What's the President-Elect's Top Prop?

Two of my favorite book-spy pastimes--reading the spines on bookshelves in the background of photos and keeping an eye on what Obama is reading--have intersected with President-elect Obama's weekly YouTube video addresses. The view out the window keeps changing, but the two things on the table behind him remain the same: the photo of--I assume--his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and a set of three volumes in a wooden case:

What are the books? The titles are too fuzzy for me to make out. What do you think? Some possible three-volume candidates: The Presidential Recordings: Lyndon B. Johnson, Volumes 1-3 (one of the best things that's ever arrived in my office mail!)? Shelby Foote's Civil War? The Oxford English Dictionary Additions (he's not that much of a book geek)? The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz? The Handbook of Finance (might come in handy these days: "Volume I: Financial Markets and Instruments skillfully covers the general characteristics of different asset classes, derivative instruments, the markets in which financial instruments trade, and the players in those markets.... Volume III Valuation, Financial Modeling, and Quantitative Tools contains the most comprehensive coverage of the analytical tools, risk measurement methods, and valuation techniques currently used in the field of finance.")

Well, I was going to open the floor for suggestions and crowd-sourced detective work, but I think I figured it out. I went back to the November 15 address, and the books are still there, but a little closer, and I can read "John F. Kennedy" on the spines:

I hunted around a little on the site, and I think I've got it: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, 1962 and 1963, unabridged in three volumes, from the U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964. Does this sound right? "The books are blue buckram, gold spine title on red printed label and the dimensions are 6.75" X 9.75". President Kennedy's writings and public communications starting with his inaugural address. Itemized list of phone calls, letters, statements, greetings, etc. plus a complete index." Currently we have one copy available in "perfect" condition (O's look a little worn), for $625. I don't know if that includes the wooden case. --Tom

P.S. I also noticed one other difference in the Nov. 15 video. Instead of the photo of his daughters on the right behind him, there's a signed basketball. I couldn't make out who signed it (it looks about the same vintage as the books), and I was going to throw that one out for detective work, but somebody's already done that too.(It's signed by Lenny Wilkens.) Man, the Web giveth mystery, and taketh it away... (Looks like I wasn't the first to figure out the books, either.) Okay, one last mystery for you: what's the book next to the basketball? That, I believe, remains unsolved...

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Comments (9)

That book to the left of the basketball is, "Public Papers of the President-Elect of the United States: Barack Obama, 2008". In keeping with his campaign theme of, "Change", and "Secrecy", it is composed entirely of blank pages.

Posted by: AnAverageAmerican | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 5:52 PM

I guess the volumes of JFK stuff are supposed to tell us that he wants to be the same type of President as JFK.

But considering what a disaster JFK was as President, that doesn't give me any warm and fuzzies. Bay of Pigs, Vienna Summit, Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Bobby's wiretaps and eavesdropping, JE Hoover's files, MLK spying, Ol Miss desegregation fiasco. Those are only off the top of my head.

And all this in only 3 years? Of course, JFKs reputation was fashioned by the news media as was Obama's.

Posted by: John Dunshee | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 4:22 PM

Wow, great call Vaclav. I didn't think that one was going to be identifiable. The only edition of Prosser et al we have a photo for on our site is an earlier one, from 1971: http://www.amazon.com/Cases-Materials-Torts-William-Prosser/dp/B000NZ7SN4

Posted by: Tom | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 9:28 AM

I think it is the 'Where's Garfield' comic book. Jon is so crazy talking to himself ROFL!!@11!

Posted by: Josh Reiter | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 9:26 AM

Look close! There's no pages in the law textbook! What does this mean???!

Posted by: Joe | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 9:14 AM

Great call! I walk past these nearly every working day (I work in a library).

Posted by: Leslie | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 6:53 AM

Image is so much more important than reality.

Posted by: Roux | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 6:50 AM

Shouldn't the Smartest President Ever be reading some books on engineering? After all we have all this alternative energy stuff proposed and of course the government is now going to be runing the car companies.

The Smartest President Ever wouldn't want to get scammed would he?

Posted by: M. Simon | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 5:34 AM

You are right about the Presidential papers - when I first saw it, I knew it was one of those sets, I just didn't know which one - each President gets a slightly different color combination. As far as the other book, it's a law school text book from the mid to late 1980's - when Sen. Obama was in school. It's published by Foundation Press - if I had to guess, I'd say "Cases and Materials on Torts" by Prosser, Wade and Schwartz.

This is a sample picture of that series of books (although Evidence, not Torts):


Posted by: Václav Šulik | Tuesday December 9, 2008 at 5:19 AM

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