Kathryn rightly notes in her excellent column on Dick Cheney’s book that one of the lessons Cheney imparts in the book is “a reminder to read more deeply and more broadly.” This refers to Cheney’s well-documented love of reading, and it is also one of the reasons that, as someone who studies presidential and politician reading, I was somewhat bothered by Steven Levingston’s Washington Post piece on Cheney’s reading habits.
According to Levingston:
Noticeably missing from the pages of Cheney’s memoir are references to books examining the big issues of our day — issues of crucial importance during his tenure with the Bush administration. From his memoir, it is impossible to know if he took any counsel at all from the estimable books of the past decade on national security, terrorism, torture, Islam, domestic surveillance. He remains opaque to the end.
I couldn’t really argue with Levington’s point until I read Cheney’s whole book — which was not available to mere mortals until last week — and so I have held off responding until now, but the piece does merit a response. Levingston correctly notes that Cheney refers to a variety of books throughout his memoir, and that his choice of book often had something to do with what was going on in Cheney’s life at the time. Growing up in Wyoming, Cheney read books about World War II and life out in the mountain West. He also read a book about power-line work while he himself was a power-line worker.
When it comes to the books Cheney read as vice president, though, Cheney is indeed less forthcoming about the titles. He does, however, list a variety of thinkers and writers with whom he met while in office, including Fouad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, Nathaniel Philbrick, Jay Winik, Edmund Morris, David McCullough, Charles Krauthammer, and Victor Davis Hanson. In addition, while Cheney was vice president, there were public reports that Cheney read a number of books with contemporary policy implications, including Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy, Elliott Cohen’s Supreme Command, and Winik’s April 1865 (interestingly, President Bush was reported to have read all three of those as well). I am sure that neither of these lists depicts the totality of what Cheney was reading and to whom he was speaking, so I guess by some measure he does remain “opaque.” But the list of at least some of the outside influences Cheney looked to during his vice presidency was available and out there, both within and outside Cheney’s memoir, if one had chosen to look for them.