American history, biographies, Calvin Coolidge, David McCullough, Donald Trump, Dwight Eisenhower, FDR, Harry Truman, Jean Edward Smith, presidential biographies, Presidents
If it’s Christmas Eve…it must be time for another anniversary post!
Four years ago I began reading the first book in James Flexner’s four-volume series on George Washington. Since then I’ve navigated 169 biographies covering the first 34 presidents. And thanks to this site I have met an enormous number of people who share the same passion for excellent presidential biographies!
2016 Highlights and Observations:
* 31 presidential biographies read (~18,000 pages) covering 5 presidents: from Calvin Coolidge to Dwight Eisenhower. My favorite biographies were “FDR” by Jean Edward Smith and “Truman” by David McCullough.
My quick take on this year’s presidents:
Coolidge: about what I expected (but where have people like him gone?)
Hoover: a dull president but an extraordinarily fascinating life
FDR: truly captivating…but also exhausting
Truman: fine, but thank you David McCullough!
Dwight Eisenhower: too early to call
* A profile in The Washington Post. After reading this February article my neighbors finally understand why the UPS driver is constantly stopping at my house to deliver more books. And I had the pleasure of seeing a convenience store cashier’s jaw nearly hit the floor when I tried to purchase every one of their two-dozen copies of the Sunday Washington Post the morning the article was published…
* Visitors from 175 countries, territories and otherwise geographically distinct locations. I admit I had never before heard of Guernsey. And no offense, but isn’t there anything better to be doing in the Seychelles Islands than reading a review of “Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President”?!?
* More folks are stopping by than ever! Thanks to each of you…and to:
– Google (…again): no matter how many words you misspell while searching for a review of “Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics” it seems Google is determined to send you my way.
– The Washington Post: having a profile published in Washington D.C.’s paper-of-record really does generate an audience. As a token of my appreciation I have renewed my subscription!
– Donald Trump: say what you might about his pending presidency…this election season created an explosion of new visitors. And assuming the Earth isn’t destroyed by a political pulsar in the coming years I’m confident President Trump will offer biographers a treasure trove of interesting material with which to work.
Interestingly, a huge percentage of my post-election visitors have been drawn to Andrew Jackson biographies. Although I understand many of the comparisons between “Old Hickory” and “The Donald” I still think the operative equation is Donald Trump = Teddy Roosevelt + Twitter
Top 10 Most Popular Posts/Pages in 2016:
1. ***The Best Presidential Biographies***
2. The Best Biographies of Theodore Roosevelt
3. The Best Biographies of Abraham Lincoln
4. New / Upcoming Releases
5. The Best Biographies of Thomas Jefferson
6. The Best Biographies of George Washington
7. The Best Biographies of Andrew Jackson
8. The Best Biographies of James Madison
9. The Best Biographies of John Adams
10.The Best Biographies of Ulysses S. Grant
This Year’s Most Popular Book Reviews:
- “FDR” by Jean Edward Smith
- “Washington: A Life” by Ron Chernow
- “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham
- “John Adams” by David McCullough
- “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard
- “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris
- “Lincoln” by David Herbert Donald
- “Grant” by Jean Edward Smith
- “The Life of Andrew Jackson” by Robert Remini
- “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House” by Jon Meacham
What’s Coming Up in 2017?!?
Dwight Eisenhower: 11 biographies (done in February?)
John F Kennedy: 13 biographies (March – June)
Lyndon Johnson: 9 biographies (August – October)
Richard Nixon: 10 biographies (November – )
★ And…many of you asked for it, so here it is: a list (in progress) which includes many of the non-presidents I’ve encountered on this journey who are worthy of biographical detours. Some of the most compelling figures in American history never occupied the White House, so now I’m finally assembling a list of them right here!
Steve Martin said:
I agree about the comparison between Trump and Teddy, but was afraid to spout off about it because people just go crazy about this stuff. And I love your, “isn’t there anything better to do I Seychelles islands”. Thanks for all your postings.
Several colleagues and I have been discussing whether our president-elect is more like TR or Andrew Jackson. If Trump proves to be as spontaneous and casual as he often appears, he is probably more like POTUS #7. If, on the other hand, he is more calculating, strategic and deliberate than he appears, POTUS #26 is probably the better comparison in my view. I’m certainly hoping for the latter… 🙂
Peter in Seattle said:
Trump = Teddy + Twitter – (Contemplation & Knowledge of History)
Teddy was an historian. He put a lot of energy into understanding the world, and then he acted on his impulses. Trump shares the impulsiveness.
Don’t think I disagree; there’s not always a lot of obvious contemplation that goes on before the output is shared publicly… 🙂
Congratulations on 4 years and getting the write up in the Post. I think I read every review you put out this year. I’m happy for you that the blog is getting a big readership. Your reviews are interesting and your diligence to keep to the schedule is amazing. Best wishes on the New Year!
Thanks and happy New Year! If I’m not mistaken, your pace seems more rapid and efficient than mine, and the only books I’ve purchased in the past year outside the “biography” genre have been based on your recommendation!
David John Frank said:
I love your site, and I’m so grateful for it! I’ve shared it with several friends. Thank you!
Thank you and happy holidays!
Happy Holidays Steve!
Always interesting to read your reviews, and I hope to read a few of them one of these days!
Thanks! If I’d spent a little more time in the Cirrus and a little less time on Hoover, FDR and Truman I might have made it to Tangier Island this year for the first time, as I had hoped…!
