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One sure window into a person's soul is his reading list. Often, it is the books read in youth that influence later years.

Take, for example, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His favorite books as a child were "Boys of 1812" and "Sailor Boys of '61," by James Russell Soley, and "Plain Tales From the Hills," by Rudyard Kipling, stories that mixed history, adventure and the sea, passions he held throughout his life and career.As a youth, Dwight D. Eisenhower was obsessed with military history and the classics, particularly Thucydides and Homer.

His mother, exasperated that Little Ike was ignoring his other studies, locked the classics in the closet. But the general-to-be found a key, said Stephen Ambrose, an Eisenhower biographer.

The young Harry S. Truman was famous for his love of the Bible, Mark Twain's books, George Eliot's "Silas Marner" and Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

And Bill Clinton loved John Fitzgerald Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage."

So when Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and potential presidential candidate, was recently asked about the book he remembered most from his early years in the Bronx, the four-star general, who has just completed his memoir, "My American Journey" (Random House), didn't flinch.

His answer: "My Antonia," by Willa Cather, the coming-of-age story of an orphaned Virginian who moves to Nebraska and befriends a Bohemian immigrant.

"Don't ask me why," Powell said, chuckling. "But that's the one that stuck out."

- Mary B.W. Tabor