U.S. President Barack Obama speaks while meeting with President-elect Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office Nov. 10, 2016 in Washington, DC. 
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

The literary dividing line between Trump and Obama

The list of differences between Barack Obama and Donald Trump is exhausting to even think about, but yesterday, we were reminded of one dissimilarity that was especially striking.

The New York Times sat down last week with the outgoing president to focus on Obama’s love of books.
Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped – in his life, convictions and outlook on the world – by reading and writing as Barack Obama.

Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life – from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when “these worlds that were portable” provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.

During his eight years in the White House – in a noisy era of information overload, extreme partisanship and knee-jerk reactions – books were a sustaining source of ideas and inspiration, and gave him a renewed appreciation for the complexities and ambiguities of the human condition.
The transcript of the interview is worth your time, if only to get a better sense of just how much importance the president places on the written word.

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted, the ability to slow down and get perspective, along with the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes – those two things have been invaluable to me,” Obama said. “Whether they’ve made me a better president, I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years.”

A couple of days later, Trump talked to Axios’ co-founders, Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei, and the reporters asked the incoming president about his own appreciation for books. One asked, for example, what’s on his nightstand.

Trump showed them John Ferling’ “Adams v Jefferson,” which was on his desk. Asked if they should read it, the president-elect said, “No, I wouldn’t.” It led to this exchange:
Q: Is there [a book] you actually like that you’d recommend?

TRUMP: I like a lot of books. I like reading books. I don’t have the time to read very much now in terms of the books, but I like reading them. This one is just one that just came out. CNN. The CNN book just came out.
He was referring, of course, to a book about himself.

A few days before the election, Trump was asked to name his favorite books. He named the two ghost-written books he claims to have written: “The Art of the Deal” and “Surviving at the Top.”

Way back in 2005, I wrote a piece about George W. Bush’s reading habits, which I found fascinating, though unsettling. It’s hard not to get the impression, though, that the former president may end up looking like a literary scholar compared to the man who’ll be sworn in tomorrow.


Barack Obama and Donald Trump

The literary dividing line between Trump and Obama