RECOMMENDED READING FOR OBAMA…. In the latest installment of our ongoing series, the Washington Monthly has a feature in our new issue with book recommendations for the new president, with suggestions from some of our favorite writers and thinkers. Here’s the next two from our list.
I recommend that the new president read William James’s The Will to Believe and George Santayana’s Character and Opinion in the United States. Both books serve a useful purpose to anyone trying to understand America in an overarching sense. They are products of two of our best minds and tell us something of our national character and preferences.
My recommendation to President Obama is George F. Kennan’s Memoirs, 1925-1950. It is a powerful account of a brilliant young man from the Midwest who attends Princeton as a lonely outsider and goes on to become one of the most important figures in the history of American diplomacy. More important, it conveys Kennan’s contributions to the character of American foreign policy in the years of the Cold War. He believed that the United States had an obligation to be active in the world in preserving peace and stability. He also believed that there were limits to what the United States can do in the world, and that it must choose its missions selectively. The “containment policy,” which Kennan helped to create, was meant not just as a strategy for containing Communism, but — as Kennan saw it — a strategy for containing the United States as well, for ensuring that the United States would exercise caution and restraint in its international ventures, something later supporters of containment often forgot.