Because we share similar passions, I read with fascination this past week an interview with President Barack Obama about how his love of reading is closely tied to his love of writing. “Me, too!” I thought as I learned that our 44th President wrote short stories about older people during early adulthood. Our 39th President, Jimmy Carter, is the first President to publish a fiction novel, The Hornet’s Nest, in addition to a collection of poems, Always a Reckoning, and a children’s story, The Little Baby Snoogle-fleejer.

Both writing and reading help people to understand the strongest emotions, and to develop empathy for others whose histories and life experiences are completely different from their own. According to Julianne Chiaet in Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy, researchers at The New School in New York City discovered that reading literary fiction increases the reader’s capacity for empathy, while the reading of popular fiction and nonfiction, or reading nothing at all, does not appear to do anything for a person’s capacity to understand others.

As our 45th President was inaugurated on Friday, this research made me wonder what fiction stories are on our most recent Presidents’ reading lists. We all know, of course, how isolating the White House experience can be. This creates a necessity for the current Dweller-in-Chief to escape from the proverbial bubble to connect with the people who are being served.

Here are some of the books that I discovered the past dozen Presidents have added to their reading lists. Several Presidents—Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Richard Nixon—are fans of Leo Tolstoy. One President, Lyndon B. Johnson, was labeled a non-reader by one writer, and so far, I have not been able to learn anything about his reading tastes, fiction or otherwise. Our new President, Donald Trump, says in this Washington Post article that he has no time to read, but despite this statement I discovered a post from U.S. News & World Report that cites a book from 1929 as his favorite fiction book, which I have named below.

Presidential Fiction Reading Countdown

45th President. All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque—recommended by Donald Trump, 2017-

44th President. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison–recommended by Barack Obama, 2009-2017

43rd President. Next, by Michael Crichton–recommended by George W. Bush, 2001-2009

42nd President. You Can’t Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe—recommended by Bill Clinton, 1993-2001

41nd President. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy—recommended by George H. W. Bush, 1989-1993

40th President. The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy—recommended by Ronald Reagan

39th President. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy—recommended by Jimmy Carter, 1977-1981

38th President. Novels by Horatio Alger—recommended by Gerald Ford, 1974-1977

37th President. “Anything by Leo Tolstoy”—recommended by Richard Nixon, 1969-1974

36th President. Referred to as a “non-reader” by Harold Evans in White House Book Club—Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963-1969

35th President. From Russia with Love, by Ian Fleming—recommended by John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963

34th President. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain—recommended by Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953-1961

For more information about Presidential reading lists, you may wish to refer to these resources:

© 2017 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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