More pixels for Terry Teachout: he links to a list of Bill Clinton’s 21 favorite books and comments, more discreetly than I will, on its obvious fraudulence. The usual suspects are rounded up — Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, also cited by German ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt as his favorite book, and as sure to appear on a politician’s list as Nietzsche is not to. If we must have philosopher-kings, Plato’s Republic would be more to the point. For gravitas, Max Weber, Thomas à Kempis, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the two safest poets of the 20th century, Eliot and Yeats. Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again, possibly the worst-written famous novel of the last two hundred years. The list looks like America too, with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which is quite a good book but, like Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, can be dated to virtually the month it came out, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which I doubt Maya Angelou’s mother has read cover to cover: certainly I couldn’t. Clinton throws in The Confessions of Nat Turner and Taylor Branch’s history of the civil rights movement for good measure. His wife’s Living History is there; It Takes a Village I presume just missed the cut.

What is irksome about this list, besides its content, is its length. A favorite book? No. A top ten? A top twenty? No, Clinton needs twenty-one favorite books. The number signifies terminal vacillation. Say what you like about Al Gore, but when he was asked for a favorite book he coughed one up. Stendhal’s The Red and the Black may be a curious choice for someone like Gore, but it is a choice at least.

Terry claims, as if it were an established fact, that Clinton is “known to be unusually smart,” for which I can discern no evidence whatever. He is justly famed for many acts, none of which, except getting himself elected, could remotely be classified as intelligent. During his eight years in the White House — and before, and since — he never shut up. If we exclude “I never had sex with that woman” and “It depends on what the meaning of is is,” did he ever utter a memorable sentence? Calvin Coolidge left a far richer legacy to Bartlett’s than Clinton will, and he barely spoke at all.

Terry doubts that Clinton has read all these books: I don’t. I merely doubt that he has understood them. Clinton is notorious for being able to repeat back reams of what he has read, verbatim. Speaking as someone who had the same faculty in my youth, I am not impressed. It’s a parlor trick, like having an internal hard drive, useful for politics and getting through law school. You can pull up the material on your internal monitor, that’s all. You still have to read it, which is where the thought comes in. A memory is not a mind.

To anyone who subscribes to the myth of Clinton’s coruscating intellect I commend Edith Efron’s mightily persuasive 1994 article for Reason in which she diagnoses him as “cognitively disabled.”

Clinton’s high school friend David Leopoulos visited Clinton when he was at Oxford and found that Clinton had suddenly become a fount of information about painting. Leopoulos told a reporter, “He is interested in everything and wants to consume everything. He is almost a fanatic about information. He gathers and retains it better than anyone I’ve ever known.”

Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post jokes, “That’s Clinton: well-versed in every subject, has memorized the leading economic indicators for every quarter since the ’20s, knows how to say ‘fungibility’ in Farsi.”

Finally, Charles Allen and Jonathan Portis in The Comeback Kid describe the Clinton of the presidential campaign: “Clinton became known as a ‘policy wonk,’ a politician who could spout data and statistics nonstop, a man with a quick answer for every question. Members of the national press were amazed at his ability to formulate answers to complicated questions, seemingly without thinking.”

It is not “seemingly” without thinking. Very often, it is actually without thinking. Clinton can memorize as he breathes. But he finds thinking — analysis, evaluation, reaching conclusions — intensely difficult.

What we have here is a Jeopardy champion. (Bush, in personality the anti-Clinton, is “stupid” with reference to the same implicit standard.) It is an intellect for our time, in which, as Jacques Barzun puts it, an editorialist can commit a gross non-sequitur without comment and will be deluged with letters if he misstates by ten feet the height of the Chrysler Building. Clinton’s bloated book list, I suspect, was composed the same way he decided to nominate Steven Breyer for the Supreme Court, the only difference being that he couldn’t nominate twenty-one judges:

