American history, biographies, Dwight Eisenhower, James Flexner, Jean Edward Smith, JFK, LBJ, presidential biographies, Robert Caro, Robert Dallek, US Presidents
Five years have now elapsed since I started reading the first volume in James Flexner’s series on George Washington.
Since then I’ve read almost 200 presidential biographies and 100,000 pages filled with some of the most fabulously fascinating tales of personal and political achievement imaginable.
2017 has seen me through 30 books on three presidents…and oh what a ride! Eisenhower, JFK and LBJ each proved monumentally interesting and provided three very different perspectives on how political power can be accumulated and deployed.
My favorite books included Jean Edward Smith’s “Eisenhower in War and Peace“, Robert Dallek’s “An Unfinished Life: JFK 1917-1963“…and Robert Caro’s magisterial series on Lyndon Johnson which is unlike any other literary adventure I’ve experienced in my life.
Just as gratifying as the great biographies I’ve read is the company I’ve kept along the way. I’m blessed with thousands of visitors who subscribe to this site, and there are dozens of you who regularly provide comments with potent perspective, invaluable context and helpful hints. Thank you!
With substantially more web traffic and visitors than ever, it is increasingly interesting to see what gets people to this site and what specific content receives the most attention. Here’s what I found…
Most Popular Posts / Pages in 2017:
1. ***The Best Presidential Biographies***
2. The Best Biographies of Abraham Lincoln
3. The Best Biographies of Theodore Roosevelt
4. New / Upcoming Releases
5. The Best Biographies of Thomas Jefferson
6. The Best Biographies of Andrew Jackson
7. The Best Biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt
8. The Best Biographies of George Washington
9. The Best Biographies of James Madison
10.The Best Biographies of John Adams
Surprising to me is how static this list has been from year to year despite tens of thousands of new visitors with a wide range of preferences and interests. The only significant change from last year was the addition of FDR to the list (causing Grant to drop to #11).
But how to explain the 2,000+ visitors who came to the site in search of “The Best Biographies of William Henry Harrison“? I mean, really?
Most Popular Reviews in 2017:
1. “Washington: A Life” by Ron Chernow
2. “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy” by Robert Dallek
3. “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham
4. “FDR” by Jean Edward Smith
5. “The Life of Andrew Jackson” by Robert Remini
6. “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House” by Jon Meacham
7. “John Adams” by David McCullough
8. “Eisenhower in War and Peace” by Jean Edward Smith
9. “Truman” by David McCullough
10. “The Age of Jackson” by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
What’s Coming Up in 2018?
After wrapping up Lyndon Johnson in the next couple of weeks, I expect to get through about three-dozen biographies in 2018. This will take me through Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
With a little luck I plan to complete this presidential tour de force by Presidents’ Day 2019. But in case you were worried about what I might do with all the resulting free time, there’s always that presidential “follow-up” list and biographies of the most compelling people I met along the way.
Happy New Year and Happy Reading!
I am one who admires your journey and enjoys the travelogue. I hope you continue to post your reading after your complete this monumental adventure. I envy the perspective and knowledge you have from traveling these books, though don’t know that I’m up to the commitment!
I will definitely keep posting as I enter the next phase of whatever this journey becomes. Reading is inherently a solitary and isolating event, but having a forum to share thoughts and get feedback makes it much more rewarding.
(And the most constructive thing about maintaining a website is that it keeps you motivated in the absence of a deeper commitment 🙂 There’s just nothing like the knowledge that a regular visitor whose opinion you value is going to leave a comment/question when you don’t post anything for a couple of weeks!)
Carol Strange said:
Congratulations, Steve. About ten years ago I had thought that it would be a worthy goal to read a biography for each president. I decided that this was a monumental task. You have really gone above and beyond what I can even imagine. I really don’t have a lot of time to read, and I want to read more than biographies of the presidents. Right now I’m reading Grant by Ron Chernow. That will keep me busy for a while.
I’ve learned a lot by reading your posts and look forward to more.
Well, I agree that it’s a monumental task! My goal, of course, has been to at least make the selection process a little easier. If someone had posted online a credible list of the one biography I should read on every president, that’s what I would be using today 🙂 And I would only be reading *one* biography per president! In hindsight it’s fortuitous I embarked on this journey because it has given me a reason to read multiple biographies on each president and, in so doing, get a slightly different take on each POTUS depending on which author I happened to be reading.
“Grant” by Ron Chernow is definitely one of the first books I’ll be reading from my follow-up list. I can only hope it’s nearly as good as his biography of George Washington!
Joe F said:
Concerning William Henry Harrison, you might want to consider that the Harrisons of Pawn Stars television ‘fame’ claims their family are related to him and so some of the many viewers of Pawn Stars are looking him up
Now that’s funny…and insight I didn’t have!
Steve – Thank you for sharing your journey with us and creating this community. Cheers to a great 2018!
Jim Kane said:
Congrats on your accomplishment!
Just discovered this wonderful site. I was looking for good presidential bios and Google search came thorough again. I have read a few of the books you review and generally agree, but have a (small) disagreement with your review of the latest Robert Caro book on LBJ. His first volume was one of the greatest biographies I have read, on a par with the William Manchester volumes of Churchill. It helped me understand the LBJ I remember. However, his latest, covering the period of LBJ’s VP time was a bit of a let-down. I seem to remember it was heavy on his mistreatment by the JFK administration and light on such areas as his head of NASA. Still a fine book, but did it need the endless examples of his humiliation by the JFK crowd?
