I’m an investment banker, private pilot and avid fan of American history. I also enjoy Thai food, camping, Robert Ludlum novels and anything containing chocolate. And somehow I’ve ended up with a flower farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains…

Three decades ago I left Texas to attend Brown University and experience all four seasons. A few years later I left Rhode Island with a Chemical Engineering degree and the understanding that snow is seriously overrated.

Given my fascination with the presidency and love of great writing, in 2010 I began collecting the best biographies of each of the presidents. In late 2012 I embarked on a quest to read them all – beginning with George Washington.

This site was initially created to log my journey and organize my thoughts. But 260 presidential biographies later it has evolved into something a bit larger…

I finished my first pass through the presidents on Presidents’ Day 2019 – after six fascinating years. Now I’m reading presidential biographies from my follow-up list as well as great biographies of non-presidents.

That journey is being documented at http://www.thebestbiographies.com.

Stephen Floyd
January 2022P1020865

412 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.



  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).


    • 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,


  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!

  12. Graham Hooper said:

    Hello Steve,

    One of your British fans here.

    As 2017 has just passed I thought I’d write to congratulate you on another year of wonderful achievement.

    I’ve been following you now for about four years and remain in awe at your monumental task. Your posts, as always, have been hugely insightful, thoughtful and entertaining.

    I notched up my own (very modest) presidential biography last year finally getting around to reading Jean Edward Smith’s book on U.S Grant (I’m an avid reader on the American Civil War). I enjoyed Smith’s book very much and now eagerly await the UK paperback release of Ron Chernow’s biography on Grant. (Mr Chernow is ‘big’ in the UK right now as Hamilton the Musical as just opened in London to rave reviews. I hope to go and see it – probably in about 2021 – when tickets might just be available!).

    Aside from Grant, I’d like to turn my attention next to Polk. I got interested in Polk whilst reading a fascinating biography of the American frontiersman Kit Carson by the wonderfully named author Hampton Sides (Blood & Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West – highly recommended).

    Carson met Polk, I think a few times, about expeditions to the west. Sides paints Polk as an incredibly restless but rather admirable man, determined to secure America’s territorial destiny. Without your blog I would have been all at sea about where to bore in on Polk, but I shall have a bash with Walter Borneman’s biography as recommended by you in your tour of Polk biographies back in 2014.

    Finally, I’ve really enjoyed your round up of Lyndon B. Johnson biographies. I recently finished watching Ken Burns’ masterful documentary of the Vietnam War. Have you seen it? Johnson features heavily in the series of course and, in Burns’ interpretation, comes across as a president who desperately wanted to get out of the war, but didn’t quite know how to do it.

    Thanks again for another great year of presidential biographies – we salute you!

    Graham Hooper

    • Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed note and thanks for the kind words. I am eager to read Chernow’s new biography of Grant (who I saw as a fascinating pre-president but a somewhat uninspiring president) and I’ intrigued by your selection of Polk.

      The 11th president is one of those men who, on the matrix of interesting vs. well-covered, ends up scoring well on interesting/compelling but quite poorly on well-covered. I can’t quite remember what the limiting factor is – good primary source documents, a tendency to cover more “famous” presidents or those who were far more “infamous”,…? But I do remember finishing him up and wondering why there wasn’t a modern, comprehensive, lengthy biography about him. I’ll have to take a look at Carson’s book; sounds like it would make an interesting read.

      Lastly, I have not seen the Burns series on LBJ. As in the case of TR and FDR where I had not seen the famous series yet, I wanted to watch it but ultimately had to decide, with limited free time, whether to watch the show or read the books (!) I do get the sense that LBJ desperately wanted out of Vietnam but…just…quite…couldn’t. And isn’t it too bad?

      Looking forward to sharing another new year with you and all my friends in the UK!


  13. Carol Beaulieu said:

    Dear Steve, Again I thank you for this site & so very happy you have a ‘what’s next’ section, which I just took a look at….It is truly awesome how much joy I get out of reading & history is the best! Lately I’ve been reading up on the ‘Ladies’ with Cokie Roberts books…Great info & she really packs it in…My husband just finished ‘Grant’ by Ron Chernow (a fantastic writer, as you know!)…I actually have a tee shirt that says “Too Many Books, Not Enough Time”….Best of Luck…Carol

    • Thanks! Love the t-shirt 🙂

      I am a bit surprised how enjoyable reading great biographies can be – – when well-written they are (in my humble opinion) as entertaining as great fiction, and have the added benefit of adding perspective to one’s worldview. I’m really looking forward to reading the best of the “what’s next” list. I’ve got the first 14 books sitting on a shelf in front of me – inspiration in case I start to lose vigor getting through Nixon or Ford or Carter…

  14. Steve–you are such an inspiration. I am using your list to do my own much slower march through the presidents. How do you get so much reading done? What is your secret?

