Figuring out what to do after you’ve held the highest office in the nation seems impossible. How can you top that? A lot of former presidents have spent at least some of their time after leaving office — and before — writing books.
President Obama has already written three books (Dreams from My Father, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts of Reclaiming the American Dream, and Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters). He has a deal in place to write two more once he leaves office — an advance of $500,000 for an abridged version of Dreams from My Father aimed at children and a non-fiction book.
The New York Times recently wrote an article speculating on Obama’s post-presidency literary endeavors, as well as the lucrative contracts they could bring. The Times points out that “every winning presidential candidate since 1952 has written at least one book before entering the White House.” And, interestingly, The Times speculated, “Mr. Obama may be the most successful presidential author since Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote 42 books.”
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Obama has quite a way to go to catch the most prolific presidential writer of recent times, Jimmy Carter. Carter is the author of 29 books, according to The Carter Center. Other recent presidents have also penned several books, both before and after their presidency. Some are memoirs, others are policy-driven, and others discuss ideology.
Keeping Up the Tradition: Presidential Writers of the Last 40 Years
The following are selected works from the previous five presidents:
39th President: Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
- A Full Life: Reflections at 90 (2015)
- The Hornet’s Nest: A Novel of the Revolutionary War (2003)
- An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood (2001)
- Keeping Faith: Memoirs of a President (1982)
- Why Not the Best?: The First Fifty Years (1975)
40th President: Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
41st President: George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
42nd President: Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
- Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy (2011)
- Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World (2007)
- My Life (2004)
- Between Hope and History (1996)
43rd President: George W. Bush (2001-2009)
- Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors (2017)
- 41: A Portrait of My Father (2014)
- Decision Points (2010)
- A Charge to Keep: My Journey to the White House (1999)
We can argue about who will ultimately be the most highly-published president in history, but there is little argument about who is the most famous. That distinction belongs to our third president, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence. He wrote plenty more too, including an autobiography published in 1821.
The most awarded? John F. Kennedy, the only president to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which he received for Profiles in Courage in 1957.