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.

About 30 years ago I left 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.

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

About a decade ago I started collecting the best presidential biographies I could find. In late 2012 I began a quest to read them all – starting with George Washington. This site was created to log my journey and, quite possibly, embarrass my kids.

With your suggestions and a steady flow of new releases, my list of “must read” presidential biographies grew to 240 titles (plus a large follow-up list). I finished my first pass through the presidents (Washington through Obama) on Presidents’ Day 2019 – after six fascinating years.

Now I’m reading presidential biographies from my follow-up list as well as great biographies by non-presidents (that journey is being documented as http://www.thebestbiographies.com).

Stephen Floyd
February 2019P1020865

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315 thoughts on “About”

  1. Thank you for following Malcolm’s Corner and liking ‘The People’s Law’.

  2. Hello, I’m just stopping by for a visit after seeing that you liked my ‘about’ page. Guess your ancestors arrived at Jamestown not too many years after mine. I live just a little southwest of Jamestown at this time. (never strayed from my southeast Virginia roots!)
    Please visit again soon!

  3. This is a great idea for a blog. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  4. What a fantastic project! I’m also a history lover and recently devised a reading schedule to finally conquer my own back log of books. You must really gain a substantial understanding of the nuances of who these figures were by reading so many books about each one. I’m fairly young myself and not nearly as well-read as I’d like to be. There are so many topics I haven’t explored to any significant degree yet that I feel like I don’t have the luxury of reading multiple books about a particular area of history or historical figure if I ever want to really have basic understanding of… well, everything. I feel like if I’m ever going to read that new Meacham book about Thomas Jefferson “The Art of Power” it’s going to have to be on the second lap, and even then there are probably better, classic texts on the subject that I just haven’t heard of. I just try to tell myself to take it one step at a time and make sure I maintain a slow, constant, steady pace through my library, but I look out there and see how much information there is to take in and it just feels a bit overwhelming sometimes. I look forward to your recommendations on presidential biographies in the future, you’ll certainly be a well informed judge of them by the end of your project : ).

    Are there any particular presidents you’re worried about? Whether it’s if there won’t be enough reading material on them or that they might just not be very interesting or any other concern?

    • My initial concern was there are too many interesting books on our first few presidents (and by the time I get to James Madison I will have read nearly twenty accounts of some of the same historical events). After that, the pace evens out for quite awhile. Only a few presidents are sparsely covered, like Taylor, Buchanan, Arthur, Harrison… I presume there is somewhat less to write as their impact was considerably smaller than that of, say, Jefferson. Nonetheless, I often wonder whether Chernow or McCullough (or Caro, if he had a millennium) could make each of our presidents seem interesting or compelling in some way?

  5. Thanks for liking my review of The Notorious Benedict Arnold. Your blog will be a wonderful resource for me as I review and write books for kids about politics. Thanks for introducing me to it!

  6. This is an interesting blog. Thanks for liking my first post on Jefferson Davis. I just wanted to speak up for President Harrison – in 1862, the Army of the Potomac rested at Harrison’s Landing/Bar for quite a while after the Seven Days Battle. Yes, that Harrison. General McClellan wrote an interesting letter to President Lincoln there that historians still refer to as the Harrison’s Bar Letter.

    This was after McClellan had established his HQ at and then burned the White House plantation, where George Washington and Martha Dandridge Custis had been married.

    The general did grant safe passage to Richmond through the lines for Martha’s great-granddaughter Mary, wife of Robert E. Lee; Mary had rheumatoid arthritis and had been unable to evacuate from the White House when the Army of the Potomac arrived.

    American history is really interesting and it’s difficult to find good sources sometimes. I’m looking forward to exploring your blog.

  7. Edward Tolve said:

    Hey Steve,

    I just wanted to thank you for your blog. I am enamored by your diligence with this project!
    As a matter of fact, for whatever reason I decided to do my own little history project of my own at about the same time you started yours. I not only have been reading at least one biography on each President, but as I go along I find that I pick up a book on subsequent people/events that were occurring at the same time. So for example, after reading “George Washington: A Life”, I picked up Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton”. Or now that I just finished “The Art of Power” by Jon Meacham, I will start reading “The Hemingses of Monticello” by Annette Gordon Reed and “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose on the Lewis and Clark expeditions. This historical web that I am creating for myself has been really cool to build and gives me a break from the consistent droll of the presidential biography.
    Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I will most likely use your blog as a launching pad for my “historical web”.

    Thanks again and happy reading!

    Edward

    • Great news! What you are describing has also sidetracked me on multiple occasions. I *really* wanted to read Chernow’s book on Hamilton (already sitting on my bookshelf, safe for the moment) for example. Given the number of books I already have to read, I’ve resisted (otherwise I would never finish). But I’m making a list of all the things I need to read on my next pass, and it’s likely to end up a longer list than the one I’m working through now. And as you might suspect, it’s probably going to be even more interesting.