    • My secret involves making the most of days like last Thursday (3.5 hour flight to Baton Rouge, 2 hour delay on my return flight; 3 hour flight back). And I’ve given up reading fiction. And my phone doesn’t have any (fun) apps 🙂 Oh, and if I seem to go missing for a couple of weeks I *know* one of my long-time followers is going to check in and make sure I’m still here!

      I should add that I look forward to feedback on your journey through the presidents, even if it’s a bit more deliberately paced! If you read something you really loved or disliked, or if you uncover something I’ve missed, do let me know!

      • Thanks for the tips! I am reading the one volume Remini book on Jackson now. I am not a fan. Part of the problem with the book is that I think that he assumes too much knowledge on the part of the reader. It reads like what it is, a condensing of a three volume series. I found it confusing at times. I also think he waffles too much on calling Jackson out for bad policies–like the Indian removal policy. He admits that it was devastating policy for tribes that resulted in great human suffering, but then later says that it helped some tribes survive. I would be curious how he comes to that latter conclusion. Furthermore, even if that conclusion is true, isn’t it only true because of the federal government’s treatment of tribes? Anyway, I am eager to finish Jackson and move on.

        Have you thought about adding a bio of Taney to your future reading list? He is certainly an important figure in American Legal History.

      • Re: Roger Taney – very interesting suggestion! I remember reading about him quite frequently although he never owned the narrative for very long. I will have to look into him. Do you happen to have a bio to suggest? If not, no worries – I’ll do some digging.

  15. I don’t know of a good bio. I did a quick search and I am not sure that there are a lot of options. Still, he is a rather famous (infamous) figure.

    • I would concur on the lack of options. James Simon’s LINCOLN AND CHIEF JUSTICE TANEY is probably the best bet, but certainly not a biography. The most ‘scholarly’ biography was written in the 30’s.

  16. Logan Mortenson said:

    Hi Steve, I really enjoy reading your reviews. Thank you for letting us follow your journey. Presidential biographies are my favorite genre too and I have slowly been making my way through them in no particular order (although I think it is neat you are doing so). I plan to use your lists as a guide for my future reading and already have some of your suggestions on my bookshelf. Up to this point, I have primarily focused my attention on later 20th century presidents (especially Nixon and Reagan, who are of particular interest to me). However, I am currently finishing a non-presidential biography entitled “Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr.” I highly recommend it. Burr is a fascinating (and largely misunderstood) figure. This book has invigorated my interest in the founding years. I also look forward to reading Gore Vidal’s novel “Burr,” which I see is on your ‘What’s Next’ list.

    • Logan, thanks for your comment – I love hearing from people who enjoy presidential biographies as much as I do! Like a lot of folks, my favorite group of presidents (though there have been several positive surprises along this journey) is the early group: Washington through Jackson. But I’m really looking forward to Reagan since he’s the first president I vividly remember.

      Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton are two early-era figures who I quickly found fascinating. I don’t recall whether I investigated Isenberg’s bio of Burr but your note has motivated me to investigate further… And as you may have discovered, I read (and really enjoyed) the book she co-wrote: “Madison and Jefferson.” If you haven’t read it (and haven’t already read a bio of those presidents) it might be worth checking out.

      • Logan Mortenson said:

        Thanks for the suggestion! I really enjoy Isenberg’s writing, so I am sure I will like “Madison and Jefferson.” I have not read a biography on either president yet, so that will be a great introduction. As for Reagan, I have yet to read a full biography. However, I am planning to read his official (and controversial) biography “Dutch” by Edmund Morris, Lou Cannon’s 2-part biography (as Governor and President) and Reagan’s presidential diaries (not a biography, but an interesting piece of history). I have read a few books on Reagan that offer a more panoramic cultural view of his presidency that I would recommend: “Morning in America” by Gil Troy and “Tear Down this Myth” by Will Bunch. Do you already have a to-be-read list for Reagan?

      • I do have a reading list for Reagan, located near the bottom of: https://bestpresidentialbios.com/curriculum/

  17. I’m a social studies teacher. This is one of my goals…to read a bio on each president and read each Booker prize winner ..a few novels into that I realized reading about colonialism gets boring.

  18. What a wealth of information you have here on your site! I’m in disbelief that I did not discover this sooner. Glad to follow a fellow chemical engineer and avid reader.

