Taylor Swift, Auto-Didact

In this week’s Rolling Stone, Taylor Swift talks history. “I just read a 900-page book called The Kennedy Women,” she tells the magazine. “This morning I bought books about John Adams, Lincoln’s Cabinet, the Founding Fathers and Ellis Island.”

Let’s run down Taylor’s syllabus, which is pretty easy if you’ve got a working knowledge of the nonfiction dustbins at your local Barnes & Noble. In addition to Laurence Leamer’s The Kennedy Women, she’s reading David McCullough’s John Adams and his 1776 (or maybe Joseph Ellis’s Founding Brothers) and — regrettably — Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. The Ellis Island title’s harder to identify: I’m guessing it’s not David R. Roediger’s Working Toward Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White. Maybe Kate Kerrigan’s new historical novel Ellis Island? Maybe the oral history Island of Hope, Island of Tears? Maybe Vincent Cannato’s American Passage?

Anyway, it’s nice to see someone so young and so famous reading all this semi-serious nonfiction, even if Swift seems to base her choices on the last few years’ most popular Fathers’ Day gifts. A friend quipped that Swift surely bought Mark Twain’s Autobiography last year. But here’s the crazy thing: while a copy of Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time must be floating around her tour bus, Swift was born eighteen months after its publication.

Bonus link: this interesting 1988 New York feature, pegged to the publication of Hawking’s book, on “the great unread books of our time.”

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About Craig Fehrman

Craig Fehrman is a Ph.D. student in Yale’s English department and a freelance writer. He's working on a book about presidents and their books [more] . . .
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One Response to Taylor Swift, Auto-Didact

  1. Eric R. says:

    HA, I actually own “Closing of the American Mind” and “Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.” I did manage to make it through “Closing” but it was definitely a tough, sleep inducing read. “Rise and Fall” is still sitting pretty on my shelf awaiting the day I finally finish “Gravity’s Rainbow” and “The Gulag Archipelago.” Great find from 1988.

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