For politicians, naming a favorite book is often a chance to borrow some clout. But it can also put them in the sticky spot of having to defend ideas they’d rather not endorse. While she was a Minnesota state senator, Michele Bachmann posted a list of nine favorite works on her website. Here’s a look at her must-reads and what each says about the candidate.
John Adams by David McCullough
A love of the Founding Fathers is a basic Tea Party requirement, and selecting this Pulitzer-prize winning biography helps polish those credentials. (She also put the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and George Washington’s Farewell Address on her list.) It’s easy to see why Bachmann might see herself in Adams. He was a fierce patriot and hugely ambitious—as is the three-term congresswoman who started her own caucus and gave her own response to the President’s State of the Union address. She is also incredibly proud of her “titanium spine,” her willingness to say “no” and “no” again to anything that doesn’t fully align with her ideology. John Adams prized the same sort of inflexibility in himself. “Thanks to God that he gave me stubbornness when I know I am right,” he once said. That could be Bachmann’s campaign slogan.
Ludwig von Mises: The Man and His Economics by Israel M. Kirzner
Bachmann recently said that when she goes to the beach, she brings Mises (which is kind of saying War and Peace is your favorite bathroom reading). Mises, an Austrian-American economist who died in 1973, was a libertarian and uncompromising supporter of free markets. As a TIME book reviewer put it in 1944, to Mises “the evil that afflicts the world has one origin everywhere: too much government intervention in men’s livelihoods.” That makes him prime for a spot on Bachmann’s list and in Tea Partyer hearts, given their anti-stimulus, anti-bailout, anti-spending stances. Mises has been called a laissez-faire extremist, the sort of moniker that would likely only endear him more to many of Bachmann’s supporters. (Her recommendation of Thomas Sowell’s Vision of the Anointed, a critique of the liberal elite, is another clear criticism of government involvement.)
Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins
Bachmann has already gone through a series of slavery-related gaffes. She signed a “Marriage Vow” pledge, which originally suggested that an African-American child born into slavery had it better than one born under Barack Obama. She controversially asserted that Washington was turning America into “a nation of slaves.” And she dubiously claimed that the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery, later clarifying that she meant John Quincy Adams (who was a boy in the Founding-Father era). In a thorough profile of Bachmann, the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza shows how this endorsement could prove another:
“Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North … In the book, Wilkins condemns ‘the radical abolitionists of New England’ and writes that ‘most southerners strove to treat their slaves with respect and provide them with a sufficiency of goods for a comfortable, though—by modern standards—spare existence.’ African slaves brought to America, he argues, were essentially lucky: ‘Africa, like any other pagan country, was permeated by the cruelty and barbarism typical of unbelieving cultures.’”
Modern Times by Paul Johnson
Johnson is a pretty safe bet for Bachmann’s list. He’s an acclaimed, conservative British historian who has written dozens of books. In Modern Times, Johnson condenses the 1920s to the 1990s, across the continents, into one narrative. (In large part, he wrote, the story of modern times is explaining how humans filled the vacuum where religious impulse used to be.) The piece has attracted oodles of approval, particularly from the right. “The struggle between freedom and tyranny has defined the past hundred years, and few have written of that struggle with greater skill than Paul Johnson,” George W. Bush said in 2006. “In all his writings, Paul Johnson shows great breadth of knowledge and moral clarity.”
Understanding the Times by David Noebel
David Noebel is a founder of Summit Ministries, an “educational Christian ministry whose very existence is a response to our current post-Christian culture” and that tries to reach “countless Christian youth [who] have fallen victim to the popular ideas of our modern world,” according to their website. And Understanding the Times is a book that lays out a Christian worldview meant to be used in homeschooling. Bachmann shares Noebel’s unapologetically religious view of the world, as well as his opposition to gay activism, and once sat on his ministry’s board of directors, according to the New Yorker. Lizza calls Noebel an “exotic influence” on her thinking and says “the success of her campaign will rest partly on her ability to keep these influences, which she has talked about for years, out of the public discussion.”