  8. deweydecimalsbutler said:

    I really like the idea of this blog. My partner in crime is a history major, and I’m ashamed that, as a US citizen, I know more about the British monarchs than I do my own presidents. I’m looking forward to catching up on your entries and seeing what else you say as you journey on. Thanks!

    • Great to have you stop by! Ironically, I recently purchased a Great Courses dvd series on the “History of England from the Tudors to the Stuarts” because I’ve been constantly reminded during my reading about the early history of this country that I know relatively little of the British monarchs and the history of England. I’m not sure when I’m going to squeeze a 48-lecture video series into my schedule, but it looks fascinating.

  9. deweydecimalsbutler said:

    The Tudors definitely have a nice flair for drama, but nothing beats the Plantagenet family for the crazy factor. Enjoy!

  10. I am just embarking on my own “Project President” but am a little less ambitious than you! I’m trying to just read one biography about each president in the order of their presidencies. I’m so glad to have found your blog because it’s hard to know which book to pick – your reviews will be great advice! 🙂 Just finished Ron Chernow’s “George Washington: A Life” and am about to start David McCullough’s “John Adams.” Found your blog as I was searching for the best Jefferson book to put “on deck.” Will be checking in lots! 🙂

  11. It’s an impressive avocation that you have undertaken, but I can see how it is satisfying to be able to share your reading experiences with other history buffs. Thanks for liking my post on Thomas Jefferson and Monticello.

  12. Thanks for the reviews. I am trying to make it through one biography of each president AND visit a presidential home, historic site, or library.

  13. Hello from the blogger who lives within the Chancellorsville battlefield.
    I noticed that the tree reindeer lost an antler (branch), but still got decorated.
    Thank goodness!

    • Hi from your neighbor! I noticed the tree lost one of the two “antlers” earlier this year and I panicked – until I saw they went ahead and decorated it anyway, sans one antler. My kids are totally relieved!

  14. I just wanted to thank you for this blog, I’m trying to read a biography for each president myself and I consult each of your posts before I decide which to buy. I cannot thank you enough, as well as respect you, for the effort you put into this!

  15. So excited to find your site!

    I too am working on a ridiculously thorough US History reading challenge ( http://ushistorysyllabus.com/ ).

    I have a book recommendation for you:
    http://www.amazon.com/Arguing-about-Slavery-Quincy-Congress/dp/0679768440/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1397951138&sr=1-1&keywords=arguing+about+slavery+by+william+lee+miller
    *Technically* it’s probably not considered a biography, but it’s roughly in the vein of Martin Van Buren and the romantic age of politics. It looks at a political era through the POV of John Quincy Adams.

    JQA is my favorite president (so far), by the way. Do you have one yet?

    Thanks!

    • JQA is my favorite “surprise” so far (he was a lot of fun to read/learn about and was extremely interesting though his presidency was lackluster). MVB is the president I’ve read about so far who I think is far more interesting/clever than his biographies are able to reflect. I would love to see an excellent biographer take a crack at him…

  16. Don Beltran said:

    I’m enthused I found your site. I especially like your picture of your bookshelf–if I were taking a picture of my book collection, I’d have to take a picture of my Kindle. I went completely digital a few years ago.

    I have a recommendation for you, although it’s not within the presidential biography genre. It’s a life of John Marshall by Albert Beveridge. The author gives you a fascinating perspective on Marshall’s relationship with Jefferson and Washington.

    • I’ll put that on my follow-up list for sure. Marshall is one of two or three Supreme Court justices who were seem to have been extremely influential during the presidencies I’ve waded through thus far. I look forward to learning more about him!

  17. Scott W said:

    Steve- Just found your site and love it. As much as I love presidential history I can’t imagine reading 6 biographies on the same president back to back but glad that you do and share the results with us.

    I’m working my way towards at least one on each although not it order. I have found some fascinating presidents that I might not have read about if I didn’t have the goal so good luck and enjoy.

    PS: I also loved reading about JQA and think you enjoy Hoover was as well.

    • Glad you stumbled across this site! It’s more challenging than I expected reading multiple books on a president because, while they don’t often seem to contradict one another, they often tell the same stories very differently. As a result, it is often difficult meshing them together in a way that seems additive rather than just confusing. Nonetheless, I really enjoy trying to uncover the very best bios on each president and at some point I’ll probably go back and re-read the all-stars. Assuming I ever have free time again…

  18. It is a sincere pleasure to meet you. What an excellent store of knowledge!

  19. Reading suggestion for Warren G. Harding:

    Unfortunately, there is no satisfactory full-length biography of President Harding.

