit to a candid world:
- Robert A. Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate (2002). This is the third volume in Caro’s planned 4-volume definitive biography, and it covers his years in the U.S. Senate from 1953 through his fight for the 1960 Democratic nomination. I think Obama should figure out what LBJ sprinkled on his Wheaties every morning–this Dem thinks we need a little more Lyndon Johnson and a little less Jimmy Carter right about now (except, reinstall the solar panels on the White House, and keep the meetings while on the john to a minimum.) Maybe the President can invite Caro over for a little seminar-style preview of volume 4. (Are beagles hypoallergenic? Just a thought…)
- Robert McNamara, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995). Of course, there is such a thing as too much LBJ, and this book explains why Johnson is not remembered as the greatest liberal Democratic president in U.S. history despite his championing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 (respectively) and the War on Poverty. McNamara’s book is extremely insightful and not too self-serving–too bad he was thirty years too late. (Paging Tim Geithner! Mr. Geithner! History on line 1 for Mr. Geithner! “Best and the brightest” my ass!)
- Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto (2008). Pollan has been tireless in his self-promotion and attempts to reach the ear of the President lately (some of which have been successful), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t right. This manifesto argues against the fake science of “nutritionism,” which dominates our views of food and the processed food industry today (itself built on cheap oil and the mass production of low-cost, low-nutrition commodities), and in favor of a simple mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
- Mary P. Ryan, Mysteries of sex : tracing women and men through American history (2006) is a lively, intelligent, and provocative survey of the persistence of the gender line in America, from before European contact to the present day. She grapples convincingly with the disturbing lack of change over time we see when it comes to the history of gender and sexuality.
- Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1868). His little girls won’t be young enough to read to for very much longer, and this is a good book to read out loud. At once impossibly quaint (pickled limes?) and shockingly recognizable, the March girls’ travails while their father served during the Civil War still resonate today, especially with eager and imaginative readers who identify with Jo. Besides, it’s a great little seminar in the material culture of middle-class mid-nineteenth century domesticity. (Has anyone ever figured out why those pickled limes were so desirable to Amy and her school chums?)
So, having completed my task, I now tag Larry Cebula at Northwest History, Clio Blustocking, and Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs. What books would you pile up on Barack Obama’s bedside table? And commenters: which books you would suggest?