President Barack Obama said he bought “books for every age group, from five to 52” — including one on how race affects athleticism — in a trip Saturday afternoon to Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.
The semi-controversial book “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” by David Epstein may have been Obama’s most interesting purchase — Epstein himself has acknowledged that the book tackles taboo topics such as race and the unsettled nature-nurture debate.
“I lost so much sleep over this,” Epstein told The Atlantic in an interview earlier this year. “I literally almost backed out of writing this book, because the issues of race and gender got me so nervous. Eventually my agent and one of my colleagues convinced me to just do it, in the best way I could.”
Beside many other topics, Epstein explains in his book why track and field sprinters of West African descent tend to excel in the sport compared to other racial cohorts. Inborn differences in hemoglobin levels and limb length are part of the explanation for their dominance in the sport, he says. That topic is still taboo in most academic circles, says Epstein, for fears that it may lead to discussions on innate intelligence differences.
“I’m pleased and certainly surprised he picked up my book, but not at all surprised he’s interested in the topics,” said Epstein, who was reached by The Daily Caller News Foundation via email.
“I don’t think the president does nor should shy away from topics like gender and race — and certainly not from the science of genetics — that are important to Americans and humans generally,” said Epstein, adding that he wants to use the stage of sports to explore the deepest questions about “human biological diversity.”
“I hope he enjoys using sports to delve into evolution, genetics, and questions about nature and nurture as much as I did,” Epstein told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Another sports book Obama purchased was “Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football” — a book by Nicholas Dawidoff documenting the year he spent tagging along with the New York Jets football team.
The president’s selection of over 20 books was diverse, with some titles, like “Lulu and the Brontosaurus” and “Ottoline and the Yellow Cat” seemingly chosen by first daughters Sasha and Malia, who accompanied the president.
The first family also bought a copy of ““Harold and the Purple Crayon,” a 1955 classic about a young boy who wanted something so he built it — or, in his case, drew it with a purple crayon. (TOP TEN: Memes mocking Obama’s ‘you didn’t build that’ remark)
The more adult selections ran the gamut from literary fiction to historical fiction to sports-related non-fiction.
Notable choices included the 1918 classic “My Antonia” by Willa Cather. The novel — which champions the immigrant pioneer spirit of a Nebraska plains family — is an interesting choice given the president’s recent push for comprehensive immigration reform.
Obama also selected “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena” by Anthony Marra. The book documents the lives of Chechens during a decade of civil war.
“Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow and “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini are two popular novels chosen by Obama. Both tell the stories of families living in significant historical eras — the former in early 1900s New York City; the latter in contemporary Afghanistan.
The trip was part of a fledgling post-Black Friday ritual called Small Business Saturday, which was started in 2010 by American Express.
This marks the third year in a row that the first family — sans Michelle — has visited an independent bookstore on Small Business Saturday.
Last year, Obama and his daughters visited One More Page Books in Arlington, Va. On that trip, the president purchased 15 children’s books. In 2011, the trio visited Kramerbooks and Afterwards Cafe in Washington. D.C.
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