You should! I am surprised you haven’t yet. Just take you book with you. It’s a nice quaint village, you can read your book there 🙂
I just started in February and am finishing up with JQA now. My related reading list also includes Alexander Hamilton, Dolley Madison & James Smithson. Thanks & merry Christmas. I appreciate your reviews.
Sounds great! Which book(s) are you reading on Dolley Madison & James Smithson?
Jim Cooper said:
Merry Christmas! Thanks for sharing your book experience with us, I have enjoyed it so much. And I’m also thrilled that you are extending the project into other biographies.
Thanks again! Have a great 2017!
Jim Cooper Danville, KY
I just received Scott Berg’s “Grand Avenues: The Story of Pierre Charles L’Enfant” which is one I was inspired to read after reading about the nation’s capital moving to DC from New York during the Adams administration. It will be quite awhile before I get to read these ancillary biographies, but I may as well begin stockpiling 🙂
David Boreham said:
Thank you so much for the time and effort you put into your website. You may not realise how much a lot of people (here in the UK) rely on your recommendations. But they do! Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Thanks much and Happy New Year! I have noticed that the UK has a large number of regular visitors and is the 2nd largest contributor to traffic on this site. For what it’s worth, I really think I need to do a “Best Bios of Winston Churchill” side-journey. It seems there are too many great biographies of Churchill and not only is he a fascinating person in his own right, but I’m really curious which biographer(s) have done him justice… Cheers-
Martin Gilbert and William Manchester immediately come to mind. Gilbert’s one-volume bio is very accessible. Norman Rose, Paul Addison and Ashley Jackson have written excellent bios on Sir Winston. [Roy Jenkins usually gets good reviews, but I found it a tough book to get through.] John Charmley is probably the best of the ‘revisionists’.
Brian C said:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. This site has been invaluable the last couple years for me. Keep up the great work. And congrats on the Washington Post article.
I just finished the Nation magazine look back on Obama years. It got me thinking what Presidents do you think Obama was like? I have heard comparison to Woodrow Wilson, they both came from academic background, were populists, and had Utopian view of American society or Ronald Reagan, who had a certain dignity about him and who supporters really like him, but historians are not sure what to make of him? Do agree with these choices or who would you pick to be like Obama? Happy Holidays! I enjoy your blog 🙂
Oddly enough, I hadn’t given it much thought until you raised the issue. I do see a number of similarities between Obama and Wilson, but POTUS 44 strikes me as far more charismatic (though in some ways he is just as insular). One thing I have wondered about a great deal is how history will judge him – not in the next year or two, but a decade or more from now. For better or for worse, a president’s reputation can change meaningfully in the decade(s) after retirement. Truman and Eisenhower are just two of the most recent examples I’ve encountered…
Peter in Illinois said:
I agree with you, it be interesting to see how Obama’s historically reputation changes over time! Thank you! 🙂
Thanks for the website, Steve, and for the wonderful reviews. Your passion for great writing on the lives of former presidents shines through and it has rekindled my own love for the same. Keep up the great work and I look forward to hearing about the next great presidential biographies in the years ahead. Happy holidays to you and your family! – Tracy Tomkowiak
Thanks for your note and Happy New Year! And, of course, if you read something about one of the presidents that I’ve missed please let me know!
Thank you for your reviews and this site. It is a wonderful resource. Happy Boxing Day and cheers to a great 2017.
I just finished Continental Liar from the State of Maine (James Blaine) from your compelling figures list. A nice read about a political idol of other days.
Ronald Park said:
What a great website. I agree with your comparison of Trump and TR. Reading The Bully Pulpit now and that comparison is very clear. I see you have devoted August through October for LBJ. Doubt Caro’s 5th volume will be published by then. Any insight on when that will publish? Also, after you complete this project in the next couple of years or so, what next? Keep up the great work!!!
Ron, that is the million-dollar question. Last I heard about the timing of the next installment of Caro’s LBJ was “perhaps end of 2017, beginning of 2018″… My fingers are crossed…
What a coincidence about the James Blaine bio! I had *almost* forgotten about him when I went back through old notes to unearth some of the people I want to do follow-up reading on. He was one of the early political figures I hadn’t learned about in school but who seemed to deserve a deeper dive based on what I learned through some of the early presidential biographies. I do fear that some figures like Blaine might not have received proper time & attention from biographers, but I am hopeful…!
Prior to Rolde’s book (Continental Liar) in 2007, the last bios on Blaine were published in the early 1930s. You are correct about Blaine not receiving proper time and attention from biographers. In fact, the recent Blaine book was written by a former state legislator.
Your site here is awesome and has provided me a WEALTH of information as I work my way into 2017 by reading at least one bio on each President myself.
(https://crzydjm.wordpress.com/2016/12/27/2017-reading-goals/ if you’re interested).
Thank you for all the work you’ve done here; you made it substantially easy for me to hop in to my own reading goals.
Thanks for letting me know that you’ve started a similar project – I just added you to the Related Links section where I try to keep track of everyone who is embarked on a similar journey. Good luck – and I can’t wait to see how you enjoy 2017!
Hi Steve, Excellent site.
Two Americans I recommend to read more about: Huey Long and Emma Goldman. Both were incredibly intelligent and great orators. Fascinating life stories too.
Thanks for the suggestions – I can’t believe I left out Huey Long and I’m searching for an excellent biography of Goldman. She never played a prominent role in any of the presidential bios I read but she was mentioned in a few…