The top of the ticket proves the point. Although President Obama may occasionally bust out David Mitchell’s “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,” he sticks to — in public at least — works such as Fareed Zakaria’s “The Post-American World,” which he was photographed carrying around during the 2008 campaign; Edmund Morris’s “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” which he read during the health-care reform debates; and Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland,” which he read in the heat of the financial crisis in 2009. And Vice President Biden’s list includes Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” Peter Beinart’s “The Icarus Syndrome,” James Traub’s “The Freedom Agenda” and, of course, Brooks’s “The Social Animal.”
The reading lists matter. Books can communicate candidates’ intellectual predilections and policy preferences, but they also humanize them. When voters hear that a potential leader of the free world enjoys a book they’ve read, it forges a connection.
When you turn to some of the GOP 2012 presidential hopefuls, a very different book club materializes. Their preferred titles, assuming they in fact do read them (an open question with all politicians), suggest a more wide-ranging and surprising — even a little eccentric — intellectual field:
MICHELE BACHMANN — THE CONVERTED CONSERVATIVE
The Minnesota congresswoman has talked up the influence of the writings of the Austrian economic heavyweight Ludwig von Mises, as well as American free marketers such as Walter Williams, Milton Friedman and Arthur Laffer. As Bachmann put it, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring Von Mises.”
Such books score points with voters who are ideologically committed to small government and unfettered capitalism. As Politico’s Alexander Burns said, the list “flaunts her righty intellectual cred.” Even if most conservative primary voters have not read Friedman or Von Mises, Bachmann understands that conservatives trust a politician who has internalized sophisticated defenses of free markets. It suggests that such candidates will stand on principle and are less likely to be swayed by the ways of Washington.
Bachmann also reports reading “Game Change,” a bestselling account of the 2008 presidential race by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin — suggesting a pragmatic candidate who is focused on the intricacies of campaign politics. But another book looms large in the story of Bachmann’s awakening: She has repeatedly credited Gore Vidal’s “Burr” (a fictional memoir of Aaron Burr and one of Vidal’s cynical novels about American history) for turning her into a Republican.