21 of Bill Clinton’s Favorite Books

Bill Clinton

I’m always curious to see what other people are reading. It’s one of the ways I figure out what to read next. This list, from 1993, of Bill Clinton’s 21 favorite books is worth a look. Certainly not what I expected.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
Of this book, James Baldwin said: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such a moving wonder, such a luminous dignity.”

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
A book from the Stoic reading list. Aurelius has been relevant for over 1800 years, and I bet he’ll still be relevant in another 1800.

The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker
Examining the meaning of human existence, this book won the Pulitzer prize in 1974. “In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie — man’s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.”

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963, Taylor Branch
The story of the American civil rights movement.

Living History, Hillary Rodham Clinton
He’s not biased at all, nope.

Lincoln, David Herbert Donald
What’s a President without a favorite Lincoln book. You could do a lot worse than this portrait of Abraham Lincoln’s life by Pulitzer Prize–winning author David Herbert Donald.

The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot
The “culminating achievement” by a man considered to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
A book about race in America, to be sure, but more than that it’s a book about the “human race stumbling down the path to identity, challenged and successful to varying degrees.” The world, in all of its complexities is a tricky place, and few realize this more than the invisible man, who leaves us with these words: “And it is this which frightens me: Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilizations to the Eve of the Twenty-First Century, David Fromkin
Gregory McNamee summed it up best: “Historians and philosophers of history have long debated whether the human story is one of constant improvement and progress, or whether history is instead a wheel that leads us again and again to the same place–the same choices, the same errors. … David Fromkin is an unabashed partisan of the first school. In his view, the logic of history leads to “the only civilization still surviving, the scientific one of the modern world,” the civilization of capitalism and technology.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
With One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez unleashed Latin American literature to a world-wide audience.

The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes, Seamus Heaney
“Seamus Heaney’s version of Sophocles’ Philoctetes. Written in the fifth century BC, this play concerns the predicament of the outcast hero, Philoctetes, whom the Greeks marooned on the island of Lemnos and forgot about until the closing stages of the Siege of Troy. Abandoned because of a wounded foot, Philoctetes nevertheless possesses an invincible bow without which the Greeks cannot win the Trojan War. They are forced to return to Lemnos and seek out Philoctetes’ support in a drama that explores the conflict between personal integrity and political expediency.”

King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild
“Hochschild’s superb, engrossing chronicle focuses on one of the great, horrifying and nearly forgotten crimes of the century: greedy Belgian King Leopold II’s rape of the Congo, the vast colony he seized as his private fiefdom in 1885,” wrote Publisher’s Weekly.

The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis
“This classic has drawn thousands of readers down the ages, including Henry VIII’s chancellor Thomas More, John Wesley, Irish patriot Daniel O’Connell and St Ignatius of Loyola, who reputedly would offer the book as a gift to acquaintances.” — Kirkus

Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell
Orwell went to Spain in 1936 to report on the Civil War and instead joined the fight against the Fascists. This book describes the war as witnessed by Orwell.

The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis, Carroll Quigley
“A comprehensive and perceptive look at the factors behind the rise and fall of civilizations.”

Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics, Reinhold Niebuhr
A continually relevant study in ethics and politics, the book was Niebuhr’s break from “progressive religion and politics toward a more deeply tragic view of human nature and history.”

The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
“Magnificent…It is one of those rare books that show us our American past, our present – ourselves – is a dazzling shaft of light…A triumph” — New York Times

Politics as a Vocation, Max Weber
A book that clearly resonated with Clinton and one he could likely add more than a few chapters to.

You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe
A portrait of America and Europe from the Great Depression to the years leading up to WWII through the story of a young writer trying to make his mark on the world.

Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright
This is the second time this book comes recommended. In my interview with Samuel Arbesman, he called this book “a wonderful exploration of how the world has become more complicated and better over time, improving each of our lives.”

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, William Butler Yeats
All of the poems authorized by Yeats for inclusion in his standard canon.