    Professor Randolph C. Downes started to write one, but died after completing the first volume, The Rise of Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1865-1920 (Ohio State University Press, 1970). (Available as a free PDF file here: https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/bitstream/1811/24813/1/THE_RISE_OF_WARREN_GAMALIEL_HARDING.pdf)

    One of the books that you do list – Francis Russell’s The Shadow of Blooming Grove – offers an entertaining take on the rise of Harding to the White House, in spite of his personal foibles, not the least of which was his dalliance as a sitting US Senator with the pro-German Carrie Phillips during World War I. Russell uncovered evidence of this affair, in the form of a cache of often sexually graphic letters Harding wrote to Phillips. Unfortunately, his publisher was forced to redact direct quotations from these letters after Harding’s nephew threatened to sue. The letters remained sealed for fifty years at the Library of Congress and are only now being released. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/magazine/letters-warren-g-harding.html?_r=1

    Where Russell’s book completely falls apart is in its coverage of Harding’s presidency, which is dealt with in just a few chapters, with more emphasis on the scandals than on the substantive achievements of the administration. And even its coverage of the scandals is often disjointed and difficult to follow. Mr. Russell was a popular author and thus lacked the academic training as a historian that might have produced a more balanced treatment with better perspective on what was important and not merely titillating or salacious.

    While fun, Charles Mee’s The Ohio Gang is a derivative, superficial work largely based on Russell’s.

    I would suggest that you add Robert K. Murray’s The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration (University of Minnesota Press, 1969) to your list. (Long out of print, but reading copies are available on Amazon starting at $15.49: http://www.amazon.com/The-Harding-Era-Warren-Administration/dp/0196155134) Though the Murray book contains plenty of biographical details, it is more concerned with a close analysis of domestic and foreign policy. It manages to make a case for the constructive achievements of the administration, even while the author admits that Harding’s personal flaws should have kept him from being president when better men like his Cabinet secretaries Herbert Hoover and Charles Evans Hughes were available.

    At 626 pages, including bibliography and index, and written in a somewhat dry academic prose, you might find the Murray somewhat rough sledding, but it is the only serious full-length study of President Harding available.

    • Thanks; this is extremely helpful. I hadn’t focused on this until now since I have 8 or so months until I get to Harding but I couldn’t resist digging into this now. Since I hate to read just one or two bios on anyone (and that’s all I have on Harding so far) I’m going to add Murray’s bio as you suggest and download Downes’.

  20. By the way, Steve, you might want to contact American Political Biography (www.apbpress.com). Jeff Spiers has a huge list of presidential-and-related books that he sells (very reasonable, by the way) and has been publishing a monthly catalog for years. You may find some real gems!

    • A great collection, and a great place to start looking for presidential biographies (particularly for some of the less well-known presidents). I wish I had seen this site before I started developing my list, but you can bet I’m going to work through it carefully to see what I might have missed!

      • Writing as J.R. Speirs, he self-published The Readers and Collectors Guide to the Biographies of the American Presidents (Newtown, CT: American Political Biography, 1988). I have not seen it, so I can’t vouch for it, but it may be worth tracking down a copy on AbeBooks, where prices start at $30.00.

        Also, as the first poster points out, Speirs used to have a traditional mail-only catalog of used political biographies concentrating on the presidents, which was heavily annotated. He would send it out free to anyone who would ask. Apparently, according to the first poster, he is still doing this, though I don’t see why he has not migrated the used-book part of his business to his website like the reprint imprint part. I was under the impression that he had phased out the used-book business; I will have to send him a request to be put back on his mailing list.

        If you don’t have any American Political Biography imprints, it must have cost you a pretty penny to assemble your library, even if the rarer titles are just reading copies (e.g. Cleaves’s W.H. Harrison and Chitwood’s Tyler). I should know, because I am in the process of assembling a collection of high-grade, first-edition definitive presidential biographies in unclipped dust jackets, and some titles are nearly impossible to find in any grade except as reprints by American Political Biography or the over-priced leather editions by Easton Press (of which there are a glut on the market).

        I have found your evaluations on this website to be helpful when making decisions on which biographies to include for each president for the ones that I have yet to read.

      • Sorry for being late to the game. I am happy to see APB get noticed and have been a two-decade long customer of Mr. Speirs. His Guide is an excellent resource – although a bit dated now. It is quite helpful when trying to identify and evaluate old First Editions. Copies on ABE go for under $50.00 – including one directly from APB.

      • I, too, am on the verge of becoming a full-fledged bibliophile and Mr. Speirs’s APB list appears to be a real gold mine. Many of the books I plan on reading during my next “round” (and which I missed this time for one reason or another) will undoubtedly come from that list.

