SONOMA - I’ve heard it said that leaders are readers and, traversing back in history, I’ve discovered that certainly many past American presidents were avid readers.
No country’s history seems to have had so many leader-readers as the United States. Despite differing education, upbringing and politics, they all met at the junction of reading. They all had that same insatiable craving.
Abraham Lincoln was a keen reader. He began reading at an early age and borrowed books where possible. At night, he would read by candlelight.
During his time as president, he would wake early to devote himself to reading the Bible. Some of his other favourites were the works of William Shakespeare, ‘Aesop’s Fables’, ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan and ‘The Life of Washington’ by Parson Weems.
Tevi Troy wrote:
“In the absence of new material, [Lincoln] read the few books he had over and over again, and internalised their messages.
“From the Bible and Shakespeare he learned a common but elevated language. From Aesop he learned the artful use of anecdotes to make a point. From Weems he gained an appreciation of how a leader can capture the people’s hearts.
“His reading deserves, and receives, much of the credit for Lincoln’s extraordinary evolution from poor backwoodsman to our poet president.”
George Washington was also a keen reader. His biographer Adrienne Harrison said of him:
“Washington was a practical reader. He clearly valued useful knowledge that made many of his tasks easier. He was and still is the quintessential American success story because he applied his mind to achieving success. He was relentless in pursuing his goals, and his reading is an applied demonstration of it.”
Theodore Roosevelt read two books each day. Although his schedule was hectic, while waiting for appointments and engagements, he always reads.
It is said that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had libraries filled with books they had collected. According to biographer David McCullough, they both liked the Greek classics. Many of Jefferson’s books were acquired during his European travels and served as the basis for the Library of Congress.
In fact, Jefferson fell into debt due to his unquenchable love of books. But we can forgive him that debt, both because he loved books and because he wrote the American Declaration of Independence, which is considered one of the greatest political documents ever.
In more recent times, Ronald Reagan admired and loved Edmund Morris’s biography of Teddy Roosevelt so much he hired Morris to write his own biography. And George W Bush publicly declared that his favorite book was ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ but he also read history and conversed with authors he liked and admired.
The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper dubbed Barrack Obama as “reader in chief.” Tevi Troy in the Washington Post wrote, “For Obama and past presidents, the books they read shape policies and perceptions.”
Truly Ernest Hemingway said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” So many US presidents made friends with books and never regretted the relationship.
I’m afraid our own leaders might only become experts in reading people so as to manipulate them. Leaders who don’t read books are like a tour guide who doesn’t know where he is leading a tourist.
If our leaders could spend more time reading, they would be better able to lead this nation. A nation led by reading leaders would be a privileged nation.