On May 23 [1994], Newsweek portrayed the absurdity of Clinton’s “waffling” in greater detail than ever before. It gave the readers a three-day scenario: “On Wednesday the president had been about to nominate Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt when he suddenly changed his mind. On Thursday, his choice had been an old Arkansas friend, Judge Richard Arnold, but by Friday, Arnold was out and [Judge Stephen] Breyer was in. ‘Let’s go,’ Clinton announced after yet another last minute phone call, and his staff, stung by a rash of media stories about White House dithering, rushed to carry out the presidential command. But before they could get out the door, Clinton hesitated. Maybe, he mused, he should put Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes on the court. That way he could elevate Baltimore’s promising young black mayor, Kurt Schmoke, to the Senate.” This, Newsweek reported, caused the president’s legal counselor, Lloyd Cutler, to grow “exasperated” and to insist that Clinton decide there and then. And thus did Breyer emerge triumphant from Clinton’s “maddening” decision-making process.

In early June, Clinton again felt impelled to defend himself from the charge of indecisiveness. But this time he got someone else to do it for him. Who better than legal counselor Lloyd Cutler? So there was Cutler, who had been privately “exasperated” by Clinton’s indecisiveness, explaining publicly in a long op-ed piece in The Washington Post that the president had not been indecisive at all, that, on the contrary, he had been wonderfully decisive.

A journalist once backed Clinton into a corner and asked him to choose one record, just one, to take with him to a desert island. Clinton waffled, hedged, and finally picked Colors of the Day, The Best of Judy Collins. “She inspired a whole generation who had the same kinda dreams,” said Clinton. He should have checked with Lloyd Cutler.

(Update: I take it all back. Clinton’s favorite book is 100 Years of Solitude — when he’s having dinner with Gabriel Garcia Marquez.)

Aaron Haspel | Posted November 22, 2003 @ 2:34 PM | Culture,Politics

28 Responses to “Both Sides Now”

  1. 1 1. Baloney

    I’ve got a new motto for your site: "God of the Machine: A Stick Up the Ass and a Stash of Benzies".


  2. 2 2. Bill Kaplan

    Good grief, this is NO ONE’s list of favorites. It is not even a list of also-rans of any single person. It looks as if this was a list collected by an organization of 21 members of different backgrounds, each of whom had to, on pain of expulsion, chose a work that represented the most boring but intellectually esteemed work they had read. In short, it is a list prepared by flipping through a college bookstore catalogue.

    It is obviously not enough for Clinton to have been a two term president. He must also have been thought "smart" in order to bolster his ego. Why else would he have even released such a list?
    And why would it be printed?


  3. 3 3. Aaron Haspel

    Well, no. Remind me why I should.


  4. 4 4. steve

    Since what makes America go is a good line of bullshit, not oil, I would have to conclude that Clinton was just fine.


  5. 5 5. David Sucher

    It’s not a matter of "should" or not. I was just clarifying your position as it wasn’t all that clear.


  6. 6 6. Alex(ei)

    For anyone familiar with card games, twenty-one is a much better, and more memorable number than twenty. I’d choose 21 over 20 anytime myself. Still, the list is obviously phony, no doubt about it. I’m beginning to wonder what my own top 21 would be.


  7. 7 7. David Sucher

    You don’t seem to like Clinton, do you.


  8. 8 8. David Novak

    The two safest poets? Certainly most mainstream, which says something about the selection process; but I give kudos to anyone selecting "Four Quartets" over anything else in the Eliot canon (yes, including Cats). It shows a discriminating intelligence, whether you agree with it or not or doubt that it belongs to Clinton.


  9. 9 9. Aaron Haspel

    I suppose the safest poet of the 20th century is still Frost, now that I think of it. As to Eliot, choosing "Gerontion" would have shown a lot more discrimination. It’s Clinton-itis again: which one does he like? "Burnt Norton"? "East Coker"? Or can he just not decide?


  10. 10 10. Michael Krantz

    >Remind me why I should.

