Obama’s Bookshelf
Recommendations for the president.


Our president has been spotted carrying an assortment of books, from FDR biographies to the collected poems of David Walcott. We asked some friends of NRO: What books would you recommend the president get on his nightstand and why? What might have a positive effect on him and history?

Obama has clearly shown, in several ways, that he doesn’t have the remotest understanding of Lincoln’s teachings, whether regarding Lincoln’s moral understanding of natural right, his view of the Constitution, or the precise sense of prudence that informed his statecraft. But if the current president is genuinely interested in Lincoln, he should read the two books that, more than anything else, helped us to understand Lincoln in his highest pitch by understanding the substance of his thought. And those two books, of course, are Harry Jaffa’s classic, Crisis of the House Divided (now marking its 50th anniversary), and its sequel, A New Birth of Freedom.

Hadley Arkes is the Ney professor of jurisprudence at Amherst College.


Derek Walcott’s Collected Poems is a good choice. I would add A Bend in the River, by Walcott’s fellow West Indian V. S. Naipaul.

I will be immodest and suggest Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington.

A great book on politics is Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, by William L. Riordan, but I’m sure President Obama knows it already.

– Rick Brookhiser is a senior editor of NR.

For the best recommendation, I went to my father (Brian), the most well-read person I know. He recommended Truman, by David McCullough, for a true-to-life look at what grassroots middle America has always been about (hint, hint). It also deals extensively with being a war president and the considerations that brings (including victory).

For my money, I would still recommend David Bellavia’s House to House: An Epic Memoir of War. If the president wants to truly understand the nature of the enemy we face — from drugged-up foreign fighters in Iraq to religious zealots in Afghanistan and Pakistan — there is no better in-your-face read then David’s book. Its pages just might fortify the president to properly resource and orient the continuing fights in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Capt. Pete Hegseth, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 to 2006, is chairman of Vets for Freedom.

As Obama is reputed to like a challenge, I would send him a copy of Pascal Bruckner’s The Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt (1983 in French, 1986 in English), which I’m sure he’s never read. Touched as he is by a relativistic streak of Third Worldism (see his Cairo speech), he would benefit greatly by reading this far-reaching exposé of just what it is: a narcissistic indulgence in “infinite repentance” by those in the West who “get a childish pleasure from being the source of all horror in the world.” Bruckner began as one of France’s nouveaux philosophes, and they weren’t exactly neocons, so Obama would be safe there. Still, would he run the risk of being photographed with a book by a French intellectual in hand? And then there’s that title . . . 

– Martin Kramer is Olin Institute senior fellow at Harvard and Adelson Institute senior fellow at the Shalem Center, Jerusalem.