  21. Emailed Jeffrey Speirs. He is still putting out a price list of vintage presidential biographies, was more than happy to put me on his mailing list, and even said he would send me copies of the last couple that he has already sent out. So definitely get yourself on his mailing list, if you haven’t already. You can contact him at apbpress@earthlink.net

  22. Stacy Williams said:

    Love your site. About seven years ago, I finished my own project of reading at least one biography on each U.S. President. Since that time, I’ve been catching up on other reading that I put off but I’ve also been going back and reading additional biographies on many of the Presidents. When I finished my project, I knew that I needed to “circle back” on numerous Presidents because I was not impressed with the book that I had read. There have also been quite a few new books written since then that I have added to my collection. I have really enjoyed reading your reviews and comparing them to my own thoughts as well as using it as a resource in selecting a book in those cases in which I was not happy with my original selection–for example, Polk.

    One question, I don’t think that autobiographies are worth the time for a project like yours but was wondering whether you at least considered Grant’s book when you were making your selections. Keep up the good work!

    • Impressive you survived the journey – not many seem to actually finish! I’m afraid when I get through Obama I’m going to be tempted to go back and read the bios of all the non-presidents I “discovered” along the way who have great biographies (Hamilton, Franklin, Sherman, etc.) but I do have a growing list of follow-up presidential bios on those I’ve already finished. Grant’s is the one autobiography/memoir I almost added to my list. In general, autobiographies seem too prone to bias but do offer an interesting additional perspective. Grant’s memoirs seem particularly highly regarded so I almost interrupted my flow for it. Instead I’ll just promise myself I’m going to read it (and McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom”) as soon as I get through my first pass of all 44 presidents-

  23. Stacy Williams said:

    Funny you say that but you are right. MANY begin but few finish. Over the years, the project has been a great conversation piece. People are always amazed that I read a 500ish page biography on Chester A. Arthur–that is after you explain who he was. Your speed is very impressive! I admit that I always mixed in other books between biographies because I was worried about getting burned out on the project. I really look forward to your posts. I think that Jean Edward Smith’s biography on Grant will be hard to beat.

  24. Steve,
    Just stumbled upon your website as I was gathering info to begin my own Presidential biography quest and I have one lingering question for you: what is your medium of choice for digesting these books? Are you an e-reader disciple or are you buying each of these books as you go? I am thinking that I should start with library books and then only buy those that I most enjoy. I am very interested in your thoughts.
    Thanks for letting us follow your adventures.

    • Although I think of myself as “cutting edge” in most areas of my life, I’m old fashioned when it comes to reading. Even on airline flights I prefer the physical book, and I’m not entirely sure why (though I would miss having a physical library collection if I went entirely electronic). I might have tried your strategy with library books except where I live the library is far enough away (and limited enough) that I’m better off just taking a chance and buying books used online.

      Ironically, when I procure books online I try to stay away from the ex-library books because they invariably have attachments I can’t get rid of (labels, stickers, etc.) But it is amazing how many of the great presidential bios you can get in hardback for a dollar or two (plus shipping) and I’ve rarely bought one I wished I hadn’t, or gotten one in poorer condition than I had expected. Usually I get something described as “good” that is in great shape.

      As you launch your own journey let me know when you are particularly surprised or disappointed by something you read! I’m always interested to see how other people feel about books, or to see when others read something I missed for whatever reason-

  25. Hi Stephen – just wanted to say how brilliant it is to stumble across your website. I starting reading Caro’s series on LBJ and, as a result, I am completely hooked. I’m now reading a couple of biographies on each President starting with FDR (so not nearly as ambitious as you). Each time I read a biography on a President I want to know the answer to the same questions – what drives a person to want to hold the most powerful office in the world? What motivations do they have in office and what legacy do they leave behind? All fascinating stuff. So far the best bios have been Caro on LBJ and McCullough on Truman. Ambrose on Nixon is also good. Annoyingly have yet to read a biog on FDR that the man deserves. I.d also like to check out a biog on Eleanor Roosevelt. Any recommendations? Anyway, thanks again for a brilliant website and good luck on your journey from across the pond. Elliott – Oxford, UK

    • Elliott, thanks for your comments and your kind remarks – I’m particularly glad to hear that some of your favorite presidential bios are ones I haven’t even gotten to yet! I don’t have an easy answer to your Eleanor Roosevelt question but I know about a blog that also focuses on first ladies so perhaps you will find a recommendation there. If not, contact her on her website or via twitter and I’m confident she will provide a solid recommendation:

      http://featherfoster.wordpress.com/2014/09/23/miss-eleanor-roosevelt/

      Good luck and keep me up to date if you run across any more biographies you really love!

  26. Thanks for recommending my site (just discovered your recent post!) Anyway, I do check out your reviews from time to time – they are usually excellent and well considered! And I am glad you have a new pal in Jeff Spiers at APB! He and I have been e-buddies for probably 25 years now!

