When asked by the Associated Press to name the last novel they had read, many of our umpteen presidential candidates responded predictably with thrillers by the likes of Grisham or Patterson (James or Richard North). Sen. John McCain’s choice of bedside reading was the most intriguing. Did Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” give him second thoughts about the war in Iraq?
If it were up to me to assign the pols summer reading, I’d put “Phineas Finn” at the head of the list. The second of Anthony Trollope’s six “Palliser” novels chronicling political life in Victorian England, “Phineas Finn” is the outstanding volume in an outstanding series and can be enjoyed independently of its companions. Weighing in at more than 700 pages, it can’t be polished off during a quick flight from D.C. to Des Moines, but England’s greatest 19th-century political novel is instructive and illuminating to this day.