The Weblog

Home for the heteronomous

The Great Books President

Reading this article on Obama’s reading habits, I was struck by how traditional his choices were — and at the same time how enthusiastic he seemed to be about them, how deeply he seemed to engage. He seems like a true believer in the Great Books paradigm, and his rhetoric matches, with all his talk of meeting contemporary challenges with timeless truths.

In such an anti-intellectual country the impact is probably small, but I think the fact that he is so resolutely, traditionally, and apparently contentedly Western in his thinking was one aspect of the “normalization” process that made Americans able to swallow the idea of a man with such an unusual name and background as president.


January 20, 2009 - Posted by | books, politics


  1. Obama is a dull person. It’s one of his selling points.

    Comment by strasmangelo jones | January 20, 2009

  2. What a relief that we’ll never have to worry about a slip-up like Al Gore’s admission that his favorite philosopher was Merleau-Ponty.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 20, 2009

  3. IIRC, Dreams from my Father also describes his college years, during which he read Foucault and associated with art critics. This was also the years of cocaine experimentation.

    Comment by marichiweu | January 20, 2009

  4. Mr. Obama tends to take a magpie approach to reading — ruminating upon writers’ ideas and picking and choosing those that flesh out his vision of the world or open promising new avenues of inquiry.

    The Wodehouse in me wants to respond, “Oh, is that what magpies do, then?”

    Comment by A White Bear | January 20, 2009

  5. I have a set of “Great Books”, bought it 10-15 years ago. Except for the car, that was pretty much the only big item I shipped to Switzerland.

    And I haven’t read a single one of them. I mean, I certainly have read some of the titles, but none of these physical tomes I own. I know I’m doomed to drag them with me wherever I go till the rest of my days without ever opening and reading a single page.

    One of those things, absurd things.

    Comment by abb1 | January 21, 2009

  6. I actually read Hegel’s Philosophy of History in the Great Books edition.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | January 21, 2009

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: