TLA – total lateral area of a book.
In a recent WSJ article, Karl Rove disclosed that President Bush had read 95 books in 2006, 51 books in 2007 and 40 books in 2008. I was amazed by the discipline which those numbers reveal.
This is not meant as a partisan defense of Bush, i.e. maybe he’s not as dumb as you think. While I think intelligent people can look at Bush and see a failed presidency, those who look at him and see an actual idiot, low IQ, are just an example of people who allow their partisan views to affect their judgment.
Getting back to the reading. That type of commitment to reading can be inspirational. Whatever one may think of the person who holds that office, it is difficult to justify that our own lives and jobs are busier than that of the Presidency. Along those same lines, one of my partially read/listened to books from last year was The Reagan Diaries, revealed a similar type of discipline in keeping a diary throughout his White House tenure which greatly impressed historian Douglas Brinkley.
The article includes another interesting idea, measuring the reading by the book’s ‘Total Lateral Area’ [TLA]. That makes a lot of sense. While the number of words is the best standard, rarely is that an easily available figure. Whenever I’ve considered making a book a week commitment in the past, I’ve always figured I’d weasel-out with some Oprah-lite nonsense just to make my numbers at some point, i.e. week 2. TLA seems like a good way to avoid that type of skewing which smaller books encourage–we’re all about incentives here at 2TG.
Let’s use 2 books I read this year as an example:
1776 by David McCullough
X 6.5″ wide
X 1.0 text size – 1.0 for standard 11 pt font found in most hardcover books.
X 296.0 reading pages – meant to exclude footnotes and index
TLA = 20,807
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
X 6.5″ wide
X 1.0 text size
X 270.0 reading pages
TLA = 12,251
Article referenced is copied in full at end of post.
Bush Is a Book Lover – A glimpse of what the president has been reading
DECEMBER 26, 2008
By KARL ROVE
With only five days left, my lead is insurmountable. The competition can’t catch up. And for the third year in a row, I’ll triumph. In second place will be the president of the United States. Our contest is not about sports or politics. It’s about books.
It all started on New Year’s Eve in 2005. President Bush asked what my New Year’s resolutions were. I told him that as a regular reader who’d gotten out of the habit, my goal was to read a book a week in 2006. Three days later, we were in the Oval Office when he fixed me in his sights and said, “I’m on my second. Where are you?” Mr. Bush had turned my resolution into a contest.
By coincidence, we were both reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.” The president jumped to a slim early lead and remained ahead until March, when I moved decisively in front. The competition soon spun out of control. We kept track not just of books read, but also the number of pages and later the combined size of each book’s pages — its “Total Lateral Area.”
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We recommended volumes to each other (for example, he encouraged me to read a Mao biography; I suggested a book on Reconstruction’s unhappy end). We discussed the books and wrote thank-you notes to some authors.
At year’s end, I defeated the president, 110 books to 95. My trophy looks suspiciously like those given out at junior bowling finals. The president lamely insisted he’d lost because he’d been busy as Leader of the Free World.
Mr. Bush’s 2006 reading list shows his literary tastes. The nonfiction ran from biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Babe Ruth, King Leopold, William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, LBJ and Genghis Khan to Andrew Roberts’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples Since 1900,” James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt,” and Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Mayflower.” Besides eight Travis McGee novels by John D. MacDonald, Mr. Bush tackled Michael Crichton’s “Next,” Vince Flynn’s “Executive Power,” Stephen Hunter’s “Point of Impact,” and Albert Camus’s “The Stranger,” among others.
About Karl Rove
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.
Before Karl became known as “The Architect” of President Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.
Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon & Schuster. Email the author at Karl@Rove.com or visit him on the web at Rove.com.
Fifty-eight of the books he read that year were nonfiction. Nearly half of his 2006 reading was history and biography, with another eight volumes on current events (mostly the Mideast) and six on sports.
To my surprise, the president demanded a rematch in 2007. Though the overall pace slowed, he once more came in second in our two-man race, reading 51 books to my 76. His list was particularly wide-ranging that year, from history (“The Great Upheaval” and “Khrushchev’s Cold War”), biographical (Dean Acheson and Andrew Mellon), and current affairs (including “Rogue Regime” and “The Shia Revival”). He read one book meant for young adults, his daughter Jenna’s excellent “Ana’s Story.”
A glutton for punishment, Mr. Bush insisted on another rematch in 2008. But it will be a three-peat for me: as of today, his total is 40 volumes to my 64. His reading this year included a heavy dose of history — including David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter,” Rick Atkinson’s “Day of Battle,” Hugh Thomas’s “Spanish Civil War,” Stephen W. Sears’s “Gettysburg” and David King’s “Vienna 1814.” There’s also plenty of biography — including U.S. Grant’s “Personal Memoirs”; Jon Meacham’s “American Lion”; James M. McPherson’s “Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief” and Jacobo Timerman’s “Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number.”
Each year, the president also read the Bible from cover to cover, along with a daily devotional.
The reading competition reveals Mr. Bush’s focus on goals. It’s not about winning. A good-natured competition helps keep him centered and makes possible a clear mind and a high level of energy. He reads instead of watching TV. He reads on Air Force One and to relax and because he’s curious. He reads about the tasks at hand, often picking volumes because of the relevance to his challenges. And he’s right: I’ve won because he has a real job with enormous responsibilities.
In the 35 years I’ve known George W. Bush, he’s always had a book nearby. He plays up being a good ol’ boy from Midland, Texas, but he was a history major at Yale and graduated from Harvard Business School. You don’t make it through either unless you are a reader.
There is a myth perpetuated by Bush critics that he would rather burn a book than read one. Like so many caricatures of the past eight years, this one is not only wrong, but also the opposite of the truth and evidence that bitterness can devour a small-minded critic. Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them.
For two terms in the White House, Mr. Bush has been in the arena, keeping America safe and facing down enormous challenges, all the while acting with dignity. And when on Jan. 20 he flies from Washington to Texas one last time, he will do so as he arrived — with friends and a book nearby.
Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.