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It’s hard to believe, but 10 years have elapsed since I embarked on what I thought would be a modestly ambitious adventure: to uncover the very best biographies of the US presidents.

The first phase of that journey turned out to be more “involved” than I expected: it lasted just over six years, incorporated 240 presidential biographies and reached an estimated audience of 250,000 people.

Since then, I’ve expanded the scope of my reading to include biographies of other interesting individuals as well. Among the most fascinating:  Leonardo da Vinci, Alexander Hamilton, George Custer, John D. Rockefeller and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The total tally after one decade of presidential perusal: 267 presidential biographies, 437 website posts comprising more than 250,000 words and almost 3.4 million website visits. Then, of course, there’s that file containing a few thousand pages of notes, notable quotes and the most memorable one-liners I’ve come across along the way.

The bottom line:

There are lots of really good presidential biographies. But for my money, no single-volume biography beats Ron Chernow’s book on George Washington. It was one of the first presidential biographies I read and it set a standard of excellence that I’ve never seen exceeded. [Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton is arguably just as good.]

And no multi-volume biography surpasses Robert Caro’s unquestionably audacious 5-volume series on Lyndon Johnson. He has been at this series for nearly five decades and is currently working on the last volume. We’re all counting on the 87-year-old Caro to finish the fifth volume…soon. My mole within the publishing world suggests it could arrive in late 2024. But no one – not even Caro – really knows.

When that final volume is released I will drop everything and read it immediately. Possibly in one sitting. Probably near a source of food and water.

Some fun facts:

→ “The Best Presidential Biographies” list has been viewed ~500,000 times

→ “The Best Biographies of Theodore Roosevelt” and “The Best Biographies of Abraham Lincoln” are the most popular “Best Biographies” posts

→ Dragging up the rear is “The Best Biographies of Chester Arthur.” Ironically, I found Arthur unexpectedly interesting. But I seem to have failed in my mission to spread that enthusiasm widely. Sorry Chester.

→ My most popular review has been Ron Chernow’s biography of Ulysses Grant

→ The least popular review: that of “The Life of Calvin Coolidge” by Horace Green. On average, someone stumbles upon this review about once a week.

But wait, there’s more:

As with children, I don’t pick favorite presidents. Well, actually, in the case of presidents I just don’t tell anyone I’ve got favorites. Because I don’t, of course. But if I did:

  • favorite president: Lincoln
  • favorite presidential personality: T. Roosevelt
  • favorite prickly presidential personality: J. Adams
  • least favorite presidential personality: Wilson (honorable mention: Coolidge)
  • favorite president to sit next to on a long flight: Jefferson
  • favorite president to have as a lab partner: Carter
  • favorite First 100 Days: F. Roosevelt
  • favorite president to have a beer with: T. Roosevelt
  • favorite president to drink bourbon with: H. Truman¹
  • favorite presidential orators: JFK & Obama (tie); runner-ups: FDR & Reagan
  • president whose life story is most under-appreciated: Hoover
  • president who would be most surprised to be largely forgotten: Polk
  • president who would be least surprised to be largely forgotten: WH Harrison
  • president least likely to consider whether he would be largely forgotten: F. Pierce, A. Johnson, B. Harrison (three-way tie)
  • president most deserving of a better biography: Van Buren (followed by Taft)
  • president most likely to be amazing if he had lived longer: James Garfield
  • president least likely to be amazing if he had lived longer: Zachary Taylor

And, of course:

  • favorite 19th century First Lady: Dolley Madison
  • favorite 20th century First Lady: Eleanor Roosevelt

Coming soon: my review of Kevin Gutzman’s “The Jeffersonians” followed by an updated reading plan for 2023. And, of course, I still need to determine how (and when) I’m going to get around to creating a master ranking of the presidents…

Note: (1) Hat tip to multiple readers who pointed out this omission.