    Well, since you asked: how about, because Clinton is the only president since at least before World War II who, on average, reduced federal discretionary spending each year he was in office; because he kept a campaign promise by fighting for and helping to pass the enormously important NAFTA free trade agreement; because he signed legislation deregulating the telecommunications and financial services industries, critical factors in the 90s economic boom; because he kept another campaign promise by fighting for and signing legislation reforming welfare, which helped take millions of people off the welfare rolls; because he kept another campaign promise by balancing the federal budget (actually, he only promised to reduce the size of the deficit), which also helped led to the 90s boom; and because he kept yet another campaign promise by fighting to use federal money to put 100,000 more cops on the street, helping spark the extraordinary reduction in crime levels.

    Oh, and along with his more notorious utterances, I would nominate "The era of big government is over" as a notable saying of Clinton’s, and his budgetary record bears out that he meant what he said. Unfortunately, we now have a liberal, Keynesian, big-government president, but that’s another story.


  11. 11 11. Aaron Haspel

    I didn’t find Clinton’s governance notably offensive, by recent (i.e., abominably low) standards. Just Clinton personally.

    No press releases in my comments in the future, please.


  12. 12 12. Floyd McWilliams

    I’ve got a new motto for your site: "God of the Machine: A Stick Up the Ass and a Stash of Benzies".

    Not much of an insult. Try telling Aaron that he sounds like Wittgenstein.


  13. 13 13. Michael Krantz

    When it comes to public figures, I care about results, not personalities. I thought you did, too.

    As for intelligence: in the past you’ve argued that intelligence is best measured in ability to solve complex problems and achieve results. Since Clinton’s results are, inarguably, about as positive as any post-World War II president, I would think you’d give him credit for intelligence. Since you do not, I would think you’d wonder why.


  14. 14 14. David Novak

    Back to the list: Aaron, the list was about books, not favorite "works". There might be an edition of "Gerontion and Other Poems" out there, but I have not seen it at the chains.


  15. 15 15. Bill Kaplan

    Michael:

    Let’s look at your Clinton list as objectively as possible and see if what you say is true.

    1) Did Clinton reduce discretionary spending because he actually reduced it or because he moved formerly discretionary dollars to entitlements thereby making them non-discretionary? There was much of the latter in his early years.

    2)He did fight for NAFTA, and that is greatly in his favor. Bush II ought to learn that a president can be reelected without buying votes through protectionism.

    3)I do not remember Clinton emphasizing deregulation of the communications and financial services industries in his campaigns. I do remember that much of the financial services side of that equation was already in place when Clinton came along. He is to be praised, mildly, for not getting too much in the way.

    4)Clinton reformed welfare at the barrel of a gun. Had the midterm election in his first term not ceded control of the House to Republicans he would have done about welfare what he did in his first two years–nothing. It was his concession to a devastating midterm loss.

    5)About the balanced budget I have only this to say: ALL POLITICIANS LIE ABOUT THE BUDGET BEING BALANCED BECAUSE SOCIAL SECURITY IS LEFT OUT OF THE EQUATION. Clinton did less, in fact much less, to "balance the budget" than did economic growth. Growth was in part generated by the deregulation and free trade policies previously discussed. However,please note that history does not judge the quality of a president by whether or not the budget is balanced. Washington and Lincoln ran a deficits. Silent Cal did not. I see no Coolidge memorial in Washington, although no doubt a modest one must exist somewhere because politicians must celebrate themselves.

    Now for what you left out:

    Clinton undermined this country’s stature abroad by turning the other cheek to vile tyrants the world over. Only in a Clinton administration could Arafat be treated as a diplomat and appear in the White House as regularly as Oprah on TV. Kim Jong Ill, trusted
    partner for peace, was allowed to increase his nuclear stockpile with a wink and an agreement.

    I just started sputtering to myself so I’ll stop. In short, guys like Carter and Clinton are disasters for the security of the nation. What we see today is a direct result of them wanting to be seen as "peacemakers".


