|Federal Hall, New York|
In 1789, when the U.S. capital was New York City, President George Washington, famed for never telling a lie, borrowed a volume of transcriptions of British House of Commons debate and The Law of Nations by Swiss philosopher and legal scholar Emerich de Vattel from the New York Society Library. He never returned them. The library and the national government were both housed in Federal Hall in Lower Manhattan. Washington's overdue books became known to the library in the 1930s when a detailed "charging ledger" covering 1789 to 1792 was discovered in a trash pile in the library's basement.
In more recent years a conservation project on the ledger brought the missing books to the attention of the New York Daily News which published a brief article on Washington's debt to the library. In 2010, the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, which could not locate the borrowed books in its own collection, settled Washington's account at least in part by purchasing a copy of the same edition of The Law of Nations for $12,000 and giving it to the Society Library.
|Charging Ledger (New York Society Library)|
John Adams, serving as Washington's Vice President, borrowed a volume of Elements of Criticism by Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and jurist Lord Kames from the New York Society Library. Adams returned it Despite having the Society Library's collection available to him Adams in 1789 wrote to his wife Abigail in Massachusetts to send him items by Hume, Johnson, Priestley, Livy, Tacitus, Cicero and Plutarch from his personal library. Adams knew Latin and Greek believed that knowledge of the classics was and should remain the mark of a learned man. He especially liked Cicero's essay on growing old, De Senectute, and turned to it throughout his life. Apart from the classics, Adams' favorites were Shakespeare, Swift, and Cervantes. "On board all day, reading Don Quixote," is the entry in Adams' diary for May 18, 1779 while he waited in Nantes, France to sail back to America.
|Books from Adams' personal collection (Boston Public Library)|
|Grant as a young officer, 1840s|
In 1881, Grant, humiliated by his failed 1880 bid to return to the White House after a four year gap (he did not even get the Republican Party nomination) was urged to write his memoirs by his friend Mark Twain. Grant resisted, claiming he wasn't interested in writing about himself and the public wasn't interested in reading about him. Two earlier Grant-related books -- Military History of Ulysses S. Grant, by Grant's wartime aide Adam Badeau, and Around the World with General Grant by journalist John Russell Young hadn't sold many copies.
|Grant working on Personal Memoirs|
Due in part to a vigorous pre-publication sales campaign aimed at Civil War veterans and to the news of Grant's death, Personal Memoirs sold briskly and earned $450,000 (several million in today's dollars) for Grant's widow Julia Dent Grant who lived until 1902. During her widowhood Julia Grant wrote her own book -- The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant -- which were not published until 1975. Julia Grant's memoirs are the earliest by a First Lady.
|John F. Kennedy (photo John F. Kennedy Library)|
|First U.S. edition, 1940|
Kennedy's Harvard undergraduate senior thesis dealing with the reasons why Great Britain was slow to deal with the Nazi threat was published -- through the influence of Kennedy's father -- by Wilfred Funk, Inc. in 1940 as Why England Slept. The title references Winston Churchill's 1938 book on Britain's lack of preparedness While England Slept. Kennedy's most famous book, Profiles in Courage, a collection of short biographies of eight United States senators who risked their careers to do what they thought was right, won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1957. From the time of its publication rumors have surrounded the authorship of the book, the most common charge being that Kennedy speechwriter and aide Ted Sorenson is its real author.
|First edition, 1964|
|A book Carter "savored"|
|Jimmy Carter's book for kids|
|Vacationing Obama with book, 2011|
According to Slate three of the five books Obama brought along for summer vacation reading in 2009, the first year of his presidency, were novels -- Plainsong (1999), interlocking stories of life in small town Colorado, by Kent Haruf, The Way Home (2009), a story of crime and social class distinctions in present day Washington, DC, by George Pelecanos, and Lush Life (2008), about life in contemporary Lower East Side of Manhattan, by Richard Price.
Obama supplements his book supply while on vacation. At his favorite vacation spot, Martha's Vineyard, he likes to visit Bunch of Grapes bookstore. In 2010, Bunch of Grapes gave Obama an advance copy of Jonathan Franzen's not yet published novel Freedom and in 2011 Obama purchased The Bayou Trilogy by Daniel Woodrell and Rodin's Debutante by Ward Just at Bunch of Grapes.
|First edition, 1995|
In his introduction to Dreams from My Father Obama explains how the book was supposed to be a series of essays on the "current state of race relations" but "when I actually sat down and began to write, though, I found my mind pulled toward rockier shores. First longings leapt up to brush my heart. Distant voices appeared, and ebbed, and then appeared again...I listened to my grandmother, sitting under a mango tree as she braided my sister's hair, describing the father I had never truly known."
|Young Obama with book|
After Obama's speech at the 2004 Democratic convention Dreams was reissued by Crown Books which had inherited the catalog of the defunct Times Books. "Following his election to the Senate," Osnos writes "Obama signed a lucrative new contract with Crown and wrote The Audacity of Hope, his political manifesto...Obama got $40,000 from Times Books for that first contract and, according to his 2007 tax returns, made over $4 million in royalties."
John Adams Library (at the Boston Public Library).
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum (Boston).