I Read These Books So That You Don’t Have To

President Biden had a far better comeback at his disposal last week when he took offense at a special counsel report that suggested he didn’t remember which year his son Beau died. He’d already delivered that alternative response in “Promise Me, Dad,” the memoir he published in 2017 about his son’s illness and death.

“This story was not an easy one for me to tell,” Biden writes in the acknowledgments. “There were many days I found it difficult to go back and revisit this time period; and my memories of events were sometimes foggy. There were a number of people I counted on to help me with recall, with the reconstruction chronologies, and with encouragement.”

It’s an understandable explanation for how the mind can obscure memories of family trauma. Instead, Biden went with “it wasn’t any of their damn business.” If only he’d reread his book first.

I’ve been a Washington journalist for nearly 25 years, yet I’ve never trailed members of Congress around the Capitol, interviewed the faithful at a campaign rally or exposed the misdeeds of a corrupt politician. Instead, I interpret Washington by reading it.

I read political histories and manifestoes. I pore over centuries-old essays and decades-old special counsel reports. I scour Supreme Court decisions and the footnotes of congressional investigations. I read lots of books about American politics, and, yes, plenty of books by politicians and government officials. I read the glossy biographies peddled by wannabe presidential contenders and the revisionist memoirs of former notables. I read tell-all books by midlevel White House staffers and tell-some books by presidents, vice presidents, senators and F.B.I. directors.

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