    Would recommend, when you get to Garfield, that you start with Ken Ackerman’s DARK HORSE. It is SO well laid out, and I think the others pale in comparison!

    • Thanks for the timely recommendation on Garfield – looks like I’ll be starting with Ackerman! 🙂

    • I stopped by your About page today to gather info for a new Links page on my blog, and I just wanted to say it gives me warm fuzzies to see Ms. Foster here too! I’ve been following her site for a while, and it’s another I’d love to send readers to.

      You’re both inspirations on my own presidential biography journey, which has morphed into relating presidential history and mysteries through my personal experiences and humor. With my first child due next month, I have no idea how I’ll find time to keep reading or writing, but I’m committed to plodding through.

      Keep up the great work!
      Howard

      • Thanks for your thoughts, and I must say I’m quite enjoying “Plodding Through the Presidents” with you! Your blog’s lighthearted touches adds humor that is often sorely needed (just wait until you get to some of the presidents between Jackson and Lincoln and you’ll see what I mean…) And, of course, slow and steady wins the race(!)

  27. Steve – Great site. I started a journey to read about each of the presidents and ended up a bibliophile.

    Candice Millard’s book on Garfield (Destiny of the Republic) is excellent. Not only on Garfield, but late 19th-century medicine.

  28. Steve, just found your site and signed up to follow. My wife and I are visiting a location important to each president–in order– and blogging about it. We began our journey in 2009 and are now up to Andrew Johnson, No. 17. It’s been a great way to learn American history.
    Tom
    http://presidentialpursuits.blogspot.com/

    • Thanks for stopping by and I am *really* looking forward to following your progress! I’m quite certain lots of folks stopping by here will want to check out your site as well. It’s great that you and I are at about the same point right now although I’m afraid you will soon leave me far behind!

      Ironically I got started on this journey in part because I was spending so much time in the bleachers while my kids were at swim practice; it seems you spend a fair amount of time at the pool as well (but as a participant rather than a spectator?)

  29. Thanks for this list. I’m beginning to read some biographies myself and your comments are a big help in deciding what to read.

  30. Kevin D. McCann said:

    Stephen, thank you so much for your thoughtful and detailed book reviews. It’s nice to know there are others out there who enjoy collecting presidential biographies as much as I. I’m working to add at least one biography of each chief executive to my personal library. With so many choices out there–except for the lesser-knowns–your reviews have helped me select the best ones. Thank you once again for your hard work and dedication! Keep the reviews coming!

    • Thanks for your note – I’m surprised how much I’ve enjoyed collecting and reading biographies of the presidents. And with the help of visitors to this site I find myself frequently adding to my collection (and to my backlog!)

  31. Hi Steve! I got lost for a few hours on your site before I even knew the time had went by. Great stuff! Not sure how (or where) you find the time to read all of these books, but it certainly is commendable. I am big fan of the Presidents as well and hope to read at least one book about each of them. I do, however, like to vary my reading with other biographies and history. Still, I never tire of reading about the Presidents. I like bouncing around to different time periods as well. Two tips: 1) when you get to Eisenhower, do not waste your time on Michael Korda’s biography. It is awful, and I am positive you would be immensely disappointed if you read it. 2) when you get to Nixon, make sure to include Roger Morris’ “Nixon: The Rise of an American Politician.” It only takes Nixon up to 1952, so no presidential (or even VP) years are covered, but to me it is essential in being able to try to understand Nixon – not that anyone ever could. Best wishes with your reading! Take care.

    • Thanks for the tips! I love avoiding bad biographies (I’ve had to read very few) so far and I’ve just ordered a copy of the Morris book you recommended – thanks!

  32. Good morning Steve!

    I discovered your site this morning as I was checking on my blog and saw the referrer link.

    Thanks so much for the link to my blog!

    I wish you well in your reading!

    Jim

    • I stumbled across your site yesterday and was impressed to discover that you finished the lengthy journey I’m now undertaking! I’ll enjoy reading your reviews as I continue moving through my list(!)

  33. I just found your site and I appreciate the resource you’ve created here. I try to read a presidential bio every February. I read a lot, but I don’t read a lot of bios. I have a question for you. Although I am an avid reader, I know for a fact I won’t finish a 1000 page bio. So the presidential biographies I’ve been trying to stick to for my February goal usually fall in to the 300-600 page range. Do you have any recommendations for me? Last year I read His Excellency by Joseph J. Ellis.

    • My favorites under 600 pages include “John Adams: A Life” by John Ferling (why read further, go read it now!), “Grant” by Jean Edward Smith (ok, just a tad over the limit) and Jon Meacham’s “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power.” Don’t think you can go wrong with any of those…

  34. I wish I would’ve found your blog before I started on James Madison’s Biography because I am reading the book by Ralph Ketcham; which as you stated in your review is a bit boring of a read.

