He’s got a little list

When Hillary’s in D.C. and Bill’s alone in Chappaqua, he likes to curl up with Thomas a Kempis’ “The Imitation of Christ” or “Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics” by Reinhold Niebuhr. Poetry? It’s Eliot, Yeats or Angelou. Yeah, sure.

For the opening of an exhibit on books he received as gifts, Bill Clinton released a list of his 21 favorite books. Terry Teachout and Jane Galt have their doubts. Jane writes:

It’s exquisitely sculpted to cast him as the perfect New Democratic intellectual, with nods to every ethnic constituency, every intellectual pretension, and of course, with TS Eliot, the aging hippie stoner “Wow, like that stuff totally blew my mind, man — it’s like, uber-groovy” contingent. It’s also (as all such lists are) perfectly false. I find it impossible to believe, for example, that WB Yeats is your favorite poet if you are not Irish. I find it doubly impossible to believe that TS Eliot (Four Quartets) is actually one of Bill Clinton’s 21 favorite books. Politicians might as well title these lists “people whose names will make me look smart to intellectuals and inoffensive to voters” and be done with it.

I can believe he likes Yeats. I can’t believe T.S. Eliot and Maya Angelou on the same list.

About Joanne


  1. D Anghelone says:

    Chattaqua = Chappaqua

    He’s mentioned Marcus Aurelius before and that may be the most telling of his reading list.

    Hmmm…Chattaqua apparently means “Cat’s Corner” so maybe you are right.

  2. Why can’t you believe it? For that matter, why disbelieve anything on the list? Bill Clinton, whatever you may think of him, is a ridiculously smart guy who–to judge from everything I’ve read about him–reads a lot. He is also not intellectually pretentious. The list seems believable to me.

    BTW, to say that Yeats can only be your favorite poet if you’re Irish (as Jane Galt did) is silly and pretentious.

  3. Ken Summers says:

    Bill Clinton is a ridiculously smart guy who never did anything that was not calculated to shape his image or affect his political standing.

  4. Ken,
    I can think of at least one thing Bill Clinton did that was not calculated to shape his image or affect his political standing. It got him impeached.

  5. I can believe Maya Angelou. For one thing, she actually read a poem at his first inauguration. For another, she’s a poetry equivalent to Kenny G — whom Clinton pegged sometime during his first campaign as his “favorite saxophonist”.

  6. “to judge from everything I’ve read about him–reads a lot” To judge from what I’ve read and heard, he’s the king of Cliff’s Notes style reading. But I’ve never actually met the man myself so my info is all second hand.

  7. If you want a balanced view of Clinton’s intellect, read David Gergen’s Eyewitness to Power, especially pages 319-322.

    BTW, JC, what is “Cliff’s Notes style reading”?

  8. seafarious says:

    I always thought “Leaves of Grass” was one of his favorites?

    After all, he gave a copy of LoG to both Hillary and Monica…


  9. Actually, he gave Monica a copy of Leaves o’Grass on two different occasions.

  10. Daniel Kravetz says:

    “…got a little list” quoting THE MIKADO by Gilbert and Sullivan. Nice to see a well-placed G&S reference from a fellow Stanford grad!

  11. Ken Summers says:

    Excellent point, Ross!

  12. Hey, Dan! Good to hear from you.

    I’ll fix Chattaqua/Chappaqua.

  13. As an Irish girl, whose father’s favorite poet happens to be Yeats, I adore the man. But I have to confess that there are nonetheless better poets than he. Auden, for example, who wrote his most moving elegy. Yeats had some great poems — but he also wrote quite a lot of drivel. Having the entire “collected poems” on your favorite books list smacks of pandering to the remaining Irish catholics in the party rather than genuine affection. But maybe that’s just me.

  14. And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that when asked, Bill Clinton names, as his favorite Yeats poem, one of his famous pieces of drivel, rather than one of his genuinely great pieces.

  15. Dan Maxfield says:

    Q: What did Kenny G say when he first got on an elevator?

    A: “Man, this place ROCKS!”

  16. Y’all can like or dislike anything you read. But Jane Galt’s comments about Yeats are just plain stupid. And Joanne Jacob’s dismay about Eliot and Angelou on the same list is obtuse. Is it really a surprise to anyone that each of us has different tastes in reading? Is it any kind of surprise that women’s tastes in reading differ from men’s? Get a grip folks. Unless, of course, this is just one of those routine conservative Clinton-bashing exercises. In that case, have at it. It seems to promote mental health among the right wing.

  17. Well, Yeats is much more popular at American universities than he is in Ireland so I can believe that Clinton reads him.

    Angelou, I can believe that. Clinton has white guilt.

    Eliot, no, I don’t believe anyone really likes Eliot.

    Clinton is a liar, sure, but he’s smart and he’s a voracious reader.

  18. This is a coincidental thread for me; I just picked up Yeats’s collected poems.

    I agree that a lot of Yeats poems are topical, and have already started to show their age. The Irish struggle doesn’t have as much poignancy in an age where the Irish are no longer theocratic Papists (sorry if that offends, but that much was true for too long), the IRA is detested as a terror organisation, the infrastructure is better than England’s and so is a good part of the economy, the Gaelic language is protected, the Troubles are winding down, and everybody is stumbling toward the EU.

    And other poets in the English-language canon wrote topical poems. Dryden and Pope were practically editorial columnists in verse. Byron would sideswipe his poetic and political foes repeatedly in his epics. Centuries later no-one is thinking about throwing away their books.

    1916 aside, Yeats will prove immortal, if only for “The Second Coming”.

  19. “The Second Coming” is the only Yeats poem I can think of off-hand.

    But I like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Horribly, I find myself quoting it at times. (I grow old. I grow old.) (Do I dare to eat a peach?)

    (I have to wonder why anyone who finds us so stupid and disgusting bothers to visit this site. Maybe it’s an exercise in worm-eating (an allusion to another great poem.))

  20. John wrote: Unless, of course, this is just one of those routine conservative Clinton-bashing exercises. In that case, have at it. It seems to promote mental health among the right wing.

    “Promote” it, or merely confirm it?

    (Score:-1, Troll)

  21. If Clinton really did read The Imitation of Christ, then he apparently didn’t put a lot of effort into practicing what he read.

  22. Bill Leonard says:

    He identified Kenny G. as his favorite saxophonist during his first presidential campaign? Hmm… As I recall, there was the famous MTV appearance, where some best-forgotten airhead asked him who his major musical influence was. Thelonius Monk, Clinton replied. Then (and I am not making this up) she says, “Who was the loneliest monk?”

    And yes, Twn, you’re spot-on: Maya Angelou is to poetry as Kenny G. is to jazz.

  23. jeff wright says:

    5{ker all you want about Clinton’s reading list. But the fact is this is a man with a powerful intellect. He’s probably glanced at everything on his list, but I suspect he didn’t enjoy some of it. You have to go back a long way to find a president so obviously well-read.

    Any guesses on what sort of reading list we’d see from the current occupant of the White House?

  24. Jeff,
    The Bible?

  25. Jeff, I know he read “Bias” which I really liked! Lol.