Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Intellectual President

A couple of the things that I like about President Bush are the way that he reminds me of me, at least in terms of his public speaking style (which is why I never speak in public), and the way that he seems to be little concerned with what people allegedly think of him, at least as expressed in public opinion polls (none of which I have ever been questioned in). For years we have had to listen to the leftist myth of Bush's supposed stupidity. No self-respecting left winger would admit that a high-ranking Republican is anything less than a complete idiot. Quite a few modern-day Soviets have been taken aback, then, to learn that the White House has released the President's summer reading list.

HILLARY SAYS: That's preposterous! Everyone knows Bush can't read! He probably keeps the books next to his pillow because it makes him feel as if he has actually done some kind of reading! Why, he couldn't even read a comic book written for a four-year-old!

Okay, HILLARY, let's take a look at what's on his list. From the NewsMax article:

President Bush took three intellectually challenging books with him for his vacation reading.

Prominent among them was "Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky, a chronicle of salt's incredible importance in world affairs in ways that oil occupies the world's attention today.
It sounds like a good choice, and has some relevance to current events. What else is there?
According to the Los Angeles Times, the White House listed two other books on the president's summer reading schedule: "Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar" by Edvard Radzinsky and "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History" by John M. Barry.
As a history major who prefers reading historical non-fiction over anything fictional, I applaud the President's choice of reading material. One expects that he carefully checked out the author's backgrounds and made sure that he would feel comfortable with their points of view going in. For a long time, I have been in the habit of checking the index while browsing a book in the store. Regardless of the subject matter, I would look under the letter "R" and scope out what the author might have to say about Reagan or Republicans. A good book on medieval society with no references to current events might soon have found a place on my book shelf. But I refused to spend my money on a book about medieval literature that, on page iv of the introduction, blames every problem in the world on Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. That's just psychotic. More recently, I have gotten into the habit of looking up "Bush" or "Clinton" to see what the author says about them. An author's personal bias does affect my interest (or lack thereof) in their writings.

Surely there is nothing wrong with the author of a book on the history of salt, right?
"It seems very silly now, all of the struggles for salt," the book's author, Kurlansky, told the Times. "It's quite probable that some day, people will read about our struggles for oil and have the same reaction."

Kurlansky, a self-described "virulent" Bush critic, expressed surprise that the president is reading his work. "My first reaction was, 'Oh, he reads books?'" he told the Times, adding, "What I find fascinating, and it's probably a positive thing about the White House, is they don't seem to do any research about the writers when they pick the books."

I'm surprised that the President is reading Kurlansky's work, too. When I read that quote from Kurlansky, my first reaction was, "Oh what a fricking arsehole". Describing himself as "virulent" is a strange thing to do, too. That's a very negative word. At least he has something nice to say about the White House. On the other hand, he implies that "the White House" chooses what President Bush may read, so it's a very backhanded compliment.

We'll see just how influential the book is sometime next year, when the President announces an initiative to move away from petroleum and towards salt-based vehicle fuels.

The influenza guy isn't quite as bad as Kurlansky:

The president's choice of Barry's book on the 1918-19 influenza pandemic that killed an astounding 21 million people worldwide, including 500,000 Americans, is not surprising. The author of "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History" has been frequently consulted by the administration on the potential for another similar pandemic striking the world.

Barry, another Bush critic, told the Times he has been investigating what steps public officials could take to lessen the severity of a flu pandemic. In his book Barry charges that the 1918 outbreak was worsened in America because of the government's attempts to minimize its significance, partly to avoid undermining efforts to win World War I.

"One lesson is to absolutely take it seriously," Barry told the Times. "I'm not a great fan of the Bush administration, but I think they are doing that. The Clinton administration I don't think paid much attention to it as a threat."
At least he's willing to cooperate. And he admits that the Republican administration is better at something that he cares about that the previous Democratic administration. I'll give him a pass.

The third book deals with a Russian Czar who ruled during an age of terrorism:

"We, Russia, created the first great terrorist organization in the world," Radzinsky told the Times during a phone interview from Moscow. "We are the father of terror, not Muslims."

After surviving six attempts on his life, Alexander II was assassinated by a group of anarchists who tossed home-made bombs at him as he was riding in his carriage on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Radzinsky told the Times he assumed Bush had drawn the connection to the terrorists of today. "Very noble young people who dreamed about the future of Russia became killers, because blood destroys souls," Radzinsky said. "That for me is the most important lesson."
Given the virulent psychoses that the left suffers from these days, the President might well worry about home-made bombs being tossed at his motorcade as he travels through Washington. Or Crawford, for that matter. Radzinsky sounds like the least critical of the three authors. He probably takes it as a compliment that a world leader like Bush takes time to read his books. The other two...I'm not so sure. At least they didn't try to disown their works when they learned that copies had fallen into the hands of the hated American President.

A veteran journalist and publishing industry executive weighs in on the matter of the chief executive reading list:

Peter Osnos, of the PublicAffairs publishing house in New York, told the Times that the books Bush took with him to Crawford represented a sophisticated reading list, even for an intellectually curious chief executive. "It's a fair bet that George W. Bush is the only person in the entire United States who chose those three books to read on vacation," Osnos told the Times, adding that "There's nothing on that list that is a beach read, or even a busman's holiday."
Reading Mr. Osnos's biography at the PublicAffairs web site, I get the impression that he likes to make good with as many people as possible. "Bush" seems to be the only prominent name missing from the list of people whom he has worked with. Which would explain why he would say something as silly as he does about the President being the only person in the USA to take these three books on vacation. Such a statement is be difficult if not impossible to verify, though it would be entertaining to see if anyone makes the bet with him.

I can't say that I would take these three books on a vacation with me, but my vacations tends to revolve around doing things with young children, which leaves little time for reading. When someone asked me what I read while I was away, I simply answered, "MAPS". Ask me what I read when I'm not on vacation, and the answer will be "BLOGS". I left my old job selling books after I went online in 2000. Books are soooo twentieth century. Still, those dead tree relics are nice to have around when you're in the mood for something different.

No comments: