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.
- True Compass: A Memoir by Edward M. Kennedy
- The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works, by Rep. Henry Waxman
- Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden
- Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton (written in post-presidential repose)
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