    Going in order of Presidents I almost want to start reading about other non-presidents of the time like Hamilton, Franklin, Dr. Rush. However, I also want to finish my goal of reading every presidential biography.

    Anyways, I just wanted to say thank you for your blog, and that I enjoy reading your #OTD in presidential history on Twitter!

    • Welcome aboard, and let me know how the rest of your journey proceeds!

      I’ve been frequently tempted to “sidetrack” myself with bios of some of the fascinating non-presidents but so far I have managed to resist. But I’ll get to those once I’ve gotten through Obama, whenever that proves to be.

  35. I was looking for a book to read on Ulysses S. Grant and stumbled onto your website. WOW, is I can say. I’ll be sure to come regularly now that I’ve found your site.

    • Welcome aboard! I’m glad you found the site. If you have time, let me know what you think about the Grant bio you end up choosing!

  36. Zebulon Carlander said:

    Hello Steve!

    Curiously I found your blog when I was searching to find a good biography on president Nixon! Like you I’m fascinated by the Presidency and I really appreciate that you are taking the time reading all these books and writing down your thoughts about them.

    I’m a politically active Swede (my party is the equivalent to the Republicans) and I look forward, starting from now, following your journey.

    I know you have a few years left until the project is completed but I would still like to plant the idea (if you haven’t had it already) that you should afterwards write a book about what you have learnt. Particularly what I’m interested in is the different styles of leadership all these giants of history showed and what personality traits they shared and didn’t share.

    Also it would be very interesting to hear your thoughts about the book ”The End of Greatness” by Aaron David Miller.

    Varma hälsningar (Warm regards),

    Zebulon

    • I’m glad you stumbled across this site – and please let me know what you end up deciding to read on President Nixon! I’m glad I’ve got a couple of years left on this journey because, like all great adventures, the scenery along the way is probably even more rewarding than reaching the destination.

      I have considered a number of possibilities for what to do when I reach the end of this particular road, and I’ve considered writing a book about some aspect of what I learned along the way. Particularly interesting to me is that what makes a great leader depends so much on the context of the times. Some of the best (and worst) presidents would have fared far differently had they led the country in different times (although some, I strongly suspect, would not). But there are also traits/skills that transcend any particular era and are crucial in creating an effective leader during any period.

      In the meantime, though, I’m enjoying Teddy Roosevelt and looking forward to many of the colorful upcoming presidents…!

      Suffice it to say I’m

      • Alfonso Zavala said:

        Do you happen to know when Ronald C. White’s biography on Ulysses S. Grant will be released? What about Ron Chernow?

      • Right now it looks like White’s biography of Grant will be published in the Spring of 2016. Unfortunately, I’ve heard nothing substantive concerning the timing of Chernow’s Grant bio (and I’m really looking forward to reading it).

      • Zebulon Carlander said:

        Can report that I read Richard Reeves book about Nixon (which I recommend) and just came across a new one that looks very promising called: ”Being Nixon – A man divided” by Evan Thomas.

  37. James Davidson said:

    The level of patience you have to read multiple thousand page biographies on just one individual president is truly awe inspiring, much less 40+. I have just started to collect presidential biographies to begin a slightly less ambitious journey for someone with comparatively diminished powers of concentration. Rather than reading them in order, I’m reading one book/set of volumes on each president and skipping around to different time periods after each book. For instance, after I finished The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, I started John Adams (by. David McCullough) before going back to Theodore Rex. I’m hoping that by not continually reading about the same events experienced by successive presidents, albeit from different perspectives, I’ll have a better chance of finishing my journey than if I attempted it chronologically. Also by interrupting multiple volume works with single volume works I’ll be continually encouraged by forward progress. As an added benefit I have more time to track them down for cheaper at used book fairs and garage sales.

    I just wanted to thank you for your reviews as I have found them incredibly helpful to hear the opinions of someone with such a unique perspective to help me as I choose the books I want for my collection. Also, if you have any thoughts on my approach and what I may be missing by attempting this journey this way I would love to hear them.

    • It sounds like you are doing what I had once hoped to do – skip through the presidents reading the best biographies available and not worry too much about sequencing. I got frustrated when I couldn’t reliably identify the best bios of most of the lesser-known presidents (and even some of the more famous ones) and ended up taking on the much larger task of multiple bios on each president. At that point I decided I may as well go in order and the rest…is history. For me, sticking to a strict chronology helps keep historical events in context and sequence (aiding my knowledge of American history enormously), but if you are really just reading for fun I see great merit in skipping around and going in whatever order strikes your fancy at that moment.

