Many of our presidents were well-known bibliophiles. Rutherford Hayes enjoyed Emerson. Calvin Coolidge translated Dante’s Inferno from the original Italian. Woodrow Wilson is the only president to have a PhD. And John F. Kennedy is the only Pulitzer Prize winner among presidential authors.These and other bits about the reading habits of former presidents can be found in this article from the Weekly Standard. By the way, the article’s author, Richard Norton Smith, is also the author of a presidential biography I would highly recommend: Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation.
"Harry Truman loved books more than bourbon," writes Smith. "As a self-confessed mama’s boy imprisoned behind coke-bottle glasses, Truman inhabited distant times and foreign cultures through volumes like Great Men and Famous Women. As a senator conducting sensitive investigations of military contracts during World War II, a frustrated Truman fantasized about going away somewhere and burying himself in Shakespeare and Plutarch. His thorough knowledge of the Bible and his deep immersion in the ancients made him naturally sympathetic to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Not long before he died, asked if he liked to read himself to sleep at night, the ex-president replied, "No, young man. I like to read myself awake.""
Here is another fun story from Smith’s article about Abraham Lincoln, well-known for his voracious reading habits. "His 1860 campaign biographer, John L. Scripps, not content to have Lincoln repay a farmer for a damaged book with three days’ hard labor, conjured up a young scholar at home in Plutarch’s Lives. This charming tale had but one shortcoming: It had been made up out of whole cloth by a writer who simply assumed, as he put it in a postelection letter to the victorious candidate, that Lincoln was familiar with the classic work. If not, wrote an embarrassed Scripps, Lincoln "must read it at once to make my statement good." Although the author received no formal reply, the Library of Congress did in the form of a White House request to borrow the volume in question.