Now, this looks like a very fun game indeed. (And thanks to Matt Yglesias for pointing to it.) Not that every intellectual queried rises to the challenge; the first two entries, by Lorrie Moore and Junot Diaz, are predictably nasty and equally predictably uninsightful, but the list improves, and Gary Wills, Orlando Patterson, Thomas Mallon and Robert Pinsky all get in interesting suggestions.
My own contributions:
For both candidates:
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain. Twain was writing an allegory of Reconstruction, but plug in Iraq or, for that matter, the American public school system, and it’ll work as well. Plus it’s just a whole lot of fun, a really easy read for the summer, and episodic so you can grab it for 20 minutes here and there between campaign stops.
Henry VIII, by William Shakespeare. Possibly the first portrait (and certainly one of the best) we have of a modern head of state: how he justifies himself, how his advisors manipulate him, and he them, and how abnormal life is at the imperial center of things. They ought to know what they are getting into.
Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, by Yossi Klein Halevy. For Obama, because he’ll like it; it’s a great autobiography and illuminates issues of identity that he’s long found fascinating. For McCain, because Bill Kristol won’t. For both, because it’s a genuinely wonderful book.
For McCain: Strarship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein. I somehow doubt McCain has read much science fiction. I bet he’d like this book anyway. He should think about whether he likes it too much, or for the wrong reasons.
For Obama: Albion’s Seed, by David Hackett Fischer. I somehow don’t think Obama needs to read more about himself. This is a really good book about some other folks, the various British peoples who first established the character of America.
Finally: each candidate should read the other candidate’s father-fixated memoir: McCain should read Dreams From My Father and Obama should read Faith of My Fathers. So far, neither candidate seems terribly interested in understanding the other; they seem to hold each other in mutual contempt. I suspect this campaign will be much more edifying, and much more interesting, if they take the time to rectify that ignorance.