Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Presidential Bond

Certain American presidents have done a great deal to boost book sales, while others have not (despite their claims to be reading the works of Albert Camus). President-elect Barack Obama has already digested Doris Kearns Goodwin’s wonderful work about Abraham Lincoln’s administration, Team of Rivals, and appears to be taking cues from his fellow Illinoisan’s approach to cabinet-building. Obama is also said to be plowing through books about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous first 100 days in office as he tries to comprehend the sheer magnitude of the tasks awaiting him when he enters the White House on January 20, 2009.

That’s a lot of serious reading. Perhaps he’d be smart to grab a crime novel or thriller for some lighter relief.

The Guardian’s literary editor, Robert McCrum, has put together an interesting article that looks back at the reading choices made by two U.S. presidents, Democrats Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, both of whom enjoyed works from our favorite genre.
When the newly-elected Kennedy was asked at a press conference about his favourite reading when relaxing, he identified Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. All at once, there was a stampede to locate Fleming’s oeuvre.

Fleming, who had been writing Bond books since 1953, became an overnight bestseller, and never looked back.

Ironically, this had more to do with class than literature. Fleming had served in British intelligence during the Second World War, and was well connected in Washington, D.C., In 1960, on a visit to D.C., the raffish, and intriguing thriller writer was invited to a Washington drinks party where he was introduced to JFK. Unabashed by the young senator’s star power, Fleming told Kennedy that he knew a way to get rid of Castro. This was both shrewd and amusing: Castro was a notorious irritant to the Democrats.

Kennedy, amused, asked him how. Fleming, entering into the spirit of the conversation, said that Castro’s beard was his--so to say--Achilles heel. Without the beard he was ordinary. With the beard he was ... Castro. So the U.S. should announce that facial hair attracts radioactivity, and could be fatal. For good measure they should add that radioactivity could make a man sterile. For a Cuban, impotence would be a fate worse than death.

Fleming suggested that if JFK followed this strategy, Castro would shave off his beard, lose his singularity, and fall from power once Cubans saw him as an ordinary person.

Kennedy was apparently greatly entertained by this amusing fantasy, and when he began to inquire into the witty Englishman’s background, discovered the Bond books, and became an avid reader.
You can read all of McCrum’s piece here.

READ MORE:How to Read Like a President,” by Jon Meacham (The New York Times); “JFK at 100: 007’s Biggest Fan,” by Bill Koenig (The Spy Command); “The Dreaming Endures,” by J. Kingston Pierce (The Rap Sheet).


Anonymous said...

Clinton was also an early supporter of Michael Connelly

Michael Carlson said...

And Clinton was pictured arriving in Britain carrying a novel by Stephen Hunter--the Telegraph, to whom I'd submitted a review they passed on, then saw the pic on their front page and asked if they could use the review...the Times' Erica Wagner, to whom I'd sent it next, wouldnt take a call.....

BTW Dwight Eisenhower's favourite read was Zane Grey