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About

I’m an investment banker, private pilot and avid fan of American history. I also enjoy Thai food, camping, gardening, Robert Ludlum novels and almost anything made with chocolate.

Thirty years ago I departed my native Texas to attend Brown University. Four years later I left Rhode Island with a Chemical Engineering degree and a recognition that snow is seriously overrated.  I’m married to a primary care physician and have two high school aged children.

The earliest of my family to arrive in the New World left Wales on the “Bona Nova” in 1623 and docked at Jamestown, not far from where I live – which also happens to be near the homes of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Tyler, Taylor, Wilson and William Henry Harrison.

After spending three years collecting 125 of the best presidential biographies I could find, I began systematically reading them in late 2012 (starting with George Washington, of course). This site was originally created to log my journey and, possibly, embarrass my kids.

With your suggestions and a steady stream of new releases my collection of presidential biographies has grown to 240 titles (plus an ever-expanding follow up list). I should finish my first pass through the presidents by the end of 2018 (after six years).

Stephen Floyd
August 2017P1020865

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239 thoughts on “About”

  1. Tommy Fredriksson said:

    Hi Steve, I was googling for “best Andrew Jackson biography” and your site came up top of the list (out of 1,460,000 hits).
    It took me about a split second to understand I had struck gold. American history has always been fascinating to me and I thought I’d dig into the details by reading the presidents.
    I started with Hamilton (yea, not a president) and then I ploughed thru Unger’s bio of Monroe and came to pretty much the same conclusions as you did. I also think has a crush on the First Lady, he was pretty detailed about her looks and dresses.

    I’ve ordered – on your recommendation, sir – Remini’s single volume biography of Jackson. He seems to be a bit of a Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde kind of character. After that I think I will read about Polk.

    Your site has been bookmarked and I will come back here many times 🙂

    Thank you

    Tommy from Sweden

    • Glad to hear I beat out 1.459 million other search results!!!

      How did you like “Hamilton”? As you may have discovered, that’s the first non-presidential biography I intend to read once I finish my first trip through the presidents (through Obama).

      It’s not often that an abridgement is nearly as good as the series from which it was derived, but in my opinion the Remini single-volume bio of Jackson isn’t too far behind the three-volume series (which was excellent). I hope you aren’t disappointed and let me know what you think when you’ve gotten through it. Jackson is an incredibly interesting personality and Jekyll/Hyde probably sums up his personality quite well!

      Polk is a president who accomplished more than he is often given credit for and I suspect a poll of Americans would turn up quite few who actually knew who he was. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if more Swedes than American had heard of him! He deserves a more substantial and thorough biography than currently exists but I seem to remember that his early life lacks substantial documentation / evidence.

      Good luck!

      • Tommy Fredriksson said:

        Hi Steve and thanks

        The “Hamilton” I read was Richard Syllas illustrated biography and I think it was targeted for a musical going audience who usually wouldn’t read about him.
        I watched a Ron Chernow interview on Youtube the other day and he said something like Hamilton did amazing stuff while under Washington’s guarding wings but when he left the cabinet and certainly after GW’s death, he became more and more self-destructive. If I manage to find some of your stamina, I might pick up Chernow’s Hamilton. His “Washington” is a must-read after having seen it’s the only book so far you’ve given a 5.

        BR

        Tommy

  2. I’ve just started reading FDR and am struck by Smith’s clear easy-to-read writing style, not to mention how informative it is. During your project whom have you found to be the best writers , and how do you value that component in your ratings.

    I have just found your site recently and appreciate very much the work you are performing.

    • Thanks for your comment and I’m not surprised to hear your reaction to JES’s “FDR.” He is one of my favorite biographers for the very reason(s) you cite.

      My ratings (which, in my opinion, are far less helpful than the text of my reviews) are based 50% on the author’s writing style (readability, descriptive quality, insights, ability to engage the reader, etc.) and 50% on the more difficult measure of “historical value.” So a biography which is entertaining to read but adds little-to-nothing to the body of literature surrounding that president might get a similar rating to a biography that breaks new ground on its subject and provides excellent academic arguments relating to his life or presidency…but is tedious to read.

      Some of my favorite (modern) biographers include Jean Edward Smith, Robert Remini, David Herbert Donald, David McCullough, Ronald White, Jon Meacham and Doris K Goodwin. Some are consistently excellent in my opinion, some are nearly always great, and some are a bit less consistent. And there are others not on this list who have written some of my very favorite presidential bios but have also authored some I didn’t like at all (John Ferling comes to mind). And then there are authors who have written books I loved…but I’ve only read one book they authored so I arbitrarily excluded them from this “off the top of my head” list…

  3. hi steve,
    a couple of suggestions for your related reading list:
    Thomas Dewey was a pretty important Republican politician in the forties and fifties. he was governor of New York and ran for president twice(against Roosevelt and Truman). the best biography is Thomas Dewey and His Times by Richard Norton Smith.
    Speaking of New York, , you gotta include Nelson Rockefeller. Perennial presidential candidate, vice-president, and service in the Roosevelt,Truman, and Eisenhower administration., he almost made it to the presidency. Two great biographies are On His Own Terms by Richard Norton Smith(again) and the Life of Nelson Rockefeller by Cary Reich( warning, each book is over 800 pages).