    • I’m glad you made it to the party! Always excited to come across an enthusiastic reader – and even better when I run into another chemical engineer! 🙂

      • I know this is off-topic, but I occasionally play hooky from reading presidential biographies. For instance, I am currently reading “The Big Short” by Michael Lewis about the financial shenanigans that led to the Financial Crisis. As an investment banker, Steve, I wonder if you’ve read this book and your thoughts on it. The movie of the same title, by the way, does not do the subject justice.

      • I haven’t read “The Big Short” yet but plan to. Since I survived / endured the crisis while employed by one of the large Wall Street firms I will be interested to see whether Lewis’s take is similar to mine. And I’m never surprised to hear “the book is better than the movie”…!

  19. Logan Mortenson said:

    I am currently half-way through reading ‘Nixon Agonistes,” which I see is your next book. It is unlike anything I’ve ever read and is hard to categorize. I wouldn’t qualify it is a biography, since Wills writes in a new journalism style. Although its primary focus is Nixon, it is wide-ranging and gives a snapshot of many of the political actors involved in the 1968 election. I have found it to be a challenging and engaging read so far. Really paints a unique portrait of Nixon. Curious to hear what you think of it.

    • “Unique” is a great way to describe it! I’m reading it right now (literally – I just took a break to check email) and for the first time in a couple of years I have no idea how I’m going to describe a book I’m nearly 1/3 of the way through. So far I’ve found it baffling, amazing, challenging, erudite and…unusual. I’ll be curious to see what you think once you’ve finished it; you know where to find my opinion of it 🙂

  20. Al Colburn said:

    I’m about halfway through my own journey through the presidents, recently having finished Chernow’s Grant (which I loved). I pay a lot of attention to your reviews and recommendations, always looking here first. Can I ask for a different kind of recommendation, though? … Ignoring what’s best at covering an entire life, etc., which biographies do you think are simply the most interesting, well written, enjoyable reads? Which ones do you think people would find compelling or even page turners?

    • Great question – and it’s one that my youngest son’s English teacher asked recently! She wanted her students to read a >300 page book about any one of the presidents – but something they would find engrossing (a “page turner”).

      I told her to pick from Chernow’s bio of Washington, McCullough’s bio of John Adams, Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” Jean Edward Smith’s bio of Grant, Candice Millard’s “Destiny of the Republic” (about Garfield) or Millard’s “River of Doubt” about Teddy Roosevelt. Some of those are conventional, comprehensive biographies but a few fall into your “different recommendation” i.e. not comprehensive, but well-written and engaging page-turners.

      My son’s teacher ended up picking “River of Doubt” covering TR’s adventure in the Amazon basin and my middle-school aged son (who I can hardly get to read a cereal box) absolutely LOVED it.

  21. Johnson & American Liberalism: A Brief Bio. was outstanding & recommended, a nice complement to Kearns-Goodwin’s book.
    Bruce Schulman’s other book ‘The ’70s’ is also excellent & covers Nixon.

  22. Raymond Hoek said:

    What about the Spiro agnew biography by Justin Coffey, for the follow up list ?

  23. Jeffrey said:

    Dear Steve;

    I am new to your blog. However, I have already used your suggestions and recently ordered Remini’s one volume biography of Andrew Jackson. (I had to find a good used hardcover copy as the font of the softcover is so small as to be nearly unreadable.) I haven’t read it yet.

    I saw your comment that many readers find Truman boring. As a cure for that syndrome, I would like to recommend an excellent book I recently read (not a full Truman bio) Accidental President by A.J. Blaine:


    The book largely focuses on the first 4 months following Roosevelt’s death, which the author posits were arguably the most consequential of the 20th century. In any case, it is a swift interesting read. I must say I agree with the author’s view, Truman certainly rose to the immense challenges, making his very ordinary background all the more interesting. I would be interested to read your take on the book.

    Kindest regards,

    Jeffrey Nydick

    • Jeffrey, thanks for the note. I’m sure there are more than a few people who will be interested in your recommendation of Blaine’s book. (I may try to find a way to cross-post your comment on the “Best Bios of Harry Truman” page since I know how much traffic that page gets!) I’ve considered adding Blaine’s book to my follow-up list but just haven’t focused on it since I’ve been focused on getting through LBJ and Nixon lately. But no matter what, I’ll be reading it at some point as I’ve already had a couple of people mention it to me so I’m quite curious at this point…

  24. I have been following your website with great pleasure for a year or so. I am currently on Tyler. I have read your suggestions for best book for the most part but with a few diversions when the best book seemed too unwieldy for some reason and/or perhap a free version was not available through the Kindle library, though I have purchased books there as well. I felt a bit shortchanged on Madison and Monroe, given my selections, but mostly they have been fascinating. It seems a good bio gives one a great feel for the man and his presidency. Anyway, I am hesitant to bring this up in a public forum and hoped I might reach you individually but in any case I am familiar with Astrology and have a working knowledge of the basics with respect to the various presidents. I wonder if I may send you some brief readings, written by an man long dead, who based them solely on the day, month and year of the person he describes without any idea whom they may be. I think you may find them interesting Actually, I would like to send you the descriptions without identifying the men, and see if you might guess them. I understand this is controversial to some, but those with an open mind have nothing to fear.

