Fact Check

What Does Obama Read? 'The Post-American World'

A photograph supposedly captured Barack Obama reading a book about "a Muslim's view of a defeated America."

Published Oct 7, 2008

Photograph shows Barack Obama carrying the book The Post-American World, "a Muslim's view of a defeated America."
What's True

President Obama read (and was photographed carrying) the book 'The Post-American World.'

What's False

'The Post-American World' is not a book offering 'a Muslim's view of a defeated America.'

A photograph of Barack Obama carrying (and presumably reading) the best-selling book, The Post-American World, is a real one, snapped by Doug Mills of the New York Times in Bozeman, Montana, in May 2008:

What does Obama read?Hussein Obama with a book in his hands. He's reading "The Post-American World" — it's a Muslim's view of a defeated America!

However, the characterization of the pictured book as "a Muslim's view of a defeated America" is erroneous: The book does not posit a "defeated America," nor does it express a Muslim point of view:

The The Post-American World was written by Fareed Zakaria, an Indian-born political journalist (commonly described as a "political moderate") who specializes in world affairs and has written for (and edited) U.S. national news publications, hosted U.S. television news programs, and authored several books on international issues. A Village Voice profile described Zakaria (a naturalized citizen of the United States) thusly:

Although he was a rising star in the serious foreign-policy world of the '90s (The Nation once described him as a "junior Kissinger"), it was his post-9/11 Newsweek cover story "Why They Hate Us" that put him on the mainstream map as someone who could make sense of the now threatening outside world. And he has continued to win himself a substantial following with his thoughtful critiques of the Bush administration's activities in Iraq. He is America's go-to man for global chaos, providing some urgently needed outside perspective on our never ending war on terror.His own upbringing was open-minded and secular; he sang Christian hymns at school and celebrated Hindu as well as his own Muslim holidays. "I do know a lot about the world of Islam in an instinctive way that you can't get through book learning," he says thoughtfully, but admits he finds the role of token Muslim explainer in the American media slightly uncomfortable. "I occasionally find myself reluctant to be pulled into a world that's not mine, in the sense that I'm not a religious guy."

The following review (from Publishers Weekly) summarizes the thesis of The Post-American World

When a book proclaims that it is not about the decline of America but the rise of everyone else, readers might expect another diatribe about our dismal post-9/11 world. They are in for a pleasant surprise as Newsweek editor and popular pundit Zakaria (The Future of Freedom) delivers a stimulating, largely optimistic forecast of where the 21st century is heading. We are living in a peaceful era, he maintains; world violence peaked around 1990 and has plummeted to a record low. Burgeoning prosperity has spread to the developing world, raising standards of living in Brazil, India, China andIndonesia. Twenty years ago China discarded Soviet economics but not its politics, leading to a wildly effective, top-down, scorched-earth boom. Its political antithesis, India, also prospers while remaining a chaotic, inefficient democracy, as Indian elected officials are (generally) loathe to use the brutally efficient tactics that are the staple of Chinese governance. Paradoxically, India's greatest asset is its relative stability in the region; its officials take an unruly population for granted, while dissent produces paranoia in Chinese leaders. Zakaria predicts that despite its record of recent blunders at home and abroad, America will stay strong, buoyed by a stellar educational system and the influx of young immigrants, who give the U.S. a more youthful demographic than Europe and much of Asia whose workers support an increasing population of unproductive elderly. A lucid, thought-provoking appraisal of world affairs, this book will engage readers on both sides of the political spectrum.

As for what the chief executive reads in his spare time, according to deputy press secretary Bill Burton, President Obama brought the following books with him to his August 2009 vacation at Martha's Vineyard:

  • The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller based in Washington, D.C.
  • Lush Life by Richard Price, a story of race and class set in New York's Lower East Side.
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Tom Friedman, on the benefits to America of an environmental revolution.
  • John Adams by David McCullough, a biography of the Founding Father and 2nd U.S. President.
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a drama about the life of eight different characters living in a Colorado prairie community.

In 2015, President Obama's summer reading list, as announced by the White House, included the following books:

  • All That Is, a novel by James Salter, whose "intimately detailed novels and short stories kept a small but devoted audience in his thrall for more than half a century."
  • All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, the story of a blind French girl and a reluctant German soldier whose lives converge in the French coastal town of Saint Malo.
  • The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert, a work that explores the harmful impact of humans on the planet.
  • The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri, which tells the story of two brothers in Calcutta India in the 1960s who share everything but begin to pull apart as they grow older.
  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a meditation of race in America in the form of a letter from the author to his adolescent son.
  • Washington: A Life, by Ron Chernow, the historian who penned the biography of Alexander Hamilton that the musical "Hamilton" is based on.


arner, Dwight.   "What Obama Is Reading."     The New York Times.   21 May 2008.

Joffe, Josef.   "The New New World."     The New York Times.   11 May 2008.

Press, Joy.   "The Interpreter."     Village Voice.   9 August 2005.

Wolf, Richard.   "President's Reading List a Hefty One."     USA Today.   24 August 2009.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.