American history, best biographies, biographies, book reviews, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Brinkley, Gerald Ford, James Cannon, John Robert Greene, presidential biographies, Scott Kaufman, US Presidents, Yanek Mieczkowski
The U.S. presidency certainly seems to have attracted more than its share of colorful, larger-than-life characters: Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, LBJ, Richard Nixon and Donald Trump to name a few.
No matter your view of their politics – or personal lives – these former presidents make fascinating biographical subjects.
Gerald Ford, on the other hand, is a cat of a different stripe. By all accounts he was as friendly as Jackson was irascible, as modest as TR was irrepressible, as honest as Nixon was deceitful and as unpretentious as the current president is, well…self-assured.
Unfortunately, Gerald Ford’s principled life does not seem to lend itself to a fascinating or colorful narrative. None of the four biographies of Ford which I read were particularly engaging and I can only conclude that the “fault” is as much Ford’s as the authors’. Decency, it seems, is dull.
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I originally intended to read five biographies of Ford, but decided to move “The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford” by John Robert Greene to my follow-up list in order to make room for Stuart Eizenstat’s recently-published “President Carter: The White House Years.” (I recently limited the total number of biographies on my primary list so I might actually finish this project someday!)
* “Time and Chance: Gerald Ford’s Appointment with History” by James Cannon, a Ford Administration inside, was published in 1994 (a dozen years before Ford’s death). Although it does cover Ford’s childhood, its primary focus is his political ascent – principally his transition into (and subsequently out of) the vice presidency. The Watergate era consumes about two-thirds of the book and these chapters are generally quite interesting and revealing.
The Ford presidency, however, is only quickly reviewed and his retirement years are all but unmentioned. His personal life is nearly untouched and, in the end, while most of the book is praiseworthy, too much of Ford’s life remains unexplored. — 3¼ stars (Full review here)
* “Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life” is James Cannon’s “follow-up” biography to “Time and Chance.” Published in 2013, this biography contains much of what is missing from Cannon’s earlier biography; it essentially supplements and replaces that earlier work by providing more context and greater coverage.
Unfortunately, like Cannon’s earlier biography of Ford this biography is a bit bland, reveals little of Ford’s personal life and often seems too friendly toward its subject. And yet it may well be exactly the biography Ford would have wished for himself. – 3½ stars (Full review here)
* “Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford” is Scott Kaufman’s 2017 biography of Ford. Its self-professed status as a political biography betrays that it spends relatively little time on Ford’s personal life – but that fails to distinguish it from any of the other Ford biographies I read.
Kaufman is more attentive to Ford’s Congressional career than other biographies but his focus on Ford’s presidency, while detailed and thorough, is not as exhaustive as Cannon’s most recent coverage. Judged as a political biography this book proves good – but not quite great; when judged as a traditional biography (a role it does not attempt to assume) it is somewhat less satisfying. – 3½ stars (Full review here)
* “Gerald R. Ford” by Douglas Brinkley is a member of The American Presidents Series. Published in 2007, this 160-page book would seem the ideal length for a biography of a man with an unshakable moral code, no discernible personal life and just an 895-day presidency. And yet it leaves the reader searching for more: more context, more nuance, and more insight into Gerald Ford’s personal and professional lives.
Given his credentials as an author and historian it seems likely that Brinkley could accomplish a great deal with a more traditional biography of Ford. But for readers seeking a quick and painless vehicle for perusing Gerald Ford’s life this book may well hit the spot. – 3½ stars (Full review here)
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Best Biography of Gerald Ford: “Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life” by James Cannon
Honorable Mention: “Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford” by Scott Kaufman
Most Efficient Coverage of Ford: “Gerald R. Ford” by Douglas Brinkley
– “The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford” by John Robert Greene
– “Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s” by Yanek Mieczkowski
– “When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency” by Donald Rumsfeld (under consideration)