  16. 16 16. Michael Krantz

    Bill:

    1) Clinton’s spending record is far superior to any other president since World War II. If he moved any significant amounts of discretionary spending to non-discretionary columns in the budget, I never heard about it, and I don’t quite get how you’d do that. The lines are pretty clearly drawn: interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid are non-discretionary, and comprise a large percentage of the federal budget. Everything else is discretionary, most notably military spending. The big part of Clinton-era savings came from the military, but not all of it, not by a long shot. Bottom line: discretionary spending dropped an average of 0.7% each year of the Clinton era, and it has been rising a grotesque 7.5% a year during the Bush II era (those numbers come from The Economist about 3 months ago, in case anyone wants to check). The Republican is spending your money, Bill, and the Democrat didn’t. Live with it.

    2) As you admit, Clinton (and even more than him, Gore) was a world leader in pushing to expand free trade, whereas Bush is a shameless protectionist of the worst sort. I’m convinced that if Gore had been elected, we’d be on the verge of a Latin America-wide free trade zone and that GATT would be moving forward. Instead, world free trade talks are in a shambles and Bush has Europe readying retaliatory tariffs due to his disgusting steel industry protectionism.

    3) The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was "the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in 62 years." (from the FCC website). The change this law wrought in the telecom industry in the late 90s was overwhelming, and continues to this day.

    As for financial services, the first article that came up on Google was published on November 1, 1999 on (amusingly) some social website:

    "An agreement between the Clinton administration and congressional Republicans, reached during all-night negotiations which concluded in the early hours of October 22, sets the stage for passage of the most sweeping banking deregulation bill in American history, lifting virtually all restraints on the operation of the giant monopolies which dominate the financial system."

    So: ’96 and ’99. These were both immensely important acts, both championed by Clinton, and, together with expanded free trade and a balanced budget (and therefore low interest rates), they set in motion the longest economic boom in American history (not to mention the huge banking and telecom-industry scandals that followed). Where you get the idea that any of this happened before Clinton was in office, I don’t know, but you’re wrong. This was all him working with Congressional Republicans.

    4) Clinton certainly was pushed toward the center by the Gingrich sweep in ’94, but I don’t think he signed the welfare reform bill "at the barrel of a gun;" most Democrats were against it, and were furious at him for signing it, so I have no idea who you think was pointing a gun at him. I think he did it because he thought was the right thing to do, and because he knew it would help him get reelected. Regardless, he signed it, and that and the strong economy got millions of people off of welfare entirely on Clinton’s watch.

    Finally: Clinton undermined this nation’s stature abroad? That’s an amusing statement to make in autumn 2003. His foreign policy could be feckless, to say the least, but at least it wasn’t completely incompetent, like our current president, who has screwed up both Afghanistan (where the Taliban is taking over again, and bin Laden and company live comfortably in tribal Pakistan) and now Iraq. This administration’s conduct of the War on Terror has been utterly inexcusable. Do you have any idea how large a part of America’s intelligence and Special Ops resources were pulled out of the hunt for Al Queda in Afghanistan/Pakistan so they could look for non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? How do you feel about the fact that we’re letting weeks and weeks worth of Al Queda phone intercepts go untranslated because all our Arabic speakers are in Baghdad — and that Bush is going to let Iraq go to hell, too, because staying the course would be inconvenient for his reelection? I supported the invasion of Iraq, but only because I could not then imagine that even this White House could be capable of such a complete lack of planning and spinelessness —

    But now I’m starting to sputter. Bottom line: Clinton was a damn good president, Bush is an outright disaster, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a moron.

    Just kidding. Sort of.


  17. 17 17. Jim Valliant

    All of our "great" leaders since God knows when have been a foreign policy nightmare! Instead of focusing (like the pols want to) on the so-called "intelligence failures" that led to 9-11, how about the far more serious and inexcusable POLICY FAILURES?! (Clinton and others destroy our human intelligence capacity and who gets the blame for 9-11? The intelligence community!) The "War on Terror" has failed to even identify the enemy properly: while the Dems criticize the Iraq War (after all, how was Saddam connected to 9-11?), the Reps insist that this war on terror has nothing to do with ideology or religion.

