Over at the main blog, Joe Carter asks:
In all seriousness, though, what books would you recommend the President read during his vacation? Assuming you had to stick to the same 3:1:1 ratio (3 novels, 1 biography, 1 policy-oriented nonfiction) what books would you slip into his travel bag?
Here’s my first crack at some answers. I’ve tried to recommend books that are not only good and worthwhile in their own right, but which would be particularly enjoyable or useful for our President.
Fiction 1: “All the King’s Men”, by Robert Penn Warren.
Far and away the best political novel I’ve read, with heavy emphasis on the “political” part. The Man of Thought and the Man of Action are compared, contrasted, and both found to be lacking. Good intentions lead to the greatest tragedies, and fatalism pervades — somewhat. The book is famous for being a gritty portrait of Depression-era Southern politics, but it should be famous for being a shotgun full of continental philosophy wrapped in breathtakingly beautiful prose and aimed at your brain. Each of the pellets is labelled “Nature of History” or “Personal Responsibility” or “Theodicy”, but they all come out of the barrel simultaneously.
Fiction 2: “Macroscope”, by Piers Anthony.
Like all good sci-fi, Macroscope is a book about human nature encased in a thin crust of technological escapism. Unlike most sci-fi, technology is portrayed as having a moral component that we ignore at our peril. The symbolism gets heavy at times (the final third of the book is a psychedelic romp in which signs of the zodiac and Jungian archetypes literally come to life), but fails to detract from the several core messages. As a bonus, we get a fascinating meditation on the nature of race in a kinda-sorta-post-racial society and a lot of poetry by Sidney Lanier.
Fiction 3: “Foucault’s Pendulum”, by Umberto Eco.
An important reminder that the “crazy tree” grows everywhere and in all times, but especially when it is watered. Also a deeply anti-Gnostic book for a suspiciously Gnostic President. Also a lot of fun to read.
Biography: “Founding Brothers”, by Joseph Ellis.
Perhaps I cheat by including a biography of several men, so be it. What was one of the most important things about the architects of our state? The fact that they disagreed radically about almost everything, of course! My favorite Vermont secessionist blog takes this point and hits it home.
Non-fiction: “After Virtue”, by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Yes, I know, it’s a total cliche to recommend this one these days. Still, I suspect that the President has not read it, and I further suspect that it would do him some good if he got around to it. MacIntyre’s attacks on technocracy are so feisty that one is tempted to start a “Hallelujah”-chorus, and his points about the fracturing effects that differing moral premises have on the structure and consequences of discourse would be thought-provoking for the President who thinks we can always find common ground.
Honorable Mention: “History of the Peloponnesian War”, by Thucydides.
I don’t get to have all the fun. What are your recommendations for the President?