Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The reading habits of George W. Bush

I’m skeptical whenever mainstream consensus settles on an opinion about somebody or something, especially when it’s a subject that lends itself to very little first-hand, direct, up-close experience.  For example, It’s pretty well-accepted, both by the general media and by people I hang out with, that our outgoing president is not the brightest bulb who ever inhabited the White House. But I’ve always been skeptical of such a quick-and-easy conclusion.  You don’t get to be President by being a dummy.  There’s enough competition out there to weed out the dim bulbs pretty quickly. 

That’s why I was not as surprised as I bet you were to see that he reads about one serious book per week – far, far more than the general public, and probably more than you do.  In fact, about 40% of Americans didn’t read a single book last year.

According to a WSJ article by Bush friend Karl Rove, the President read the following books in 2008:

David Halberstam's "The Coldest Winter," Rick Atkinson's "Day of Battle," Hugh Thomas's "Spanish Civil War," Stephen W. Sears's "Gettysburg" and David King's "Vienna 1814." There's also plenty of biography -- including U.S. Grant's "Personal Memoirs"; Jon Meacham's "American Lion"; James M. McPherson's "Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief" and Jacobo Timerman's "Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number."

He’s not one-sided, either.  Look at this list of recent fiction:

Besides eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald, Mr. Bush tackled Michael Crichton's "Next," Vince Flynn's "Executive Power," Stephen Hunter's "Point of Impact," and Albert Camus's "The Stranger," among others.

Of course, just because somebody reads a lot more than you does not mean they are smart.  But like almost everything else you think you know politics, or the economy, or famous people – things you know only indirectly (from what you read) and by word-of-mouth (from people you talk to) – the real story is far more complicated than you can imagine.

p.s. I wonder if this is one of the books he’s read:


Anonymous said...

I don't believe he actually read all those books. A book a week. Come on. The man hates reading (rather than read briefing memos he listens to oral briefings). It certainly wouldn't be the first time we were mislead about his reading habits. (bottom of the page)

Love him or hate him, most people agree G.W. Bush is not intellectually curious.

Richard Sprague said...

I suppose you are probably right -- it certainly fits the general wisdom. But neither of us knows for sure, and what if the bookreading stats turned out to be true. You would have to significantly re-evaluate the comfortable narrative most people have about the past eight years.

Anonymous said...

How so? I never said he was stupid, in fact, I've always thought he probably is decently intelligent. My point is that he is not intellectually curious.