White House Details President's Vacation Reading

Dec. 28, 2005 — -- President Bush is doing some reading on his Texas vacation, cracking open a volume about one president's life after the White House and another about the lives of U.S. troops -- written by someone who has criticized the Bush administration.

A spokesman said this week that the commander in chief is reading "When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House" by Patricia O'Toole.

The book details Roosevelt's attempt to win back the presidency in 1912 as well as his post-White House African safari. Roosevelt was 50 when he left office. Bush will be 62 when his term is up. He has said he'd be happy to retire to his Texas ranch.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy insisted we should read nothing into the president's interest in Roosevelt's later years. Describing Bush as a history buff, Duffy said, "the president knows full well that he's got a lot of time left in this second term and he's going to accomplish big things, as he has talked about repeatedly." The book was recommended to Bush by NBC's Brian Williams.

The president's other vacation read is "Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground." The book, almost a travelogue, gives glimpses of life for troops dispatched to fight the war on terror, from Iraq to the Philippines. Author Robert Kaplan celebrates the work of the everyday "grunt" but criticizes the politicians and bureaucrats who craft America's foreign policy, which he views as imperialist, even if necessarily so.

When asked why the president is reading a book by an author who has criticized the administration's post-war planning, Duffy said, "The president is an avid reader. He reads books of all kinds and stripe and persuasion."

Bush's own political hero -- Ronald Reagan -- didn't have such high-brow taste. Reagan liked to read westerns, especially Louis L'Amour's tales of frontier life. Reagan was also known to be a fan of Reader's Digest.

History and Current Events Are Favorites at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Bush's press office typically tells the media about the books on the president's list that relate to current events. This summer, when stories about the threat of a global bird flu outbreak were in the news, the press corps was told that Bush was reading "Flu: the Great Influenza Pandemic." That book is about the 1918 epidemic, which is believed to have killed 40 million people.

Also, over the summer it was announced that Bush read "Alexander II: the Last Great Tsar" to help satisfy his curiosity about Russia and his sometime friend Vladimir Putin. The book was recommended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It would seem the president has taken a natural interest in the experiences of past presidents. Among the biographies he has read this year: ''His Excellency: George Washington'' by Joseph J. Ellis and "Alexander Hamilton'' by Ron Chernow. The president is also said to be a big fan of Tom Wolfe's books and has recommended "I am Charlotte Simmons" to interested readers.

In a C-SPAN interview last January, Bush said, ''I'm reading, I think on a good night, maybe 20 to 30 pages." He said reading "has become somewhat of a sedative. I mean, maybe there are some other old guys like me who get into bed, open the book, 20 pages later you're out cold.''

Bush also said he sees books as an escape: ''In this job, there are some simple pleasures in life that really help you cope. One is Barney the dog, and the other is books. I mean, books are a great escape. Books are a way to get your mind on something else.''

Bush will be in Crawford, Texas, with his wife, Laura; his mother-in-law, Jenna Welch; and five White House aides through the New Year holiday. In addition to reading, he'll spend his time clearing brush and mountain biking, the White House said.

We're also told the first lady gave her husband a book for Christmas. No word on whether that book is either of the president's two New Year's reads.