The books that 10 US presidents think everyone should read

Former U.S. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Getty Images/Rob Carr

For many former presidents, literature has played a huge role in shaping their worldview and how they approach decision-making.

Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have both released recommended reading lists on social media, while many others have discussed their favourite books in past interviews.

The elder George Bush said he learned everything about life from reading Leo Tolstoy’s multi-generational epic “War and Peace”. Ronald Reagan used to read Tom Clancy novels for inspiration before challenging summits with his Russian counterparts.

Other former US presidents’ recommendations include “The Hunt for Red October” and “Macbeth”.

If you want to read like a president, scroll on.

Donald Trump: “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque

President Donald Trump is not an avid reader, by his own admission. Apart from recommending partisan books praising him or attacking Hillary Clinton, Trump hasn’t publicly discussed or published a recommended a reading list the way past presidents have.

The White House also did not respond to Business Insider’s request for Trump’s book recommendations. However, in a 2016 interview with Michael Wolff, Trump called “All Quiet on the Western Front,” written by a German World War I veteran, “one of the greatest books of all time.”

The book describes the extreme physical and mental toll that war takes on soldiers, and how difficult it is to reintegrate back into civilian life.

Barack Obama: “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City” by Matthew Desmond

In “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond follows eight Milwaukee families on the brink of poverty, and sheds light on the profound challenges impoverished families face.

The nonfiction book is on of Obama’s list of his 12 favourite books from 2017, where you can find more of the 44th president’s recommendations.

George W. Bush: “The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny And Terror” by Natan Sharansky

George W. Bush, the 43rd President, was so enamoured with Natan Sharansky’s ‘Case for Democracy‘ that he awarded the Soviet-born, Israeli author a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006.

Sharansky wrote the book after being jailed nine years for speaking out against the Soviet regime. In his book, he makes the case that only democracies can safeguard the well-being of citizens. Sharansky held a number of posts in the Israeli government, including a stint as Deputy Prime Minister.

Bill Clinton: “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid

Bill Clinton. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Like Obama, former President Bill Clinton released a list of his favourite books in 2017. Mohsin Hamid’s satirical work “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” appeared high on the list.

The fictional work features a sickly boy with big dreams; it parodies the style of popular self-help books and offers a scathing critique of no-holds-barred capitalism.

George H.W. Bush: “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy

The elder Bush has said in interviews that he read Tolstoy’s epic “War and Peace” twice, and that it “taught him a lot about life.”

Tolstoy wrote the work between 1862 and 1869, weaving a multi-generational tale of five aristocratic families in Russia with philosophical meditations on the nature of human existence.

Ronald Reagan: “The Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy


President Ronald Reagan was a huge Tom Clancy fan, and was reported to have read Clancy’s books to gain insight into his Soviet nemeses before big meetings. The feeling seems to have been mutual: Clancy visited Reagan in the White House.

The Hunt for Red October” is Clancy’s seminal work. The book tells the story of a Soviet submarine caught in a political cat-and-mouse game, and the formerly desk-bound CIA agent at the center of it all.

Jimmy Carter: “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee and Walker Evans

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” is regarded as one of the seminal works on American life in the early 20th century. The book paints a vivid picture of the lives of white sharecroppers in the South.

Paired with Evans’ photos, the work was met with critical acclaim when it was published. Carter could relate to elements of the story: He grew up without electricity and plumbing on a peanut farm in Georgia.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library Museum and Boyhood Home lists Mark Twain’s somewhat bizarre story about an engineer from Connecticut sent back to Arthurian England as the former president’s favourite work.

In “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” the engineer tries to solve the ills plaguing Medieval English society with 19th-century innovations.

Eisenhower’s other favourite book, according to the library, was the Bible.

John F. Kennedy: “From Russia With Love” by Ian Fleming

JFK had a thing for James Bond novels. When dealing with the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy famously said he wished James Bond was on his staff.

From Russia With Love,” is considered one of 007 author Ian Fleming’s strongest works. It was turned into a movie starring Sean Connery.

Abraham Lincoln: “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare


Lincoln was said to have read aloud from “Macbeth” just days before he was shot to death at the Ford’s Theatre.

Although Lincoln was an avid Shakespeare fan, he told a friend in a letter that “nothing equals Macbeth.”

The play examines how the pursuit of power for power’s sake can drive an ambitious politician to madness. The titular character, Macbeth, is a former Scottish general who seizes the throne. But he’s caught in a web of lies and murder that ultimately leads to his death.