By Sean Carroll | December 28, 2005 12:59 pm

I was never a big Bill Clinton fan — so much ability squandered on just keeping himself afloat, no willingness to take a tough stand on principle alone. But he did have his charms. Here’s Gabriel García Márquez, describing a dinner with William Styron, Carlos Fuentes, and Clinton:

When we asked him what he was reading, he sighed and mentioned a book on the economic wars of the future, author and title unknown to me.

“Better to read ‘Don Quixote,'” I said to him. “Everything’s in there.” Now, the ‘Quixote’ is a book that is not read nearly as much as is claimed, although very few will admit to not having read it. With two or three quotes, Clinton showed that he knew it very well indeed. Responding, he asked us what our favorite books were. Styron said his was “Huckleberry Finn.”

I would have said “Oedipus Rex,” which has been my bed table book for the last 20 years, but I named “The Count of Monte Cristo,” mainly for reasons of technique, which I had some trouble explaining.

Clinton said his was the “Meditations of Marcus Aurelius,” and Carlos Fuentes stuck loyally to “Absalom, Absalom,” Faulkner’s stellar novel, no question, although others would choose “Light in August” for purely personal reasons. Clinton, in homage to Faulkner, got to his feet and, pacing around the table, recited from memory Benji’s monologue, the most thrilling passage, and perhaps the most hermetic, from “The Sound and the Fury.”

The resemblance to GW Bush is uncanny! He’s an avid reader too. Really!

  • Cameron

    I once wrote President Clinton about the books that most influenced his growing up and as president. He wrote back and included a list of 21 books that he felt really had an impact on him. They included:

    Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
    The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
    Lincoln by David Donald
    One Hundred Years of Solitude by G.G. Marquez
    Politics as a Vocation by Max Weber
    The Evolution of Civilizations by Carroll Quigley

    plus 14 others. It was a diverse list.

  • a.krug

    “Benji’s monologue” being the entire first section of the book? Huh?

    (Perhaps there is some short passage to which this phrase might refer — it’s been a long time since I read the book — but this just doesn’t have the ring of truth.)

  • spyder

    Why do I suspect that the books Marquez et al were discussing weren’t the large print, abridged, golden reader Cliff note versions like those of the books that are being read to Bush??

  • Arun

    You may not have seen this yet (from rec.humor.funny):

    Crawford, Texas (AP)

    A tragic flood this morning destroyed the personal library of President George W. Bush. The flood began in the presidential bathroom where the books were kept. Both books have been lost. A presidential spokesman said the president was devastated, as he had almost finished coloring the second one. The White House tried to call FEMA but there was no answer.

  • Jennifer

    Cameron, I’d love to know the other 14 books on his list.

  • Cameron

    Jennifer, here they are:

    -I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
    -Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch
    -Living History by Hillary Clinton
    -The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
    -Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
    -The Way of the World: From the Dawn of Civilzations to the Eve of the 21st Century by David Fromkin
    -The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles’s Philoctetes by Seamus Heaney
    -King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Herois in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild
    -The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis
    -Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics by Reinhold Niebuhr
    -Home to Catalonia by George Orwell
    -The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
    -You Can’t Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe
    -Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright
    -The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats by W.B. Yeats

  • Sean

    The best thing about being president is that you get invited to William Styron’s house for dinner with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes.

    So, which of Clinton’s list of books doesn’t quite belong? I mean, I know you have to be polite to your wife, but still…

  • Pingback: Entertaining Research » Blog Archive » Presidential read!()

  • Jennifer

    Thanks Cameron….very interesting list. I love the Seamus Heaney piece but I’m surprised it is there…Clinton is an interesting person to analyze, much good and bad, but I heard him give an interview once and he is sharp as a tack, it was a pleasure listening to him.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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