      Please keep me updated on your progress, particularly which biographies you really enjoy-

  38. Christopher Simons said:

    Steve- I just wanted to add my name to the list of people grateful for the time and energy you’ve put into this site. I started my goal of reading one biography on each president in chronological order before I found your site. I have, however, been using your site to select biographies for the last several presidents and am currently up to “Old Tippecanoe.” Having your page as a guide helps me identify the one biography on each president with little effort on my own behalf. I personally enjoy the chronological approach of reading through the presdients because you gain the perspective not ony on the individuals but also the cause-and-effect relationship of events occurring in the evolving nation. What strikes me as I move further away from the founding fathers is that the men demonstrate less of philosophical approach in favor of a more more political or steward-like roles. Perhaps that is because the founding fathers were tasked with setting the foundation whereas the later presidents were tasked with maintaining and/or enhancing. I also felt a stronger personal connection with the earlier presidents (likely because of their open personalities, letters, diaries or a combination of the three). You really felt as though you were getting to know the “true” person and not just a carefully crafted public image. I fear that as I move through the biographies, the images will be more crafted, less open/honest and comprised more of politicians than great thinkers. Would be curious to hear your thoughts and whether or not you see this pattern continuing in the subsequent presidents. Wish you the best in your efforts and will be following along as you progress (hopefully catching up!) Thanks again.

    • Congratulations on making it to (and hopefully through) Old TIppecanoe. Once I survived (and almost enjoyed) WHH and John Tyler I knew I could survive at least long enough to get to Lincoln. It’s a fascinating journey and even the lesser-known presidents offer an interesting, if not always uniformly sophisticated, perspective.

      I agree that the early presidents approached the office with a different mindset than later presidents, who often seemed to view their role as caretaking rather than “building.”

      Fortunately, I’ve found that great presidential biographers are able to fully penetrate and describe their subject whether or not that person was a careful steward of their own image (as TR was, for example) and irrespective of whether that person is highly regarded or not. Unfortunately, there seems to be a correlation between highly-ranked presidents and attention from strong biographers. Folks like Martin Van Buren and Grover Cleveland could probably benefit from the focus of Chernow, McCullough, Caro, etc.

      I’m currently working through a potentially “less-exciting” stretch of presidents – Taft through Hoover- so I’m hoping that one or more of the bios I read in the next couple months will be surprisingly enlightening and inspirational. We’ll see… And I do wonder how the office of the presidency, and the people who fill that office, will continue to evolve (philosopher/statesman vs. “pure” politician) as I move into more modern times.

  39. I’m currently reading a biography of each President as part of my retirement bucket list of things to do. I am up to Andrew Jackson. The journey is very interesting. I will be looking to your blog for recommendations on which books to select. Thanks for your efforts.

  40. Hey Steve, Tracking your progress here as you approach Calvin Coolidge. I wanted to suggest another couple books to add to your list of very worthy follow ups: 1. Charles C. Johnson’s “Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons from America’s Most Underrated President” and 2. Roland D. Sawyer’s “Cal Coolidge, President,” which I notice is currently unavailable right now on Amazon. For another aside, I submit a shameless plug for my own book out in May, “Keeping Cool on the Campaign Trail: 101 of “Silent” Cal’s Insights on Voting, Campaigning, and Governing” available also on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Perhaps you can spare the time, when you get there, to read that book and review it for me. Many thanks and keep up the excellent reviews!

    • Why do you recommend Sawyer’s book? ABE has one copy available.

      • I recommend it for a couple reasons: 1. It is written by a contemporary – one who served in the Massachusetts General Court while Coolidge led the State Senate – with the perspective of someone on a different side politically but who saw much to commend Cal nonetheless; and 2. It is written in 1924 with much of what Coolidge would accomplish yet in the future and thus lends itself strongly to an interpretation freed of the biases against him that crept in later on. It is an examination of his character not just a recitation of the biographical facts. I recommend its balanced perspective enthusiastically. Hopefully you can secure that copy on ABE.

    • Thanks for the heads-up on Coolidge. I’ll do some exploring on all three!

  41. Thank you. I had never heard of the book until your post. The ABE copy is a bit worn, but I will watch for a better copy.

  42. What an ambitious undertaking! Very admirable. I appreciate the great wealth of information your blog provides, and I’ve added the four volume Washington biography to my “to-read” list because of you. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Thanks for stopping by! Flexner’s series doesn’t seem to get much attention, so if you read it I would love to know what you think. Thinking back, I admire it less for its elegant, fluid writing and more for the historical insights it provides. Chernow’s bio of Washington was a more engaging journey, but Flexner’s series is really a classic.

  43. I thought it time to thank you for your huge contribution to my own presidential biography project. I conceived of the project before finding you, but have used your recommendations from the beginning. I’m only reading one bio per president but plan to return to those of most interest once I’ve gotten the big picture, plus plenty of deeper dives into supplement topics.

