Books are great, but a lot of the world’s written content has never found its way into a hardcover edition. As an example, consider the reams of government documents housed in the various presidential libraries around America. The one closest to my house is the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, in Yorba Linda, California. As a museum, it’s pretty impressive, with lots of ephemera that for some reason will be kept for eternity. It has a full-scale replica of the White House’s East Room, although no full-scale replica of either Richard or Pat Nixon.
For the reader, the real fun is downstairs in the official library and archives. The small research room only has a simple collection of perhaps one or two thousand books. But behind the the locked doors at the other end of the room are the full archives of the Nixon presidency. You’d have better luck getting past the TSA with six ounces of water than getting through those doors, so don’t even try. But nearly everything in the archives is available for the asking. And I do mean nearly everything: original documents teaming with Nixon and Kissinger DNA; all of the embarrassing Oval Office recordings, and the boring ones, too; and many of the personal effects of the Nixon family.
I visited the library a few months ago to help my son with a report on Henry Kissinger. While there, we were allowed to manhandle original documents from world leaders. The highlight was an official letter from Chinese Premier Chou En Lai as penned by Chairman Mao’s official state scribe. Sadly, the state scribe has poor English penmanship skills.
Concerning the presidential library, let me make one thing perfectly clear; it is not a book. So what does it have to do with my book-reading project? Believe it or not, presidents read. In fact, from some of the comments in the White House memos I saw, I don’t know how Nixon had time in his busy reading schedule to break in to hotels and push buttons on tape recorders. As part of the Well-Read Man Project, I’ve asked the library staff to provide a list of the books that Nixon had in his personal library. What do world leaders read? Do those books influence their decisions? Are you voting for a candidate or a copy of Catcher in the Rye?
Speaking of voting, now is your chance to make your voice heard on which books I should include in the reading project. As you know, I am narrowing a list of 1,600 books down to just fifty. I will speak with literature experts to help make my selections, but your input counts! Use the Footnotes feature below this article to indicate your criteria for selecting important books. Thank you for your vote, and God Bless the United States of America.
[Image Credits: Nixon Library Docents, plus photos from my own collection]