Why you should care
Because these are the people who could be running your country.
Some political figures have also been writers: Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and President Obama was a regular contributor to the literary magazine at Columbia University. But more often than not, candidates vying for an election year boost are hardly subtle with their drab manifestos. Think Hillary Clinton making those Hard Choices (a 656-page snoozer) or Ben Carson uniting us as One Nation. “A lot of times, they’re very vapid,” says John Hamilton, a Woodrow Wilson Center senior scholar. “Very few people who sit alone in a room and have the skills to write their own book have the skills and charisma to be a successful president.” However, some of the books that politicians hold dear — their own or another’s — provide a lens into interior lives too often obscured by publicity. Here are four books to help get you acquainted with this year’s presidential hopefuls.
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky
Politician: Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton met Saul Alinsky, a radical left-wing activist, multiple times while writing her Wellesley thesis on his theory of community organizing. In 1971, the 23-year-old wrote Alinsky as she anxiously awaited his book Rules for Radicals, a 10-chapter guide to community organizing in minority communities. In it, Alinsky pulls no punches: He references Lucifer as “the very first radical,” bemoans the “idiocy” of the country’s political leadership and lists “ridicule” as man’s most potent weapon. While Clinton later decided to go to law school for a more conventional path to politics, how fun is it to imagine an alternative universe where Clinton made pantsuits famous as protest garb?
Immigration Wars by Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick
Politician: Jeb Bush
Sure, the ultimate conventional candidate is out, but he did something very unconventional by writing a book that actually addressed a substantive campaign issue: immigration reform. “I give him credit for that,” Hamilton says. But it did not aid Bush’s election hopes. “A book to get elected by is one that’s not too edgy and not too specific.” Winning points for substance over style, Bush’s immigration opus gets into the gritty details of how to solve our border woes. Although few of his ideas diverge much from traditional rhetoric (states rights, border security, legal pathway to citizenship), the real gem is the prologue, a personal touch in which Bush opines on his unconventional romance with his Mexican-American wife, Columba. On the future of his granddaughter, Georgia, he writes, “My hope is that she will be trilingual, at least.”
Outsider in the House by Bernie Sanders with Huck Gutman
Politician: Bernie Sanders
You know you’ve signed your book with an indie publisher when it’s actually out of print by the time you run for president. That was the case for Sanders’ political memoir, published by the leftist Verso Books in 1997 and out of circulation in recent years. Thankfully, a new print run was released in September, and once you get your hands on it, you’ll find some candid moments. For instance, a reference to the “1 percent” on the very first page (long before Occupy Wall Street). Sanders includes other tidbits, like his previous life as a carpenter, his honeymoon in the Soviet Union and the time he was slapped by a “fellow” Democrat.
Politician: Donald Trump
The Donald told a Michigan crowd in August that his favorite book is the Bible, though he refused to cite his favorite passages. Since we’re left to speculate, perhaps Trump was thinking of Ephesians 5:22-24 (“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands”) when he wrote in Trump: The Art of the Comeback that men needed a housewife, not someone who “is always griping.” Of course, if he’d read a little farther, the billionaire who wears his wealth like a bad toupee might have come across Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”