One book

Hillary Clinton said something very startling in an interview for the New York Times last June.

If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?

At the risk of appearing predictable, the Bible was and remains the biggest influence on my thinking. I was raised reading it, memorizing passages from it and being guided by it. I still find it a source of wisdom, comfort and encouragement.

At the risk of appearing predictable, that’s an astonishingly fatuous thing to say. She must be pandering, but it’s fatuous anyway. Mind you it’s also a fatuous question, so maybe it’s forgivable to give a fatuous answer…but honestly.


  1. Blanche Quizno says

    There’s no other book she could have chosen that would not have resulted in her being raked over the coals and nailed to the wall. It’s pretty obvious. Given that there has never been a woman president, if she hopes to be the first – and she does – she is going to have to play it beyond safe. She’s already sticking her neck out with defending abortion rights, paid family leave, equal pay for women, and raising the minimum wage. She fought to tie the minimum wage to congressional salary increases, in fact – that’s ballsy. She’s GOT to present a traditional enough political persona if she hopes to get elected, and her statements about the Bible are a canny move. Likely not true, but who cares. If you want to play the politics game here in the US, you have to pretend to be a Christian.

  2. johnthedrunkard says

    Well, at least it wasn’t ‘Atlas Shrugged’ or ‘How to Wind Friends and Influence People.’

  3. Saad: Openly Feminist Gamer says

    Should have said War and Peace.

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

  4. latveriandiplomat says

    I agree with Blanche. This a meaningless question no one cares about unless the candidate doesn’t say “the Bible is #1!”, then it’s “major” news.

    There’s nothing wrong with giving a bullshit answer to a bullshit litmus test question.

  5. Sili says

    I don’t get Saad’s joke.

    Anyway, I fear she isn’t pandering. She’s been cosy with C-Street or whatever it’s called for a long time now.

  6. screechymonkey says

    Blanche, do you have any evidence that Hilary isn’t a Christian? The Clintons were regular churchgoers prior to and throughout his presidency, and Hilary led a bipartisan prayer group during her time in the Senate. If it’s an act, it’s a longstanding one. Statistically speaking, I know there must be some prominent politicians who are atheists — although we’re a low percentage overall, we’re too well-represented among the more elite and educated pool from which politicians are disproportionately drawn. But I think it’s tacky to point the finger at any particular person and accuse them of lying about their religion.

    To get back to the question: I think some of the scariest people in the world are the ones who claim that a single book changed their lives. Religious books, for obvious reasons. Ayn Rand, for what I hope are equally obvious reasons.

    Then there are the choices that aren’t necessarily scary, just obnoxious and sanctimonious. “To Kill a Mockingbird, because it inspired me to fight for justice,” said every law school applicant essay. “1984 or Animal Farm” is the choice of everyone who fancies himself or herself as the next Orwell. (I’m willing to bet that Andrew Sullivan would declare himself torn between Orwell and the Bible.)

    I’d love to hear a truly oddball answer. “Game of Thrones, because it taught me that petty political struggles are blinding us to the real danger of ICE ZOMBIES!!!!!”

  7. says

    What makes this especially funny is that a few weeks ago on Scandal, the White House is trying to coach the woman they’ve chosen for Vice President, Susan Ross (an academic), to say things more appealing to the Republican base. She’s preparing for a big interview and they ask her, as a test question, what the last book she read was, and she answers Foucault’s Pendulum. The consultant is like “No! For the love of…stop telling the truth!” and they cut to the interview* when she’s asked the question. You can guess what her answer is.

    *The editing is more complex and clever than this implies.

  8. says

    Who has _one_ favourite book, anyway? Or, I guess, more precisely, given the meaning of ‘favourite’ implies, presumably, you theoretically do, who can comfortably pick theirs out without then having to qualify, say, okay, that’s on the list, anyway…

    I know, I know. Politics. It’s speak in soundbites, stay obvious. But I really do get tired of watching people pretending to be what they aren’t to play to that expectation. All this answer says is ‘Yes, I know the game’. Why does anyone even bother asking or answering if the exchange has become this utterly ritualistic? It’s like the candidates are running a marathon: can you keep this up four months on end, through whatever fatigue or stress, without accidentally saying anything meaningful?

