What must lonely leaders read?

“The loneliness of leaders. Sometimes I try to imagine what they read, what books the great political leaders might pick up. I don’t mean the abhorrent dictators… but genuinely great leaders. I’m not sure such leaders even exist at this historical moment, probably not, but they did exist, fortunately enough, not so long ago, during the Second World War. Poets and novelists are reluctant to remember this….”

“So what should those extraordinary individuals, the real leaders, read? I was raised on literary culture, which has its bona fide heroes, truly remarkable, in which Kierkegaard and Kafka, Dostoevsky and Celan, receive their due. But if I try to think myself into the minds of those who bear the responsibility for a whole nation, if I imagine the nightly vigils of someone facing the monumental challenges of, say, a Churchill, would I really recommend Fear and Trembling, The Sickness unto Death, Notes from Underground, Metamorphosis, wonderful texts, books, categories, images that are our hymns, the hymns of our introspection, articulating our uncertainties, our mistrust of all authority? I wouldn’t dare. For the time being, these great leaders — do they exist? — must reach for Thucydides, Plutarch, Livy. And of course Homer and Shakespeare.”

Adam Zagajewski in Slight Exaggeration, © 2011

3 thoughts on “What must lonely leaders read?

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