    Religious fanatics kidnapped our diplomats in 1979–no response. In 1993, religious fanatics bomb the World Trade Center–no response. The U.S.S. Cole, the African embassies, etc.–Clinton lobs a few missiles at an aspirin factory and some empty tents on the day he was to testify before the Grand Jury… We practically sent an engraved invitation to attack us!

    Clinton and Carter and Bush senior and the goddamn New York Times all deserve credit for the slaughter on 9-11. (Reagan, too, fled Lebanon with his tail between his legs, although he was really a mixed bag. At least he bombed Libya which ended most of the violence from that quarter.) Appeasement bred our current situation–and Clinton gets most of the credit!!

    Oh, sure, the current President is fighting his "war" like a diplomat or a bureaucrat, but the proximate CAUSE of 9-11 was Slick Willy’s incredibly non-existent reaction to the first Islamic terrorism on American soil…


  18. 18 18. Bill Kaplan

    Yes Michael why did we go after Sadaam? I don’t understand why we went after Hitler either. After all, wasn’t it was the Japanese that bombed Pearl Harbor, not Germany? Hiroito and Hitler never coordinated operations, just like Sadaam and the Ladenistas. Why did we go after Hitler? Think of all the dead. And it is really so awful what we did to the Germans. They wouldn’t have attacked us, would they? Their goals and Hiroito’s weren’t the same, were they? They had different languages and customs. And while that awful Japan was focused on Asia, the Germans concentrated on Europe. And the Bushidos were religious fanactics, where as the Nazis are merely political thugs.

    God, Michael, are you really so thick as to believe terrorists WEREN’T materially supported by Sadaam?

    Now back to Clinton.

    1- The answer to your 1 is that during Clinton’s terms unfunded mandates given by the federal government to the states produced net positive results for the federal government and negative results for the states. Add back those monies and watch the numbers change. This is what I meant by making discretionary spending nondiscretionary. The states have no discretion in the matter.

    2- I granted you 2 about Mr. Clinton, but I doubt that salamander kissing Mr. Gore
    could break himself away from his ANTI-GLOBAL TRADE buddies to expand a free trade area.

    3-It must be nice not knowing things that occurred before the internet. Financial deregulation has been happening in increments almost since Glass-Stegall was enacted. By 1999 only its ghost was was left to be dispersed. Alan Greenspan must be given much credit for it happening, but, as I said, Clinton didn’t get in the way.

    As for communications deregulation, there is an interesting story. The RAND Institute in the mid 1950’s figured out that because of the centralized architecture of our phone system the whole network was vulnerable in case of a nuclear event. When their findings were shown to the head of AT&T, he took the position that restructuring would not benefit AT&T as too much value of the network was represented by fixed costs. It was the court decision to break up AT&T in the 1980’s that set deregulation in motion as different companies had different objectives. In short, deregulation happened under Clinton’s watch, and to his credit, he didn’t get too much in the way. But the impetus was political and was started decades earlier.

    4-Barrel of Newt’s gun. End of story.

    Yes Michael, Clinton destroyed America’s stature. Here is the rule: The success of a president’s foreign policy is inversely proportional to the number and unanimity of accolades he receives from the diplomatic community. "Get the bombers ready" Reagan ended the cold war while being vilefied. Jimmy Carter created the forces for Islamic terror while being called a man of peace.


  19. 19 19. Aaron Haspel

    Boys, boys. This is not a forum for discussing Clinton’s policy; there are plenty of suitable places to do that if it’s what floats your boat. The topic of the post was Clinton’s supposed intellect; let’s stick to that.