  9. theobromine says

    Well, if you asked me to name a book that I think people should be familiar with, the Bible would be one of my top picks. If I were in politics (perish the thought), it would be useful for me to have read a book that has had a significant influence on the development of Western society.

    Anyway, it is a stupid and fatuous question – I’ve actually seen interviewers who really wanted a good answer rephrase it by saying “after the Bible, what would you say is your favourite/most influential/etc book”. And as AJ says, who has _one_ favourite book anyway? Maybe a good non-answer would be to say that it’s most important to read a lot of different books, fiction and non-fiction, old and modern, some that you agree with and some that you don’t.

  10. drken says

    I have no idea whether Hillary is telling the truth or not. I tend to believe Screechymonkey in that if she’s faking, she’s going for the long con. However, she’s crazy if she thinks it will help. Republicans will paint her as hostile to religion (if not a closet muslim) regardless of what book she claims is her favorite. Just like how her hawkish record in the Senate won’t protect her from charges that she’s trying to disarm the military and is afraid to use force.

  11. zardeenah says

    I just wish someone would go for a more…political choice. In my fantasy: “Well, my recreational reading choices aren’t germane to this topic, but I must say that I have always been influenced by ” Common Sense” and the Federalist Papers”

    How could that go too wrong (aside from not picking a novel)? That Clinton! Always reading and being influenced by those sketchy…oh.

  12. NitricAcid says

    After my uncle died a few years ago, I realized that the fact that he left his copy of Cosmos lying around our house may have made him one of the people who influenced me the most.

  13. Saad: Openly Feminist Gamer says

    Sili, #7

    I don’t get Saad’s joke.

    Here you go.

    It’s a minute and 23 seconds of inadvertent Republican comedy, but Michael Steele’s response is what I was talking about. Cringeworthy.

  14. moarscienceplz says

    She didn’t even answer the question correctly. The Bible isn’t one book, it’s a collection of books. So which book is it really, Secretary Clinton? Matthew? Psalms? Leviticus? Revelation?

  15. screechymonkey says

    I would also have accepted “Dreams From My Father” or “The Audacity of Hope” as answers.

  16. RJW says

    “Mind you it’s also a fatuous question, so maybe it’s forgivable to give a fatuous answer…but honestly.”

    Perhaps if you’re a politician. Surely most people, apart from religious ideologues, would be alarmed by the prospect of being governed by a person who valued one single book over all others they had ever read.

    @20 Marcus Ranum
    Not with me.
    Plato’s “The Republic” is a rather disturbing work, have you read Karl Popper’s critique of “The Republic” in “The Open Society and Its Enemies”.

  17. Ed says

    I remember a movie critic suggesting that The Book of Eli would have been improved by Eli`s book being anything but Bible [it’s a movie about a warrior in a postapocalyptic wasteland who owns what turns out to be to be the last copy of the Bible] .

    Hillary’s answer makes me feel the same way. And not because I care that she’s a liberal Christian, though her paradoxical flirtation with the Family or whatever that weird elitist right wing cult is called freaks me out.

    It’s just that almost any practicing Christian might give that as their “safe” answer. It tells nothing about the person. It would be interesting to know a book that specifically made an impact on her mind. She is a highly educated person, after all.

  18. grendelsfather says

    I would have recycled Sarah Palin’s answer to a similar inquiry; “All of them.”
    Maybe that’s why I’m not in politics, but at least it would have shown the fatuousness of the question.

  19. says

    RJW @#25 – No, I haven’t. Sounds interesting! Digging…
    (I am not an unreserved fan of The Republic, but I think it’s a great outline of the flaws in political systems. His utopia is certainly not so attractive and is impractical.)

  20. says

    It tells nothing about the person.

    It tells you that she’s willing to say whatever’s politically expedient. Probably no great revelation in this case but …

  21. grumpyoldfart says

    From the book that made her what she is today:

    Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matthew 17:26-27)

    Silly gullible woman.

  22. Hoosier X says

    She should have said “The Code of the Woosters.”

    (But “Common Sense” or “The Rights of Man” would have been very good answers.)

    I would have said “Naked Lunch” or “Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.”

  23. lorn says

    Please, what was she supposed to say? Outside the bible there are few books that couldn’t be spun into an accusation and used as a weapon to attack her with. Also, given her age and where the was raised, there is the distinct possibility that the Bible was indeed the most influential book in her early life.

