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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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220 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…

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