Some recommended reading for President-elect Obama.

Jenny Attiyeh [’87]is host and producer of Thoughtcast, an interview program devoted to writers and academics, and available via podcast.

We don’t have to agree with everything we read in this country. Reading is not unpatriotic. So may I suggest that the future commander-in-chief actually read the speeches by Osama bin Laden? At a minimum, he can read between the lines. As Sun Tzu said, “know thine enemy”. But we know so little about bin Laden. We don’t even know where he lives. Supposedly, he “hates our freedoms” – but he would argue that what he hates is the freedom we take with our power.

After these videos were released, it usually took some effort to dig out a transcription. In the end, I had to go to Al Jazeera for a translation. What I remember most clearly is grainy video of the guy, holding his index finger aloft, but with the volume silenced, so our talking TV heads could impart their wisdom in peace. Let’s hope the next president is willing to turn off the mute button on our enemy. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

[Verso Press made this much easier three years ago with the collection Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, which provides as much OBL as anyone should have to read.-SM]

Daniel Drezner [’90] is a professor of international relations at Tufts University. He also blogs.

I’d probably advise the president to read the uber-source for international relations, Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Too many people only read portions like the Melian Dialogue, which leads to a badly distorted view of world politics (the dialogue represents the high-water mark of Athenian power — it all goes downhill after that). The entire text demonstrates the complex and tragic features of international politics, the folly of populism, the occasional necessity of forceful action, the temptations and dangers of empire, and, most importantly, the ways in which external wars can transform domestic politics in unhealthy ways.

Who really thinks that Obama has the time and inclination to read the History of the Peloponnesian War? It’s 600+ pages! Why not just recommend that Obama learn Greek along the way?

To make this exercise interesting, the suggestion should be something that a) the candidate might plausibly read and b) if read, might lead the candidate to move in your direction. I’ll go with The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel. What would you recommend?

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