With just a few days left in our 44th president's White House tenure, now is a great time to review the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency, and a lot of people are doing so. It's important to remember, however, that the POTUS enjoyed a starred career before his election in 2008, and many of President Obama's best quotes on reading — which I, being a books writer, will focus on here — come from his pre-White House days.
Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has made himself known as an avid reader and cultural critic. His "essential reading list" for future leaders is 89 hours long, and includes everything from James Baldwin to Daniel Kahneman. President Obama isn't just a reader of books, however. He's also an accomplished author.
Before he became POTUS, Barack Obama was a U.S. Senator (D-IL), a civil rights lawyer, and a community organizer. In college, he became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review, which opened the door for him to pen his first book, 1995's Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. President Obama has since published two other books: The Audacity of Hope and Of Thee I Sing. He also became the first sitting president to publish a scientific paper, with "United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps" appearing in the July 11, 2016 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
But that's not the extent of President Obama's literary impact. In 2016, a group of academics published Barack Obama's Literary Legacy, a book of essays on selections from Dreams from My Father. Of Barack Obama's Literary Legacy, New York University's Jay Garcia remarked that, "[t]he deft contributions to this collection, together with its rich introduction, demonstrate that Barack Obama’s ‘Dreams from My Father’ [sic] demands literary reading and attentiveness to a range of literary and cultural histories."
Check out President Obama's best quotes about reading below, and share your favorites with me on Twitter!
"At a time when book banning is back in vogue, libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information."
From his article, "Bound to the Word," published in the August 2005 issue of American Libraries.
"When I wasn’t working, the weekends would usually find me alone in an empty apartment, making do with the company of books."
From Dreams from My Father.
"Reading is the gateway skill that makes all other learning possible, from complex word problems and the meaning of our history to scientific discovery and technological proficiency."
From his speech, "Literacy and Education in a 21st-Century Economy," given to the American Library Association on June 25, 2005.
"At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It’s an enormous force for good."
From "Bound to the Word."
"I confess to wincing every so often at a poorly chosen word, a mangled sentence, an expression of emotion that seems indulgent or overly practiced."
From Dreams from My Father.
"The truth is, actually, words do inspire. Words do help people get involved … Don't discount that power. Because when the American people are determined that something is going to happen, then it happens."
"Reading is important. If you know how to read, then the whole world opens up to you."
From the 2013 White House Easter Egg Roll.
"When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels. It has to do with empathy. It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with some[one] else even though they’re very different from you."
From an interview with Marilynne Robinson in The New York Review of Books, Nov. 19, 2015.