Kennedy was a voracious reader whose love of books helped him understand how the world worked, according to JFK biographer and confidant Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. “He read mostly history and biography, American and English,” recalled Schlesinger. He noted that Kennedy’s reading helped cultivate “a moderate and dispassionate mind, committed to the arts of government, persuaded of the inevitability of change but distrustful of comprehensive plans and grandiose abstractions, skeptical of excess but admiring of purpose, determined above all to be effective.”
Harry S. Truman, historian David McCullough has observed, was also a great reader, absorbing volumes of history that convinced him of the power of strong individual leadership in shaping human destiny. Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the modern presidency’s biggest bibliophile, read anywhere and everywhere. Combing the volumes of bird artist John James Audubon no doubt helped deepen TR’s appreciation of wilderness areas, inspiring his role as a champion of national parks.
Lincoln’s love of Shakespeare sharpened his eloquence as a public speaker, helping to shape the rhetorical brilliance he used to save the Union. Shakespeare also cultivated Lincoln’s keen eye for human foibles, a valuable asset for any leader.
Thomas Jefferson’s wide reading nourished the intellect behind the Declaration of Independence. “I cannot live without books,” he wrote to another former president and equally avid reader, John Adams, late in life.