Neither Hayes nor Pierce come to mind when choosing the most memorable (or successful) chief executives in the nation’s history. And sadly, neither has a particularly deep field of biographies from which to choose.
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* The first Hayes biography I read was “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior & President” by Ari Hoogenboom. Published in 1995, this was the first comprehensive biography of Hayes written in four decades. It proves detailed, well-researched, thoughtful and thorough.
Written by an author sympathetic to Hayes, at both its beginning and end it attempts to convince the reader that Hayes was a far more decent and progressive chief executive than history recalls. During most of the book, however, Hoogenboom follows a facts-only style which wis balanced but rarely engrossing.
By its end, this biography has provided a comprehensive look at Hayes on both a personal and professional level and seems likely to remain the “go to” biography on the this president for the foreseeable future. (Full review here)
*The last biography of Hayes I read was “Rutherford B. Hayes” by Hans Trefousse. A member of The American Presidents Series, this biography was published in 2002 and is far shorter than Hoogenboom’s. And unlike Hoogenboom, Trefousse seems to view his mission as re-acquainting the modern reader with Hayes, not the rehabilitation of his legacy.
This makes for a slightly more balanced biography, but also a less passionate and provocative one. In addition, one almost gets the sense by the end of Trefousse’s biography that he was handicapped by this series’s format – or that his heart was not entirely in the effort. Nonetheless, for readers seeking a quick, crisp summary of Hayes’s entire life, this book may prove valuable. (Full review here)
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Although I learned a great deal about Hayes through these two biographies, I don’t feel like I know or understand him on a personal level. Hoogenboom did a far better job conveying Hayes’s “inner self” than did Trefousse, but neither were able to fully humanize him. This is somewhat surprising because Hayes left behind a large collection of diary entries and letters…but perhaps Hayes, like many people, is simply destined to remain a bit opaque.
***During my journey through Hayes’s life I discovered a biography I need to read on my next pass through the presidents: Harry Barnard’s 1954 “Rutherford B. Hayes: And His America.” Prior to publication of Hoogenboom’s biography this seems to have been the standard Hayes biography and is undoubtedly worth reading.
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Best Biography of Rutherford Hayes: Ari Hoogenboom’s “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior & President”