Book recommendations for the president

November 7, 2012

The election is over and regardless of whether your candidate won or lost, everyone can admit that our president has a lot of challenges to face over the next four years.

With that in mind we’d like to suggest a short reading list for our commander-in-chief that we hope will keep him grounded, open-minded and remind him why he ran for office in the first place. 

Our first recommendation is also the most recently published: Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the end of American Debate. In the book, the author, First Amendment lawyer Greg Lukianoff, chronicles cases of censorship at America’s colleges and universities and reveals how higher education fails to teach students to become critical thinkers. By stifling open debate, he points out that campuses are energizing ideological divisions, promoting groupthink and encouraging an unscholarly certainty about complex issues. 

Although the book looks at America’s campuses, the overall theme can be carried to our wider culture, especially among the media where pundits are paid to encourage ideology instead of discussion, pulling readers and viewers along with passionate personalities instead of asking us to think for ourselves.

The president would be well served to consider how intolerance for dissent threatens all of our freedoms. After all, controversy is still a wonderful teacher.

When he finishes this we’d suggest he take up Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain’s Finn can help him remember why he cares about the people he leads. The book, a scathing look at entrenched attitudes, never lets us forget that while facing down threats “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” according to Twain. Obviously the president’s economic decision-making will have far-reaching impacts across America and the world and we think he (and others) would do well to take advice from someone outside his political inner-circle. For this, may we suggest the Oracle of Omaha himself, Warren Buffett. 

Living and working in Omaha, Buffett is one of the richest men in the world and arguably one of the greatest investors of all time. His investment picks and comments on the market are closely followed by everyone who thinks about sticking a toe in the market. Buffet’s annual Berkshire Hathaway reports are collected in The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America

Not just for the president or corporate America, Buffett’s writings are lessons for everyone and can teach us that the best investing, like anything else, has a value system attached to it. We hope the president keeps a copy on his presidential night-stand.

After reading Buffett, the president should dip into some fantasy reading like Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a reminder that human endeavours that try to usurp the Creator often go haywire and with tragic consequences.

And what better way for a president to brush up on his job skills than by studying the original. So we recommend 1776 by David McCullough. The book, as described by McCullough himself is: “The portrait of a leader, George Washington, who in the face of every calamity continued to persevere with an iron will and a public persona that never spoke of his private anguish and despair.”

As the president (regardless of who won)  tries to face down  Congress, perhaps no work could be more beneficial than the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. Dale Carnegie’s book first published in 1937 still resonates today to the age-old adage that “it’s not what you know but whom you know — and whether or not they like you.” 

The original self-help book offers advice like: “Offer honest appreciation to others”; “Don’t ever call direct attention to people’s mistakes”; and “Show respect for other peoples’ opinions [even if you are the President of the United States].” 

Our final recommendation is Ulysses — just to see if anyone can actually finish this perplexing classic. If our president does, maybe he will explain it to us. Anyone who can read one of the longest “sentences” in English literature at 4,391 words can get through anything, including leading the free world.