    Rick

    • Thanks for the suggestions! You are totally correct about Dewey (though I’ve tended to add people to my “related reading” list as they come up for the fourth or fifth time in biographies I’m reading and in hindsight, Dewey didn’t really ever make the splash he should have in many of the biographies I read). I’l take a look at the RNS bio of Dewey and consider adding it, or a substitute depending on what I find.

      Nelson Rockefeller was even less “present” in the bios I read of his contemporaries but, again, it’s inarguable he was a large public figure so I need to find a way to work him in as well…

  4. Steve — A longtime follower of your blog, I just want to thank you for all the interesting and thoughtful write-ups. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your take on the biographies I’ve already read and bought a number of others based off of the reviews. I am especially looking forward to your reviews (as a native Texan) on LBJ, particularly Caro. While not a biography, you might put on your list to circle back around to The Gay Place by Billy Lee Brammer. The author worked for LBJ and based the main character Governer Arthur Fenstemaker on him. It is widely thought to be one of the best political novels ever written, along with All the Kings Men. I found it very enjoyable after going through the Caro series.

    Please keep up great work.

    • Thanks for the feedback and thanks for stopping by so regularly! Always good to run into a fellow native Texan 🙂

      I’ve jotted down Brammer’s book on a post-it note so I can check it out at some point – sounds interesting. The Caro series is sitting on the side of my desk staring longingly at me wondering why I didn’t start LBJ with “The Path to Power.” Choices, choices. Still, I can’t wait to see what all the fuss is about. I’ve only heard from one or two people who were disappointed with Caro (and generally for being so tough on his subject in early volumes).

  5. Hello,

    I’m not sure if you’ve heard the news, but the first completely annotated edition of Grant’s memoirs are available now! Here is the link: http://amzn.to/2fQFd0y

    Thank you,

    Louie

  6. Hi Steve. I’m an 18 year old student at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County. I love to read about American history. I discovered your website today. I’m certainly very impressed by what you’re been doing.

    Allow me to make a recommendation to your “Related Reading” list. It’s Robert V. Remini’s “Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union.” As a short disclaimer, I haven’t read the book myself, but I’ve heard positive things about it. Clay was certainly one of a small assembly of the most influential Americans never to occupy the White House, so any biography of him would certainly do quite well with all the other books in the Related Reading section. As one of the relatively small group to have made it through Remini’s fantastic and underrated trilogy of Jackson, I know his talents as an author. I see that you concur in my assessment. What I’ve also heard is that Remini presented a remarkably fair and human portrait of Clay. This might seem surprising considering the way he was often criticized for being too partial to Jackson, Clay’s major rival. I hope you’ll look into it.

    • Thanks for your note. Entirely off-topic, I find it interesting you attend college at the same campus where I got summer housing years ago while I was working a summer internship in Columbia, MD(!)

      Your perspective on the Henry Clay bio is spot-on: I’ve got that exact biography on my “related reading list under “James Madison” 🙂 Ironically, I’ve already got the first ten “related reading” biographies I intend to tackle sitting on a shelf in front of me as inspiration to keep chugging through the presidents – and Remini’s bio of Clay is one of those ten! I didn’t learn much about Henry Clay in my K-12 or college years so I was surprised to see how interesting and influential he proved to be when I was working through my James Madison biographies. And because I’ve enjoyed *everything* I’ve ready by Robert Remini I’m really looking forward to that biography.

      • OK, excellent. I was looking for it under Jackson and Polk, which is why I missed it. But Madison works too. I hope you get a lot out of it.

  7. Whitney Bey said:

    Hi Steve, I want to thank you for doing all the legwork on researching great presidential biographies! I am reading a biography of each president, and this site has proven invaluable. When I began this reading project, I quickly learned to trust your reviews, and have found a lot of guidance here.
    I originally began this project after I read “Destiny of the Republic” about James Garfield. That was a great biography, about Garfield and also about the time he lived in. I was struck by how many presidents I didn’t know anything about, and thought it would be an interesting way to learn about them and American history in the process. I went back to George Washington and started reading, in chronological order, and now I am just finishing “No Ordinary Time” on FDR! It’s been an incredible journey, thanks for all your help!

    • Fantastic! If you have a chance I would love to know what you’re really loved – and hated – and what you liked more than expected…and what really disappointed you. (That’s the polite way of saying where did I lead you astray, and where did you love something I also really liked?)

  8. I finished university a few years ago after getting a master’s in US history (looking at Eisenhower, specifically) but still retain a huge affection for the history and scholarship of the country (I’m from the UK) – so coming across your site as I continue to read into the presidents is a treat and a huge help. Thank you!

