Honoring Senator John McCain’s Legacy of Reading

America’s heroes are readers!  From our Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, to the 20th and 21st century American war hero and statesman, Senator John McCain, our most brilliant leaders were (and are) voracious readers!  In fact, Thomas Jefferson gave us the famous quote:  “I cannot live without books.”  As literacy experts, we are most aware that America, herself, “cannot live without books.”  We understand that a democracy cannot function properly without a highly literate populace.

Senator John McCain 1936-2018
Senator John McCain

As the nation mourns the recent passing of Senator John McCain, as a means of honoring his legacy of reading, let us consider his attitude toward reading as well as his reading practices.  Asking all Americans to “pick up a book and read,” he wisely advised “you can do no better for your mind than to read.”  In his penned title, The Restless Wave, Senator McCain encouraged all children to especially  read “Huckleberry Finn,” for Twain’s classic “teaches us to see past our differences to the inherent dignity we possess in equal measure.”

McCain read newspapers in the morning and books in the evenings and on airplanes. Preferring print, (he liked to “clap the book shut when finished”), he grew up reading an “awful lot.”  Reading Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn over and over, his other favorites included the rough-and-tumble adventures:  Ivanhoe, King Arthur,  and Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Kidnapped.

As an adult, Senator McCain enjoyed Fitzgerald and Hemingway, the later’s For Whom the Bell Tolls being his very favorite read.  Hemingway’s classic, in McCain’s words, “instructed me to see the world as it is, with all its corruption and cruelty, and believe it’s worth fighting for anyway, even dying for. No just cause is futile, even if it’s lost, if it helps make the future better than the past.”

Some of the last books Senator McCain read were Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo di Vinci and Ron Cherow’s Grant, the biography of our 18th President, described by McCain as “an original and discerning military strategist.”  His listing of recommended books for the American public provided insight as to his stellar preparation in understanding our country’s heritage and history, allowing him to make wise decisions for American citizens:

Battle Cry of Freedom, by James McPherson (Civil War)

The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam (Vietnam War)

Goodbye to All That, by Robert Graves (WWI)

Winds of War, by Herman Wouk (WWII)

This Kind of War, by T.R. Fehrenbach (Korean War)

And, Senator McCain believed ALL future presidents should read Carl Sandburg’s Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie and the War Years in order to gain instruction in the “personal virtues” which assure an “extraordinarily wise, decent, and crucial presidency.”

As literacy professionals, let us urge all our fellow American citizens, voters all, to elect only such officials as Senator John McCain, those who understand the importance of wide, deep reading as a means of instilling great personal wisdom and foresight.