  25. Stephen Plotkin said:

    Mr. Floyd,

    Like a lot of folks here, I was casting about on the interwebs for a good, descriptive source on presidential biographies. A little background: I work at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library; I’m one of the archivists there. Because I have spent a lot of time working with the history of one president, there tends to be an assumption that I am an expert on ALL presidents. The truth, of course, is that I am not even an expert on one president. In any case, individuals have frequently contacted our reference room with requests for recommendations on biographies of presidents. It isn’t hard to gin up a good list when you are asked about a single name (go to Amazon and get titles; check out reviews in Choice, Booklist, Library Journal, Kirkus; email results of research), but when somebody wants advice on a whole raft of names, it gets a little time-consuming. So I decided I should come up with a list for all the presidents ahead of time, which I could then referred to as needed. I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be convenient if somebody had already developed such a list of biographies — preferably annotated — for all the presidents?” So I went looking. And — well. Here we are.

    Way back when the web was a-borning and people had stars in their eyes about all its “potential,” I think your blog and the conversations it has engendered were the sort of thing they had in mind.


    Stephen Plotkin

    • Well, truth be told, I started this site just hoping to “stash my notes” somewhere and perhaps learn how to put something on the web. It wasn’t long before I decided to morph it slightly into what I had hoped to have found when I started my journey – a website offering someone’s insight into finding that one great biography on each president.

      How successful I’ve been is something every individual visiting gets to decide for themselves. But it has been a fascinating journey, and the greatest (and unexpected) surprise has been the insight and commentary offered by folks who know a lot more than me about most of this and are willing to liberally share their perspectives.

      So welcome to the party…and if you have thoughts on JFK (or anyone else for that matter) I’m all ears!

  26. David Hanna said:

    Steve, It has been some extended period of time since I last posted a comment; so long that I can’t seem to find it. Anyhow, thanks again for this wonderful site. As I recall, my last post encouraged you to (temporarily) put aside the presidential biographies and turn your attention to Winston Churchill. (He was one half American, if you need an excuse.) There are many (too many) to choose from, but William Manchester’s three volume effort (really 2-1/2, as he died before he could finish) is, in my judgment, the very best. Especially volume II. I also recommend “Winston’s War” by Max Hastings. Enjoy.

    • Thanks – I do now have a large collection of biographies of Churchill including, of course, Manchester’s series. He is one of the first non-presidents I’m going to tackle next spring when I’m done with round 1 of the presidents 🙂

  27. Teacher in Tejas said:

    Having already read John Adams years ago and Chernow’s Washington last year, I have decided to do one presidential bio per president in order starting with Jefferson. My caveat is that I am only doing four a year to keep a steady pace. While organizing them I came to realize that starting in 1800 presidential administrations fit into neat quartets of pretty defined eras. To keep up this structure I will be forced to make two of my years into quintets. One was a pretty easy decision to make, the other was very difficult. So what do you think of this?

    2018 The Founders (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J.Q. Adams) Establishment of the Republic and the passing of the torch from the founding generation with John Adams’s son.

    2019 Era of the Common Man, Rise of the Democratic Party (Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison, Tyler……and here’s the wild card. I have to break up the four and add a fifth as Polk and the Mexican War belong to this list rather than the one to follow. Of course with Harrison and John Tyler’s bios probably being relatively brief I think I can fit five in a year.

    2020 “Dance Band on the Titanic” The mediocrities and failures as the long fuse to Fort Sumter burned. (Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan. There are two eras I am not looking forward to and this is one of them, as the country lurched toward the Civil War like characters in a Greek Tragedy condemned to their fate.

    2021 Civil War and Reconstruction: (Lincoln, A. Johnson, Grant, Hayes). Obviously, looking forward to a good bio of Lincoln with so many to choose from. Believe it or not, I’ve always wanted to know more about Andrew Johnson, and Ron Chernow has a new biography of Grant that I am looking forward to.

    2022 The Gilded Age (Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, and Harrison) Remember those two eras I am dreading? Here is the second one

    2023 Becoming a World Power (McKinley, T. Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson) The Industrial Colossus defeats Spain, gets the Philippines and Cuba, gets involved in China, cleans up its act a bit at home, and tips the scales in the Great War.

