Sunday, November 02, 2008

Foiled by the New York Times, again

What does reading do? This time a really interesting article, because by someone who actually knows what they are doing, though a little uncritical... An extract:

How to Read Like a President

... I just finished five years of work on Jackson and his White House years, and I found that the reconstruction of his literary interests, from youth to old age, illuminated much about the arrangement of his intellectual furniture. His heroic sense of possibility? He loved Jane Porter’s novel “The Scottish Chiefs.” His thunderous rhetorical habit of posing a question and then answering it? He grew up memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism of the Presbyterian Church. His provincial obsession with manners, bearing and etiquette? He was a fan of Lord Chesterfield’s letters. His reflexive characterization of enemies like Henry Clay as “Judases” and his dependence on imagery from the Old Testament? He cherished the Bible and his late wife’s copy of Isaac Watts’s translation of the Psalms. His shrewd political sense? He was an unlikely admirer of the French philosopher FĂ©nelon’s “Telemachus,” a kind of Machiavellian guide to ruling wisely.

You can tell a lot about a president — or a presidential candidate — by what he reads, or says he reads. We know the iconic examples: George Washington and his rules of civility, Thomas Jefferson and the thinkers of the French and Scottish Enlightenments, Lincoln and the Bible and Shakespeare. Though a generation apart, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt both loved Alfred Thayer Mahan’s “Influence of Sea Power Upon History” and savored the imperial poems of Kipling. Together such works created a kind of Anglo-American ethos in their minds — an ethos Franklin Roosevelt would make concrete during World War II, when he and Winston Churchill quoted Edward Lear’s nonsense rhymes to each other as they fought Hitler and Japan. Full article here....

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