  20. 20 20. Bill Kaplan

    Clinton’s reading list is at worst a lie and at best proves nothing. You are intelligent, very intelligent, if you can look at a children’s game and invent game theory. That you can read a book about about game theory and maybe understand it or quote it is too low a standard to count for anything at all.


  21. 21 21. acdouglas

    I took a look at the comments count, and found it…amazing, all things considered. Then I looked at the actual comments.

    Should have guessed it before looking.

    Jesus.

    ACD


  22. 22 22. Michael Krantz

    Kappie, you reveal yourself as a partisan of the worst sort. You sound like Rush Limbaugh: anything good that happened on Clinton’s watch was mostly due to other people, and he just "didn’t get in the way." Whatever. I covered the tech/telecom/financial worlds throughout the decades, and for now I’ll just say that your opinions about telecom and financial industry reform are, to say the least, minority ones.

    And frankly, your depiction of Clinton’s foreign policy is equally suspect. Long before 9/11, Clinton, based on alarmed intel about Al Queda, signed an executive order authorizing the assassination of bin Laden; the infamous "aspirin factory" attack was an attempt on bin Laden’s life which apparently only missed him by a few hours. As Bush is now learning, bin Laden’s a tough guy to pin down.

    As for North Korea: you trash Clinton for dealing with a dictator just like Bush did during the ’00 campaign. But anyone who gives the matter a moment’s thought knows that there are no acceptable alternatives, which is why the Bush administration is now coming around to the same position, and will cut the same sort of deal, guaranteed.

    As for Arafat: Clinton put huge effort into trying to broker deals in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland. Irish-Americans hated him for talking with Gerry Adams the same way Jewish-Americans criticize him for talking with Arafat. Turns out the IRA was ready to cut a deal and the PLO wasn’t, which is why Clinton helped bring a lasting peace to Northern Ireland and not to Israel. But of course, in the Bush/Sharon years, Arafat has been marginalized about as you would wish, and the result, of course, is just endless violence.

    Finally: your statement that 9/11 is basically "Slick Willy’s" fault. This is ugly, false nonsense. By the end of the Clinton years, his White House security people were OBSESSED with Al Queda; as noted above, he did his best to murder bin Laden. And during the transition, Clinton’s people told Bush’s security people that their TOP PRIORITY had to be tracking and fighting Al Queda. The Bush people knew better, of course; Clinton and his band of pinkos couldn’t possibly have anything to tell them about national security. So they ignored the Al Queda report to concentrate on bigger threats, like China (their first attempt at creating a boogey-man for Bush to scare the American people with) and, of course, Iraq. (If you don’t know this history, Kappie, I’ll be glad to go find citations for you.)

    The truth, of course, is bipartisan. The high point, for me, of the Bush administration thus far was the president’s recent speech about democracy and the Middle East, in which he said one of the only truly difficult and honest things I’ve ever heard the man say: that the "fault" for what has happened to the Arab world in the past century lies with 60 years of U.S. administrations that winked and nodded at the Saudi and other Arab oil elites, letting them buy their power by funding Wahhabiism as long as they kept the OPEC spigot on. Democrats and Republicans alike are implicated in this long-unfolding disaster; to claim, as you do, that Clinton bears any special responsibility for 9/11 is shallow, false partisanship of the worst sort.

    And once again, given our current White House, it couldn’t be more ironic; nobody on this planet is more fully in bed with the Saudi royals than the Bush family. Ask yourself sometime why dozens of Saudi princelings were secretly flown out of the U.S. without being questioned (and probably on White House orders) in the days after 9/11. If Clinton had done something like that, people like Kaplan would be baying for impeachment. But because Bush did it, people like Kaplan find these weird, arcane reasons to blame Clinton anyway. Your willful partisan blindness is kind of pathetic.


  23. 23 23. steve

    Beats me why John Marquand’s, "Think Fast, Mr. Moto" didn’t make Clinton’s list. Or Eliot’s "Whispers of Immortality" with Grishkin being so nice with that Russian eye of hers. Wow.


