George W. Bush was a frenetic reader — 95 books one year as president. Impressive, until you consider what Theodore Roosevelt read in the White House in 1902 and 1903, which included portions of Dante’s “Inferno,” Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” “Beowulf,” Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Aristotle and histories of the early Syrian, Chaldean and Egyptian civilizations, along with five Shakespeare plays — and tales from Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.
But he was not alone. “Not all readers are leaders,” said Harry Truman, whose home library of 1,100 books in Independence, Missouri, included Sandburg’s life of Lincoln and biographies of Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren and both James and (surprise!) Marilyn Monroe, “but all leaders are readers.”
Bush and Bill Clinton had little in common except one big thing: They both spent their White House years reading as many presidential biographies as they could get their hands on. In contrast, Donald J. Trump, who, unlike Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and the younger Bush, was not a history major, said a year ago that he hadn’t read any presidential biographies.
The president’s summer vacation has been interrupted by the North Korea crisis, but he still might have time for some valuable reading. Here’s a presidential reading list, for Trump or for any of his 320 million fellow Americans:
“His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph J. Ellis (2004). There are scores of superb biographies of the first president, but perhaps the most approachable is this volume, by the Mount Holyoke professor who has written several biographies of early American leaders. His Washington “managed to levitate above the political landscape,” in part because the Virginia general transformed “his natural aloofness into an…