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WmMcKWilliam McKinley’s presidency marks the end of the Gilded Age (graced by such notables as Hayes, Garfield, Harrison and Cleveland) and the beginning of the Progressive Era in American history.

McKinley’s presidency also seems to define the word “average” – which I hope does not imply unexciting. The 2010 Sienna College Research Institute survey placed McKinley just one spot better than the most middle-of-the-road president (who in that survey turned out to be George H.W. Bush).

I’m beginning my journey through McKinley’s best biographies with the Pulitzer Prize-winning “In the Days of McKinley” by Margaret Leech. Published in 1959, this is one of the earliest comprehensive accounts of the McKinley presidency and is only the fifth female-authored presidential biography I’ve read so far. With 605 pages, this is the longest of my four McKinley biographies; I began reading this book several days ago and have just arrived at the half-way point. So far it’s interesting…but dense.

Next I’ll be reading H. Wayne Morgan’s 1963 biography “William McKinley and His America.” This promises to be another comprehensive survey of McKinley and his presidency and is reportedly more a biography and less a history of the era – in contrast to Leech’s earlier biography which, so far, seems to be just the opposite.

The third biography I’m reading is Lewis Gould’s 1981 “The Presidency of William McKinley.”  This member of the American Presidency Series (published by the University Press of Kansas) will almost certainly leave McKinley’s early life to other biographers and focus principally on his presidency. It receives fair marks but is seldom read, so I’ll just have to wait and see…

Last, I’m going to tackle Scott Miller’s 2011 “The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror and Empire.” With a reputation as a very readable popular history centered around McKinley’s assassination, this biography appears to be McKinley’s version of James Garfield’s “Destiny of the Republic” by Candice Millard. In other words, this may be less a scholarly biography of McKinley than a recounting of the most dramatic moments in his life. I’ll let you know what I think in about two weeks(!)

Then, on to Teddy Roosevelt by early February!