    Once at college she was exposed to feminism, political theory, philosophy, etcetera, and there are likely important books other than the Bible but what purpose would be served bringing them up? Citing the Bible works. Yes, her citing “Portnoy’s Complaint” would certainly be entertaining. It might even be honest. The right-wing press would have a field day. Limbaugh would be histrionic. Heads would explode. And Hillary would be a few steps closer to losing the election. This doesn’t seem to be the best time to let her freak flag fly.

    Then again, given the time and place she grew up in the Bible may indeed be the most influential book. The fist cut is often the deepest. If not absolutely the most influential it is likely in the top few.

  24. says

    Well, the Bible was the most influential book in my life! Reading it lead me to become an atheist. But, I guess that wasn’t what she was going for.

  25. Crimson Clupeidae says

    How she should have answered: “I would have to say George Orwell’s 1984. While it has a lot of disturbing elements to it. It makes it easy to see what the Republican strategy is just by reading this one simple book. I’m simply trying to avoid the dystopian part of the Republican plan. “

  26. tecolata says

    Am I to assume that Hillary Clinton thinks people who eat pork should be put to death? What did she have a Chiopotle?

    Honestly, if asked, I’d have to say the first collection of feminist essays I read in 1970, Women’s Liberation: Blueprint for the Future. Although politically a mixed bag, many of the articulated what I believed, and at age 15 thought I was the only one on the planet who believed these things. Also included the first time I’d ever read a woman openly and proudly self-identifying as a lesbian, which I thought I had to hide.

    I could also include The Diary of Anne Frank, Communist Manifesto, Inherit the Wind, Origin of Species… among others.

    You can see why I’m not running for President!

  27. John Horstman says

    Hmm, mine might well be Roald Dahl’s anti-authoritarian (though somewhat problematically gender-norm-reinforcing) masterwork Matilda, though the similarly anti-authoritarian Illuminatus! trilogy or The Authoritarians are also contenders. Anyone who can easily pick one book probably hasn’t read enough. Fuck the Christian Bible (any version) – its not evn particularly vaulable as an example of what to not do, in terms of literature or morality (it’s a good example for both, just not uniquely good).

  28. lorn says

    Ophelia Benson @ 33 –

    I was unaware I had accused anyone of putting “Portnoy’s Complaint” forward, yourself and HC included. If I have I certainly didn’t intend to. The book was merely used as a hypothetical stand-in for any of several hundred important but controversial books. I had considered stating that this was entirely a hypothetical example parenthetically but thought it was intuitively obvious and didn’t wish to belabor the point.

    My criticism was not directed at you, or any other poster, but toward 1) The right-wing press which is desperate to find fault, or failing that, to imply it and 2) particularly against the many who treat politics as a sport instead of the deadly serious and consequential contest it is. Justice or injustice, human rights or oppression, economic prosperity or poverty, war or peace are all on the line. And yet, maddeningly, many a talking head will trivialize Hillary Clinton by focusing on what she wears and how she does her hair. This is not a trivial contest. It is going to change the future in profound ways.

    Why is it that I post propositions with limited assertions, most, I assume, to be uncontroversial, and people seem dead set on reading things into my simple words? Going in directions I never intended.

    ie: I posted what I assumed to be entirely uncontroversial assertion, rooted in what seemed like Humanism 101 to me, that dismissing people entirely from notice should, just perhaps, not be done too casually or too permanently, and I get banned from PZs blog forever. No big deal, I’m a big boy with online roots back to tougher times when there was no moderation, when the ability to flame and take the heat meant you got to stay, but returning to the thread a couple of days later and seeing the red type telling me to ‘fuck off’ for being “obtuse” was a bit of a shock. I thought it was a fairly principled and mild warning of potential contradiction between the convenience of automation and the absolute minimum respect a person can deserve, token evidence of their existence. I figured it would be ignored like most of what I write on these forums. As I expect this to be ignored. Seemed like an overreaction directed not at those causing the consternation but at a bystander. But rooted in a mischaracterization or misreading of what I actually posted and intended. Seems like it is happening more often. I don’t understand.

    Oh well. Nothing to be done. Water under the bridge.

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