The First Collection of President Obama’s Public Papers

April 13, 2011

I think that the Public Papers of the Presidents is one of the Federal Government’s most distinguished series of publications – and not just because my name once appeared in one of its volumes. Each President since Herbert Hoover (except Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose papers were published privately prior to the inauguration of the official series) has had his papers and speeches printed in these imposing and austerely handsome volumes, usually issued twice a year by the National Archives and Records Administration’s Office of the Federal Register.

I bring this up because the first volume of President Barack Obama’s Public Papers has just hit the Government Book Talk main desk (at 1,030 pages, plus an extensive index, it hit with great impact, too.) Every President gets his own binding color, and President Obama’s is a navy blue, with the usual cool gold stamping. In addition to the text, it includes a few color photographs of the President and First Lady – in all, a fine example of GPO’s expertise in traditional printing even as it continues to innovate in the digital arena. (The President gets his own special leather-bound copy personally delivered by the Public Printer of the United States – and as he points out, we don’t do many of those!) To see how GPO does it, click here.

Well, it’s great that these are such beautiful books, but what about the content? It shows that Presidents turn up everywhere, from the Tonight show (page 301) to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (page 759) to a town hall meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin (page 802). The topics of his speeches, interviews, and news conferences are as diverse as the duties of America’s Chief Executive – health care, foreign relations, economic crises, and even history, as shown by his visit to the Buchenwald concentration camp (page 781). I was particularly touched by his brief statement regarding the victims of a horrendous 2009 Metro subway crash here in DC (page 873) – it happened not long after I rode the same subway line home from work that day.

Perhaps no book better conveys the range of responsibility our Presidents must shoulder every day of their terms. It’s a volume for browsing, revisiting the issues of President Obama’s first six months in office, and wondering how any President deals with the myriad demands on his time, energy, and intellect. You can do your own browsing here or add a copy to your personal library from here. For other volumes in this fine series, you can visit GPO’s Federal Digital System for those issued since 1991 or check our online bookstore by searching under “public papers” to see which ones are still in print.

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