As an English professor who specializes in American lit and American Studies, I have to say that your query is both the most inviting I've ever seen on a blog and the most daunting. I could really, really go on, but I'm gonna be good and restrict myself to my favorite American novel, and still a very under- or even un-read one: Charles Chesnutt, The Marrow of Tradition (1901).
If all this novel did was draw attention to the 1898 Wilmington (NC) Massacre, perhaps the least well-known major event in American history--it's an actual and our only coup d'etat, for crying out loud!--that would probably be enough. But instead Chesnutt's narrator's masterful ability to move, with harsh honesty but also generous sympathy, inside the perspectives of a wide variety of characters (of every race, class, generation, and worldview) in his fictional post-Reconstruction Southern community provides the most complex and compelling picture of race, region, and nation yet produced by an American novelist. And the final chapters are both devastatingly tragic and yet offer a glimpse of hope for our shared future.
I'd recommend that President Obama read the article on healthcare in the current issue of The Atlantic.
Who killed Healthcare (and the consumer-driven cure)? By Regina Herzlinger. I read two books about health care this summer, Herzlinger’s and a book by Tom Daschle called critical. Obama blurbed Daschle’s book, but Herzlinger’s is far more comprehensive and technical. Daschle covered the legislative history of health care. Herzlinger explained everything, from the birth, rise, and fall of Kaiser Permanente to the big hospital’s effort to have smaller, more efficient specialty hospitals legislated out of agenda. It was a tremendous book, and I am sure that Obama would have to take a second look at a consumer centered reform.
The first title that came to mind was "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Sometimes one needs to abandon theory and understand the personal.
Quoth Jason Vines:
My suggestion to President Obama would be The Road to Serfdom by Austrian economist and Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek.
Originally published in 1944, The Road to Serfdom is a concise yet illuminating description of how socialism in the Kaiser's Reich and the Weimar Republic laid the groundwork for the ascendance of the Nazis. Unlike Jonah Goldberg in his ridiculous equivocation of liberals to fascists, Hayek doesn't claim that left-wingers are Nazis or that we will precisely mimic Nazis by following left-wing prescriptions. Rather, Hayek issues and supports a more measured warning: that increasing central control and collective responsibility has unintended consequences dangerous to liberty. As Obama contemplates trying to solve our problems by expanding government, The Road to Serfdom could give him valuable perspective on the wisdom of such an endeavor.
Reinventing Collapse by Dimitri Orlov
Russian-American software engineer and Peak Oil theorist Dimitri Orlov draws parallels between what he witnessed during the collapse of the Soviet Union and how a similar economic and societal collapse might play out in the United States. Orlov puts forward a very pessimistic view about our petroleum-dependent economy and how it is likely to fare when large quantities of cheap oil are no longer available. This book would serve two purposes: a wake up call about the house of cards that a foreign oil-based economy rests on, and food for thought on how our government might be able to prepare for a worst case scenario. It's also a fun and quick read, depressing subject matter not withstanding.
And Iris Oleske writes from Wyoming writes:
I've been reading David Kennedy's Freedom From Fear and after every page I say to myself, "Obama should read this book.". It isn't so much that there are parallels between the Depression era and now (though I'm sure Rush and Hannity would have loved Gerald Smith and Father Coughlan) -- rather it's that FDR, during his first term especially, wasn't afraid to lead the country in directions that his opponents were loathe to go.
I nominate "Pushed off the Mountain, Sold Down the River: Wyoming's search for its soul" by Samuel Western (2002). Moose, WY: Homestead Publishing. This book is a fairly quick read, but it is a totally captivating and persuasive view of the modern-day mountain West, not just Wyoming. At the same time, it explicates why Wyoming is the way it is, and why President Obama should not let himself be thrown off stride by the likes of Sen. Enzi, Sen. Barrasso, and the rest of their ilk. It's a great beach read. In fact, I may read it again myself just for fun.
More to come...