    • It seems as though it must be quite uncommon for someone in the UK to receive an advanced degree by focusing on a US president? (But count me intrigued!) I really enjoyed Eisenhower even though I don’t imagine hanging out with him at a cocktail party would have been much fun…

  9. I have visited this site multiple times to add the Presidental biographies you suggest to my “to read” list. I have only returned this evening to compliment you and the site and to inform you about two things. One, I recently purchased Edmund Morris’s three-part biography of Theodore Roosevelt and Jon Meachum’s biography of George H.W. Bush because of your recommendations. Secondly, through my correspondence with George F. Will, I have learned he plans on releasing his long-planned book about Madisonian philosophy sometime in 2018(I doubt he’ll mind my mentioning this). Though the aforementioned book will not be a biography per se I figured it may peek your interest. P.S. I have to ask this question, I apologize if it comes off a tad-bit corny or intrusive, but seeing as you’re such an expert digestor of Presidental biographies I’d feel remiss if I didn’t propose the said question. Who are your favorite Presidents and why?

    • Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, and many thanks for your tip on Will’s planned book – I’ll be on the look-out for it!

      Your question re: favorites is an obvious one, but it’s one I don’t get much (more often I am asked which president(s) deserve better biographies than they’ve received so far). But “favorites” is also a loaded term: favorite because I agree with a particular president’s political philosophy or his moral compass…or simply because I found him fascinating? I’ll assume the latter, in which case the answer is probably (no particular order): TR, because he was insanely interesting, an enormous personality and yet not quite crazy; Lincoln, because I love the way he approached life and persevered despite more than his share of bad luck; JQA, who vigorously led a life designed for a great movie (or musical!); probably Andrew Jackson (in many ways he’s an earlier, southern version of TR); probably Washington (but it’s too obvious a choice); possibly James Garfield (but he left us too early so despite a promising start I don’t know how he would have turned out). Just off the top of my head…

      • Thank you for responding Steve. You assumed right, I didn’t want to ask the former because I was unsure how you’d feel about making your political leanings known. For example, one can think Jackson a fascinating man without agreeing with his policies, thus not letting one’s politics be known. Though, if you have no qualms answering the former you’d find an attentive party. And I’d also be interested in the answer to your most often asked question(which president(s) deserve better biographies).

        TR, Washington, and Lincoln are definitely amongst my favorites in both the former and latter sense. I would personally add Eisenhower and Coolidge to complete my top five. Lastly, I agree with your assessment of Garfield’s potential. P.S. In my previous post I forgot to mention the first time I visited your site I was looking for a good biography of George Washington and your recommendation led me to Chernow’s excellent book, so I wanted to also thank you for that.

  10. James Walton said:

    Hi Steve, as a fellow student of American history, I was wondering if you could recommend some books on Patrick Henry. Also, what are your thoughts on Douglas Southall Freeman’s 7-volume biography of Washington?

    Naturally, I wanted to thank you for helping me with my own book purchases, this is one of the best American history blogs on the web.

    • James, I have Patrick Henry on my “related reading” list (a list of biographies of people who aren’t themselves former presidents but are compelling historical figures). Someone specifically recommended that I read “Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation” by Harlow Unger. Although I haven’t read it yet, I’m expecting it to be pretty good. If you have a chance to read it, let me know what you think!

      As far as Freeman’s series on Washington is concerned, I haven’t read it but it is on my “follow-up” list and I’m in the process of collecting the entire series so I can read both the one-volume abridgement (by Richard Harwell) and the series itself. Once I do I will update my “Best Bios of George Washington” post…of course!

      • I cannot vouch for it (other than seeing it at my local library this weekend), but I noticed Jon Kukla recently released a new biography on Patrick Henry. Unger’s work may be a safer, more entertaining bet though.

      • Steve: Good luck on acquiring the Freeman series. Scribners issued a nice reprint – similar to Sandburg’s Lincoln and Freeman’s Lee – after the series was completed. Accumulating the entire series in boxes and a vol 7 jacket took some time.

  11. I’ve read a fairly small number of presidential biographies over the years. I am currently reading Joseph Ellis’ “Founding Brothers,” which is getting me excited about reading a bunch more.

    I only discovered your blog today. Glad I did!

    Biographies I’ve enjoyed recently were the Roosevelt (TR) trilogy by Edmund Morris. Also, The Wars of the Roosevelts” by William Mann. Mann is particularly good on Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve also read the Meacham bios of Jackson and Jefferson. I’ve also read a few books by David McCullough, though not yet his Truman and his Adams.

    Now that I’m reading Ellis, I’m on an Ellis kick. I find him an excellent author and one very familiar with primary sources.

    I wonder your opinion of him as a biographer.

    • Len, welcome aboard! I’ve read four biographies by Joseph Ellis (obviously focused on the early presidents) and although none of his books make my “top 10” list, I have found him to be articulate, well-informed and consistently interesting to read. My two favorites of his were his biography of Thomas Jefferson (though I remember it as not being an ideal “introduction” to Jefferson) and a book he wrote on Abigail and John Adams.

      You may have discovered I also really enjoyed the TR trilogy by Morris…and if you haven’t read McCullough’s bios of Adams or Truman I think you’re going to be delighted oncer you do!

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