Thanks for your comment and welcome to the site! Caro’s first volume is among my favorite five or six presidential biographies so far…but, yes, so was his fourth volume. I absolutely understand what you found annoying/disappointing about it although it didn’t bother me quite as much as you.
I’m a bit worried I won’t enjoy the fifth volume as much as the previous four due to the “slog” which LBJ’s presidency proved to be and my worry that Caro’s narrative may suffer as a result. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed he does he usual excellent job.
I was interested to see your comment about the Manchester volumes of Churchill – that’s one of the series I’m *really* looking forward to reading when I finish my first round with the presidents. Not only was Churchill a fascinating character but I’ve been told that Manchester was nothing short of masterful. Great biographers and great subjects are a perfect combination 🙂
Put aside your presidential bios for just a bit. The three volume Manchester bio of Churchill is simply the best. (He really didn’t write much of the third volume due to declining health.) Volume II I have read many times as it is a true “profile in courage” and resonates with me personally when I think I might have troubles. It puts things in perspective. If pressed for time the one volume bio by Roy Jenkins is (surprisingly) good and sparkles with dry British humor and observations. (Roy was a prominent member of the Labour Party.) Max Hastings volume on “Churchill at War” is also very, very good. Lots of opinions (good and bad) of Churchill’s period during WW II. If you are ever in the London area, do visit Chartwell and the underground war rooms near
While reading FDR and, to an extent, Eisenhower, I fell in love with Churchill as a biographical subject. I can’t wait to see if a dedicated biography or series on Churchill can engage me as well as the couple-dozen-page chunks I was treated to in selected presidential biographies. Based on what I’ve been told, he will be even more intriguing and enjoyable than I can imagine. And the Manchester series is where I plan to start.
I can’t recall if I clicked on Harrison but I definitely did on the rest! Looking forward to your 2018 reviews. Happy Holidays!
Thanks for all the insights into presidential biographies that you share. They are very helpful to me as I try to read just one bio of each president. I admire your dedication. I just finished Millard Fillmore. I have 2 questions for you:
1. Do you have time to read any other books besides presidential bios? If so, what have you been reading?
2. Have you heard of this book – The Remarkable Millard Fillmore, the unbelievable life of a forgotten president by George Pendle? I picked it up at a library book sale and it turns out to be a satirical bio of Fillmore.
So far I haven’t “distracted” myself with books other than presidential biographies. I’m often tempted, but fear that doing so would not only slow down what is already a lengthy journey but also, potentially, impair my ability to really keep what makes each book on a particular president distinct in my mind (which is important since I go back and compare them all at the end of each president).
I am looking forward to doing some “non presidential” reading as soon as I get through Obama in about a year! I’ll be mixing in presidential bios I missed the first time through with books on other people who I find fascinating. Can’t wait!
I’m not familiar with Pendle’s satirical bio – I’ll have to check it out!
Here’s a review from another site: https://potus-geeks.livejournal.com/625149.html
The Amazon comments are interesting. Many readers were not amused by the satire.
Yes I saw those Amazon comments and looked through the book but decided not to waste time on it. I can send the book to you if you are interested in it.
Gary Schantz said:
I have really enjoyed this website as it helped me to build my presidential library. While I am a long ways from reading at least book on every president, I have read almost 150 books on history in the last 5 years (covered at least 25 presidents as well as the historical events that occurred a specific president’s time).
I am looking forward to this site in the years to come.
…it seems that *you* should be posting reviews of what you have been reading – sounds like quite an interesting journey you’ve had since I started this site! I’d love to know what your favorite history-related books have been that haven’t been pure presidential biographies-
As someone who started a similar journey (although my goal is to read just one full-length bio of each President) a few years before you and who is already WAY behind you (Taft), I cannot tell you how much I admire and appreciate your journey and your sharing it with so many others, including me. Here’s to you and many more happy readings!
Thanks so much! But as I’ve discovered the best way to keep up the pace is to have several hundred people waiting anxiously for your next review! (But, oh my, it is quite a commitment! I wouldn’t have thought reading 50-60 pages a day “forever” could require so much fortitude!)
Brandon Adams said:
How do you make the time? I live in NY and read while commuting and sometimes before I go to sleep, but I otherwise have work and family obligations. I’ll be moving to Utah soon and not sure how I’ll fit in the time to continue.
Ah, yes, I remember debating whether to read or sleep during my two decades worth of commutes from NJ to NYC. But at the time the debate wasn’t read presidential bio to read – it was Robert Ludlum vs. the Wall Street Journal 🙂
Now, instead of commuting by bus/train I find myself sitting on airplanes for long stretches of time. That, combined with the time I spend waiting for soccer or swim practices to get out, gives me plenty of uninterrupted time to read. For me, the harder part is putting my thoughts into writing in the form of a coherent review!
Steve, I enjoy your blog. Your reviews are well written and while I have read only a fraction of what you have I do share your interests in the American Presidents and in US history. I wonder if you have gotten to Regan and your recommendations.
Thanks! I haven’t yet gotten to Reagan – that should be in a couple months. He’s the first president I “vividly” remember so I’m interested to see which biographies really stand out for me as being well-written and historically thoughtful. Stay tuned!