Great Political Books By Political Figures: A (Necessarily) Short List

Editor’s Note: It’s a rare and exciting thing when a politician writes a really worthy book. Here are some to watch for. This post originally appeared on The Progressive Book Club.

In the introduction to his new book Obamanos: The Birth of a New Political Era, the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg recollects that he “picked up Dreams from My Father, and by the time I put it down again I was a supporter of Barack Obama for President.” He goes on:

“The library of books by men who later become president is not large, and little of merit can be found there. The important exceptions before the end of the nineteenth century are Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia (1787) and Theodore Roosevelt’s voluminous works of natural and naval history; in the twentieth the standout is Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage (1955), though the extent of its author’s authorship is disputed. In recent decades a ghostwritten autobiography has become as normal a part of laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign as a quick trip to Israel. Some are entertaining in a mild way (Reagan’s Where’s the Rest of Me?, 1955) and some are simply stupefying (W’s A Charge to Keep, 1999), but as pieces of writing none could truly be called good. Carter’s Why Not the Best? (1975), which he wrote without professional assistance, is an outlier of sorts–a homely, sturdy construction, like one of the tables he makes in his home woodworking shop. But there’s never been anything quite like Dreams from My Father.”

No argument there. But if we could broaden the focus a bit to take in good books by major political figures below the level of president, we can, at minimum, give honorable mention to the following titles, all available from PBC.

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Susan Suni Ibarra
Susan Ibarra4 years ago

Yup, I have gone through two of these, especially the one Bill Clinton wrote. Smart man, that past president of ours!!!!!!!

wizzy wizard
wiz wi4 years ago

i still like to watch the film

Rebecca S.
Rebecca Stover4 years ago

Great list. Patton's stories are a great read.

dve d.
wiz w.4 years ago


Laura S.
Laura S.4 years ago

I'll add it to my list.

"Things To Do -
Get a part-time job
Exercise more
Eat better
Cook everything from scratch
Sew my own clothes
Lose weight
Read more books; here's 4 more"

I'm sorry; that wasn't fair. But I couldn't stop myself. I think about the time it takes to read a book, and I always feel like I should do that kind of thing after everything else is done. Of course, that's crazy. Probably a hold-over from childhood. I can still hear my mother yelling, "Put down that book and clean your room!"

These are probably great books, and I SHOULD read more. Please excuse my outburst. :- )

Val Leishman
Val Leishman4 years ago

Good recommendatiosn- Thanks

Carole K.
Carole K.4 years ago

Perhaps if I read some of these suggested titles the murky light in which I view politics will brighten a bit. I know Bill Clinton absolutely loves the game of politics. I just can't understand it in that way personally. Thanks for the insightful list....

Kay O.
Kay O.4 years ago

Thanks for the list, I will refer to it this year.

Fran F.
Fran away F.4 years ago

"The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant," which were published by his friend Mark Twain shortly before Grant's death from throat cancer, cover his life in the army through the Civil War, not his presidency. They are written in a spare, eloquent style that is said to have influenced Ernest Hemingway, and are one of the overlooked gems of American literature. Here is a link to read them for free online:

Judy Emerson
Judith Emerson4 years ago

Wish Obama would read his own "Dreams of My Father." Maybe it'd inspire him to work a little more effectively on the behalf of We, The People.