Every serious student of American history knows Gerald Ford is the only person to serve as both president and vice president without having been elected to either office.
Even a larger group of people will recall that Ford was the president who pardoned Richard Nixon. (He remains the only U.S. president to pardon a former president.)
But beyond those two basic facts, what do any of us really know about the thirty-eighth president (born Leslie Lynch King Jr.)?
Ford and his legacy seem to be in the “witness protection program.” This is likely due, in part, to the fact he was president fewer days than anyone else in history – ignoring those who died in office. And no presidential biographer of Chernow’s or McCullough’s or Jean Edward Smith’s popular prominence has attempted to capture and distill his life and legacy.
So the question I am left to ponder is whether no biographer has ever been fully committed to studying, analyzing and revealing Gerald Ford…or whether there is just not that much about Ford to be studied, analyzed and revealed?
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* “Time and Chance: Gerald Ford’s Appointment with History” by James Cannon was published in 1994 (a dozen years before Ford died) and covers its subject’s life up through his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency in 1976. Written by a journalist and Washington insider – and a valued member of the Ford administration – Cannon’s perspective should be fascinating.
* “Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life” by James Cannon was published in 2013 and seems not to be a sequel to “Time and Chance” as much as a second crack by this author at covering Ford’s life. In this incarnation, however, there seems to be less focus on his early life, more detail on his presidency, and a more complete perspective on his retirement years.
* Next I’m reading “The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford” by John Robert Greene, a well-regarded if not particularly well-known historian. This is widely considered the definitive “scholarly” study of Ford’s presidency and given the lack of Ford-related biographies it is almost certainly an “essential” if not entertaining read.
* “Gerald R. Ford” by Douglas Brinkley is a member of The American Presidents series. Published in 2007, shortly after Ford’s death, this 160-page biography appears comprehensive but not terribly detailed. Brinkley is a respected author and history professor so I am hopeful this biography is worth the relatively minor investment of time it requires.
* I am wrapping up with “Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford” by Scott Kaufman. Published in 2017, this is the most recent comprehensive biography of Ford. But with just 349 pages of text I cannot help but wonder whether this book enhances our understanding of Ford and what, if anything, Kaufman reveals that is not already covered by Cannon (whose “An Honorable Life” is one-third longer than this biography).
On we go!