Political favourites: the books politicians claim to have read

Theresa May says she’s read all the Harry Potter novels, but won’t discuss which character she resembles

While France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, can apparently quote Molière from memory, and Justin Trudeau has read “just about everything” by Stephen King, Theresa May claimed on Wednesday, during a visit to a school, that she has read all of the Harry Potter books. When pressed, though, she refused to say which of the series’ characters she most resembles. “I don’t think I’m similar to any of the characters,” she snapped.

So what have other leaders claimed to read? In Cameron on Cameron, David Cameron said that his favourite books were Robert Graves’s memoir Goodbye to All That and David Copperfield, though a 2014 photo of his Downing Street flat showed more cookbooks than literary fiction on his bookshelves. Before Tony Blair became prime minister, he chose Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe as his Desert Island Discs book; while in office, he said that his favourites were a biography of Trotsky and the children’s book Flat Stanley; and in 2011 he claimed to read the Qur’an every day. Margaret Thatcher was sneered at for “re-reading Freddie Forsyth”, but George W Bush had a long-term reading competition with his White House adviser Karl Rove.

This obsession with political reading is nothing new. Nixon professed to have read all 10 volumes of the Hay and Nicolay biography of Abraham Lincoln. Churchill said he had read all of HG Wells’s books, twice. Napoleon boasted that he had read Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther seven times.

Bucking the trend, of course, is Donald Trump, who doesn’t have time to read books. But he and May might like to know about recent evidence on the subject of Potter and politics. Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania surveyed more than 1,000 Americans and found that the more Harry Potter books people had read, the less they liked Trump. The 2016 study was called “Harry Potter and the Deathly Donald”.

Katy Guest

The GuardianTramp

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