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What Bush is reading on his vacation

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-bushread16aug16,0,2499888.story?coll=ny-leadnationalnews-headlines From the Los Angeles Times THE NATION
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 16, 2005

      From the Los Angeles Times
      Bush Salts His Summer With Eclectic Reading List
      He is tackling three historical sagas while on
      vacation, impressing even the authors.

      By Warren Vieth
      Times Staff Writer

      August 16, 2005

      CRAWFORD, Texas — Gas prices are climbing, motorists
      are fuming and President Bush is at his ranch with a
      book about the history of salt.

      There could be a connection.

      According to the White House, one of three books Bush
      chose to read on his five-week vacation is "Salt: A
      World History" by Mark Kurlansky, who chronicled the
      rise and fall of what once was considered the world's
      most strategic commodity.

      The other two books he reportedly brought to Crawford
      are "Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar" by Edvard
      Radzinsky and "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of
      the Deadliest Plague in History" by John M. Barry.

      Bush, a former oil company chief, has not said why he
      picked Kurlansky's 484-page saga. "The president
      enjoys reading and learning about history," White
      House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

      But the analogies between salt and oil are striking.

      For most of recorded history, salt was synonymous with
      wealth. It established trade routes and cities.
      Adventurers searched for it. Merchants hoarded it.
      Governments taxed it. Nations went to war over it.

      More than four centuries ago, Queen Elizabeth I warned
      of England's growing dependence on foreign salt.
      France's salt tax, the gabelle, was one of the
      grievances that gave rise to the Revolution of 1789.

      Then, in the early 20th century, salt became
      ubiquitous. Refrigeration reduced its value as a
      preservative, and geological advances revealed its
      global abundance.

      "It seems very silly now, all of the struggles for
      salt," Kurlansky said. "It's quite probable that some
      day, people will read about our struggles for oil and
      have the same reaction."

      Kurlansky said he was surprised to hear that Bush had
      taken his book to the ranch: "My first reaction was,
      'Oh, he reads books?' "

      The author said he was a "virulent Bush opponent" who
      had given speeches denouncing the war in Iraq.

      "What I find fascinating, and it's probably a positive
      thing about the White House, is they don't seem to do
      any research about the writers when they pick the
      books," Kurlansky said.

      Barry, author of "The Great Influenza," said that he
      too had been a Bush critic. But his views have not
      deterred the administration from seeking his advice on
      the potential for another pandemic like the 1918
      outbreak that claimed millions of lives worldwide.

      Although Barry was not aware that the president
      planned to read the book, he said he had been
      consulting off and on with senior administration
      officials since its release in February 2004. He had
      lunch with Health and Human Services Secretary Mike
      Leavitt two weeks ago.

      The administration, Barry said, was investigating what
      steps public officials could take to lessen the
      severity of a flu pandemic. A central theme of Barry's
      book is that the 1918 outbreak was exacerbated in
      America by the government's attempts to minimize its
      significance, partly to avoid undermining efforts to
      prevail in World War I.

      "One lesson is to absolutely take it seriously," Barry
      said. "I'm not a great fan of the Bush administration,
      but I think they are doing that. The Clinton
      administration I don't think paid much attention to it
      as a threat."

      Bush's choice of "Alexander II" appears to reflect his
      interest in books about transformational political
      leaders. Among those he has perused since becoming
      president are biographies of George Washington, John
      Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard
      the Lionheart and Peter the Great.

      But Radzinsky's portrait of Alexander II may have
      special relevance to Bush, who obtained an advance
      copy of the English translation scheduled for
      publication in November. Alexander II, who ruled
      Russia from 1855 to 1881, was known as the "Czar
      Liberator" because he freed 23 million Russian slaves
      in 1861, two years before Abraham Lincoln signed the
      Emancipation Proclamation.

      But his governmental reforms ultimately were his
      undoing. On the right, they provoked a conservative
      backlash. On the left, they contributed to a radical
      political movement that used targeted violence to
      accomplish its aims, including a wave of killings and

      When he decided to halt the reform process, the
      violence intensified. Alexander II became, in effect,
      the first world leader to declare a war on terrorism.
      He would not be the last.

      "We, Russia, created the first great terrorist
      organization in the world," Radzinsky said in a phone
      interview from Moscow. "We are the father of terror,
      not Muslims."

      After surviving six attempts on his life, Alexander II
      was assassinated by a group of anarchists who tossed
      home-made bombs at the emperor as he was riding in his
      carriage on the streets of St. Petersburg. They had
      plotted the attack for weeks, operating out of an
      apartment across the hall from the writer Fyodor

      Radzinsky said he assumed Bush had drawn the
      connection to the terrorists of today. "Very noble
      young people who dreamed about the future of Russia
      became killers, because blood destroys souls,"
      Radzinsky said. "That for me is the most important

      Bush has incorporated some of the books he has read
      into administration policy and his own political
      philosophy. Perhaps the best-known example is "The
      Case for Democracy," a book by former Soviet dissident
      and current Israeli Cabinet member Natan Sharansky.

      Sharansky's book is a treatise on the power of freedom
      to overcome tyranny and expresses the view that
      democratic governments should pressure authoritarian
      regimes to pursue reforms instead of accepting them as
      they are.

      After receiving a copy of the book last year, Bush
      invited Sharansky to the White House; the president
      began recommending the book to friends, staffers and
      journalists. The themes espoused by Sharansky started
      appearing in the president's remarks on foreign policy
      and national security, including this year's inaugural
      speech and State of the Union address.

      Peter Osnos, whose PublicAffairs publishing house in
      New York released the U.S. version of "The Case for
      Democracy," said that the books Bush brought with him
      to Crawford represented a sophisticated reading list,
      even for an intellectually curious chief executive.

      "It's a fair bet that George W. Bush is the only
      person in the entire United States who chose those
      three books to read on vacation," Osnos said.

      "There's nothing on that list that is a beach read, or
      even a busman's holiday," he said. "He's not reading
      any of the contemporary political books. He's not
      reading the hatchet job on Hillary Clinton."
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