Slate.com has an article by John Dickerson on the president’s summer reading list. It includes a great trip back through time, reminding us that John Kennedy liked Ian Fleming, (here’s a witty line from the article. President Obama is unlikely to choose Fleming, because “in the heat of this year’s health care debate, the president doesn’t dare read anything by anyone who once wrote a book called Dr. No.”), President George W. Bush read The Stranger by Camus, and President Bill Clinton read everything! (On one visit to a Martha’s Vineyard book store, President Clinton “walked the aisles pointing to books, saying, “Read that, read that, read that,” according to Susan Mercier, the manager”).
Here’s the reading list for President Obama (from the article):
• The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller based in Washington, D.C.;
• Lush Life by Richard Price, a story of race and class set in New York’s Lower East Side;
• Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, on the benefits to America of an environmental revolution;
• John Adams by David McCullough;
• Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a drama about the life of eight different characters living in a Colorado prairie community.
Notice that the list includes Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, though, Dickerson writes, “I bet Obama doesn’t finish the Friedman. There’s no book on his list more like his evening briefing books.”
This is the second book that I have presented at the First Friday book Synopsis that has been on a reading list of Mr. Obama. Last summer, in the midst of the campaign, he was reading Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. (Here’s a photo of then candidate Obama with a copy The Post-American World).
Both books are worth reading. Here’s a key quote from each:
From Hot, Flat, and Crowded:
Green is the new red, white, and blue because it is a strategy that can help to ease global warming, biodiversity loss, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and energy supply shortages – and make America stronger at the same time. We solve our own problems by helping the world solve its problems. We help the world solve its problems by solving our own problems.
If climate change is a hoax, it is the most wonderful hoax ever perpetrated on the United States of America. Because transforming our economy to clean power and energy efficiency to mitigate global warming and the other challenges of the Energy-Climate Era is the equivalent of training for the Olympic triathlon: If you make it to the Olympics, you have a better chance of winning because you’ve developed every muscle. If you don’t make it to the Olympics, you’re still healthier, stronger, fitter, and more likely to live longer and win every other race in life. And as with the triathlon, you don’t just improve one muscle or skill, but many, which become mutually reinforcing and improve the health of your whole system. (p. 173).
From The Post-American World:
This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else. It is about the great transformation taking place around the world, a transformation that, although often discussed, remains poorly understood… Though we talk about a new era, the world seems to be one with which we are familiar. But in fact, it is very different. (p. 1).
Look around. The tallest building in the world in now in Taipei, and it will soon be overtaken by one being built in Dubai. The world’s richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese. The world’s biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, its leading refinery is under construction in India, and its largest factories are all in China. London is becoming the leading financial center, and the United Arab Emirates is home to the most richly endowed investment fund. Once quintessentially American icons have been appropriated by foreigners. The world’s largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. Its number one casino is not in Las Vegas but in Macao, which has also overtaken Vegas in annual gambling revenues. The biggest movie industry, in terms of both movies made and tickets sold, is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Even shopping, America’s greatest sporting activity, has gone global. Of the top ten malls in the world, only one is in the United States: the world’s biggest is in Beijing. Such lists are arbitrary, but it is striking that only ten years ago, American was at the top in many, if not most, of these categories. (pp. 2-3).
What’s on your reading list?
Business Week just published one of those wonderful “Books to Read this Summer” pieces, entitled: Beach Blanket Ambitions — or Come Back from the Beach a Bit Savvier. (I take the paper version of Busienss Week, and read the article in the magazine. You can read the article on-line here).
Here is a paragraph about one of my favorite books from the last 12 months: “Fareed Zakaria’s best seller from ’08, The Post-American World (Norton, $15.95), remains chillingly relevant. Timed, perhaps, to broaden the conversation prior to the last Presidential election, the book lays out how badly the U.S. has been playing a geopolitical hand he calls “the best of any country in history.” In painting a portrait of the growing prowess and stature of China and India, as well as the rapid progress of many African nations, Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, also makes it clear the U.S. is not yet a lost cause. Its strengths include a maligned but still unparalleled education system and the cross-border bonds built by American multinationals.”
I presented my synopsis of this book at the July, 2008 First Friday Book Synospis, and here it is a year later, still recommended as an important book to read. I fully agree. I remember that as I was reading it, then Candidate Obama was caught in a photo with a copy in his hand. (“So now we know what Barack Obama is reading these days: Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World.” This is, in its way, the most stylish book ad I’ve seen in a while. Looks like Obama is on Page, I dunno, 116..” — You can see the photo with Obama carrying the book in the New York Times “Paper Cuts: A Blog about Books” here).
And here are a couple of key quotes from the book: “This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else. It is about the great transformation taking place around the world, a transformation that, although often discussed, remains poorly understood… Though we talk about a new era, the world seems to be one with which we are familiar. But in fact, it is very different.” (p. 1). And — “The world is moving from anger to indifference, from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism.” (p. 36).
I think this is one of the more important books I have read in the last few years. A few years ago, I presented a review of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria for a Saturday at the Melrose program for the World Affairs Council in Dallas. That too was an important book to read, and it provided critical background to help me understand such issues as the current post-election crisis in Iran. I think Fareed Zakaria’s writings are worth our time.
The rest of the books on the Business Week recommended list do not quite fit the needs we have for book selections for the First Friday Book Synopsis. (That’s a subtle way of saying I have not read these other books). But here is the list, compiled and recommended by Barry Maggs, and I wish I had time to read each of these books. They sound truly interesting. Mr. Maggs edits the Jack and Suzy Welch column, The WelchWay, and he also handles book reviews for the Business Views section of the magazine. I suspect that one of more of these titles might interest readers of this blog. Here is his list with a few brief comments by Mr. Maggs. (Read the article here).
Felix Dennis. Surprisingly, How to Get Rich: One of the World’s Greatest Entrepreneurs Shares His Secrets (Portfolio, $16), by the man who made a mint with lad magazine Maxim,
Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World (Norton, $15.95),
Next on the menu, alphabet soup. In Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing (Simon & Schuster, $16), investigative reporter Tim Shorrock turns his sights on the 16 agencies—from the CIA to the NGA (National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency)—that report to the ODNI (Office of the Director of National Intelligence).
The fraught and at times fraudulent world of fine wine is the setting for The Billionaire’s Vinegar: The Mystery of the World’s Most Expensive Bottle of Wine (Three Rivers Press, $14.95). Author Benjamin Wallace delivers a delicious account of how wine con man (and rock band manager) Hardy Rodenstock relieved Malcolm Forbes of $156,000 in exchange for a bottle of Château Lafite.
Richard H. Thaler, the grand old man of behavioral economics, and Cass R. Sunstein, President Barack Obama’s regulations czar, teamed up to write Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Penguin, $16). The idea that humans make choices irrationally shouldn’t come as a surprise…
Winner Takes All: Steve Wynn, Kirk Kerkorian, Gary Loveman, and the Race to Own Las Vegas (Hyperion, $15.99) examines the risk-taking and the outrageous egos of three inventive and diverse players in the gambling world – by author Christina Binkley.
In the acclaimed A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World (Grove Press $16.95), William J. Bernstein roams freely through history to nail down long-distance trade’s 7,000-year evolution, as well as its costs and many benefits.
Have you picked out your summer volumes yet?
(To purchase my synopsis of The Post American World, all by Malcolm Gladwell, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site).