    I’m in the throes of the doughfaces right now, having been at it for the last 9 months, and really looking forward to getting out of the American Presidents Series. It’s a nice resource (I prefer ebooks since I read in bed) but I know I’m missing a ton of info.

    Anyway, excellent work and thanks for taking the guess work out of this journey!
    Jackie

    • Thanks for your feedback and best of luck as you keep moving through the presidents! I’ve found that the American Presidents Series books are GREAT for people who don’t mind compromising a bit on elegant writing and detailed insights but who want to understand a particular president at a high level with clarity and precision.

      I personally think the series is strongest for presidents who receive little fanfare from the best biographers (John Tyler comes to mind) and is probably weakest for presidents about whom there is a great deal to be said and appreciated (Washington, Lincoln, etc.)

      Because I want to get to know the presidents fairly well but also enjoy reading really engaging, descriptive narratives I have a different set of criteria than some people – and it is harder for me to figure out in advance which “one” biography of each president I’m really going to love.

  44. Kevin Schlabach said:

    I read your reviews on Grant. They were excellent (I also loved Jean Smith)! I just can’t believe how much and fast you are able to read…I envy that talent. I think your blog is incredibly helpful and your reviews are very well written. I wish we could have a Scotch and talk history…

    • Thanks for your comments, and I can’t wait to read more Jean Edward Smith! I’m working through my last Warren Harding biography, so I really could use that scotch right about now. I’ve almost concluded that friends just don’t let friends read Harding bios…

  45. SO glad that I found this blog. I just ordered the James Buchanan’s biography recommended here. Having read some great and some not so great biographies of Presidents 1-14, I am excited to follow along this path of learning more about our country’s dynamic leaders. My journey started almost 2 years ago, but I’m picking up speed as the historical events are more spread out.

  46. Elliot Johnson said:

    Hi Steve,

    Your ambitious project is very inspiring. I am in the early days of a similar effort though I only want to read the best bio of each president so I find your site enormously helpful.

    Considering your desire to be as thorough as possible, I think there’s an argument for including Jefferson Davis for the sake of completeness.

    I was wondering whether you had considered adding him to your list?

    Elliot

  47. Hi Steve,

    Your ambitious project is very inspiring. I am in the early days of a similar effort though I only want to read the best bio of each president so I find your site enormously helpful.

    Considering your desire to be as thorough as possible, I think there’s an argument for including Jefferson Davis for the sake of completeness.

    I was wondering whether you had considered adding him to your list?

    Elliot

    • Indeed – I have a significant follow-up list of folks who, technically or otherwise, were not U.S. Presidents but who were central in American history. Jefferson Davis is definitely on that list and I already have a couple bios of him waiting to be read. The fact that I live near Richmond, VA certainly keeps his name and his period in American history highly visible, and I became particularly interested in reading about him after getting through the Lincoln and Grant biographies.

  48. Eliot Kopp said:

    Hey Steve,
    Absolutely addicted to your site. You’ve provided a real public service! You may have answered this before, but if you’ll indulge me. . . what is your absolutely, positively, without a doubt favorite presidential biography, the one you’d save if every other one were to suddenly go up in flames? Why did you make that choice?
    Thanks!
    Warmest regards,
    Eliot

    • So…you’re asking me which of my children would I save at the expense of the others? 🙂 Right now I’d have to go with Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life” although something would urge me to save Michael Burlingame’s two-volume biography of Lincoln. But there are so many others…!

      • Eliot Kopp said:

        I love the “children” analogy. . . they give you the love, but without the aggravation. . .;)

  49. Eliot Kopp said:

    Hi Steve,
    You mentioned that you would save Michael Burlingame’s two volume biography of Lincoln. In all of the “best of” sites I have encountered, not one person listed that set in the “best Lincoln biographies” list.. I have read both volumes (I have the hardback set, the paperback set, and the Kindle version.) Why do you think that it is not listed as one of the best Lincoln biographies? Is it that most people have not attempted to read it as it appears too daunting to tackle?

    • Honestly, I think you might be the first person I’m aware of who has also read both volumes of the Burlingame series! And, yes, I’m guessing most people just don’t bother to tackle something that appears that dense and intimidating…but I definitely found it easier to read and more rewarding than I expected. I’m still looking forward to reading the even longer uncondensed version at some point (available for free online). I’m guessing since you own every version of the two-volume series that you liked it?

  50. Eliot Kopp said:

    To be quite frank, I prefer the “personal” Lincoln to the “political” Lincoln. The book is very heavy into Lincoln’s politics, and so it dragged from time to time. With that said, completing it gives the sense that one has just conquered Everest. There simply is no Lincoln biography out there that compares with the depth or breadth of information one finds in these two volumes. I did download the free version, but for some reason, the pdf files will not format correctly on my Kindle, although it looks great on my desktop.

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