  24. 24 24. Jim Valliant

    Yeah, when Clinton had the first World Trade Center bombing in ’93, what we really needed was a "book ‘em Dano!" law-enforcement investigation! His "obsesion" with the person of bin Laden is just exactly the point. When cops are looking for a crook, its the MAN they’re after. When an act of war happens, we should not be so particular and the whole Islamicist movement, al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, and ALL allied institutions must be hit about 100x harder than they hit us. ONLY that would have had a chance of preventing 9-11…


  25. 25 25. Maximus

    I like what Jimmy writes.

    Michael, you have been giving Clinton the intellectual equivalent of a blow-job ever since I saw you in your office at SELF magazine in 1991 and you were talking about how he had more charisma than anyone since JFK. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that you and Monica Lewinsky are attracted to Clinton on the same grounds that you both loathe Bush; namely an aesthetic preference admixed with a suspicion, which seems to be induced by the drinking water in New York City, that Republicans sit around in their country clubs talking about how to kill all the Jews.


  26. 26 26. David Fiore

    Aaron,

    Just came across your site (through ACD)–I like it!

    I think you’re dead right about the "Public-Relations" quality of this list (and everyone that has stuck to the topic seems to agree…)

    What I wonder is–who is Clinton trying to impress? He’s run his political race–you’d think this would be the time he could just kick back and really tell us what he thinks, without worrying any real or imagined "constituency".

    Now, unlike some of the commenters, I’m perfectly willing to accept that Clinton chose all of these personally–but that’s what makes it so sad! If he knows David Donald, then he should have chosed the amazing two-volume Sumner biography for God’s sake. But no, some of the people glancing at this little blast of erudition might not remember who Charles Sumner is, or not remember him for the right reasons… so Clinton goes for the good, but not as good Lincoln book–after all, I’m sure he wants people to know he likes Lincoln right?

    I can actually believe that Clinton loves Maya Angelou’s book, but that’s one of the problems with Clinton, he’s too much the soft multi-culty to be a REAL liberal like, oh, say, Pierre Trudeau was…

    And You Can’t Go Home Again? Well, Aaron, I can’t agree that YCGHA is the worst famous book of the past two centuries (I would bestow that honour to Dracula, which, despite the fact that it’s unreadable, is rapidly attaining something like "classic" status–which is disgusting), because anything by Thomas Wolfe is going to have some moments of incredible power and flat-out brilliant writing–but if Clinton really loved T.W. you’d think he would’ve picked one of the books that the author actually put together himself (either Look Homeward, Angel or–my personal favourite–Of Time and the River)…
    But the most damning thing about this list is its’ sheer heterogeneity. I have read, and enjoyed/appreciated a great many books in my time, but if I was asked to chose my favourite twenty-one books, I think the list would be much more thematically coherent. Anyone who has actually reflected on what they’ve read (I mean anyone who "reads for lustres", as I do) would have the same problem…

    In my case, you wouldn’t find much that comes before Milton, and you wouldn’t find anything that doesn’t deal with the intellectual legacy of the Reformation.

    Thanks for drawing my attention to this foolishness.

    David


  27. 27 27. tom b

    You know, God, there’s a flaw in instructions re this thread. It tempts spoilsports. It’s an attractive nuisance, I could sue.

    (He means the comment above. unless some other prick co-opts my place and god’s praise. It’s still the one above, but the next new-shall-be-last might not be so gracious as me, and you’d never know, having skipped the rest.)

    PS: 100 Years of ‘Tude is a negative indicator par excellence. Invariably ref’ed by people whose word I wouldn’t take for anything.

    It knocks the socks off a certain type of already-very-loose-socks-wearing human being.

    (my memoir’s working title is 1000 pages of mollitude, btw)


  28. 28 28. Bill Kaplan

    My lovely wife actually likes Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s work, but opines that "Love in the Time of the Cholera" was superior to "100 Years".


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