    2024 Roaring Twenties, Depression, Second World War (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR)
    Now comes the difficult part: Where do I place Truman? Do I use Truman as the coda for the World War II generation, thus making it my second group of five, or do I begin the Cold War with him? The Second World War was just about over, but it was Truman who administered the coup de grace with the dropping of the bomb!

    After consideration, despite that it means putting three of the most important presidents of the Twentieth Century in one quintet, I have decided to place Truman in the Cold War. I think it works out better, because after finishing 2024 my list will look like this:

    2025 The Cold War, Civil Rights and Vietnam, Zenith of the Democrats: (Truman, Ike, JFK, LBJ, Nixon). This quintet could also be considered “The Rise and Fall of Richard Nixon,” going from his work with HUAC and the Alger Hiss case to Watergate.

    2026: The Age of Reagan (Ford, Carter, Reagan, HW Bush) from losing the 1976 GOP contest to Ford, to his becoming the first president since Andrew Jackson to see his vice president elected after he served two terms, the Gipper was the most dominant political figure since FDR

    2027: Post-Cold War, Cyber revolution, global economy, Radical Islamic Terrorism (Clinton, W. Bush, Obama, Trump). I consider this to be the “Age of Reaction” and the pendulum swinging back. Bill Clinton represented the Democratic Party tacking back to the center and away from the McGovernite Liberalism that had gotten them beaten soundly in three straight elections. Trump was a direct reaction to Obama. By the time I get to current times, Obama and Trump will be in the history books.


    • Right off the bat let me say I really appreciate your organizational style and your desire to create order out of what is sometimes chaos. It’s hard to argue with the broad strokes you’ve outlined, and I remember vividly approaching your 2020 reading list with trepidation. But I found that period both more interesting than expected and also…more disappointing.

      As far as the Gilded Age goes, I was also skeptical of that period and found it more interesting and less disappointing than feared. Garfield, in particular, was almost an inspirational figure who I still find myself pondering: what IF he had lived? Might he have been an almost Lincoln-esque president who changed the course of American history in a truly profound (and positive) way? Or would he have merely been absorbed by the swamp in the end?

      I don’t disagree with your placement of Truman, though this is one place where I think it is impossible to neatly organize history. Sometimes it’s messy, sometimes it defies neat boxes and Truman feel like the consummate pivot point between your 2024 list and your 2025 list.

      But now I see why you have focused your sights on Obama / Trump in 2027 [in your other comment] – given your reading schedule I think it’s safe to say there will be a great deal to read of them both in that time frame. Whether there are any truly great / insightful bios on either of them remains to be seen! And, of course, there could be two more presidencies (yet to come at this date) under discussion.

      And as always, there’s just never enough time…

      • Teacher in Tejas said:

        Thanks for your kind words. You make an interesting point about Garfield. I knew almost nothing about him, and then I watched that American Experience “Death of a President” and was blown away. What a man, goes from penny-less student at the college to teaching at that same college within a year, to his Civil War service and then his election. And then you look at him as he entered the White House, only to be killed so soon into his term That brief introduction in that show seemed to me to indicate that he could almost be considered the 19th Century JFK, cut down before he could do anything. He was in favor of Civil Service Reform, if I recall was attuned to the problems Blacks in the South were already having with Civil Rights after the Union troops were pulled out. I am looking forward to reading about Garfield.

        And as far as waiting until 2017 for the current and former president, I can only think about an incident that proved to me to be careful about judging too quickly. IN 2002 I was visiting Theodore Roosevelt’s home on Long Island. In the gift shop they had a book of presidential rankings. Reagan was listed as a bottom quintile president. Then I checked the copywrite date (1989) A ha! Reagan was mostly dismissed by the (mostly liberal) cadre of mainstream US historians and then Boom, the Wall comes down ten months after his term ends, and then they had to give him credit for that and he shot up the rankings.

        One last point I would like to share is that I have accidentally come up with some outside reading to complement my list. I finished Meachams’ Jefferson on March 16 and was not scheduled to start Madison until April 1 and then I saw on my bookshelf the perfect filler. There was an un-read bio of the most important man of that era that ended with JQ Adams: John Marshall. So I have an outside biography to complement each era.” So far I have:

        Jacson to Polk – Henry Clay (another unread one on my shelf. I have always admired Clay and look forward to this one)

        Pre Civil War: Can’t decide on this one. Stephen Douglass perhaps?

        Civil War: Probably take the safe route and go with Jefferson Davis.

        Gilded Age: The teacher who gave me the original Washington bio I mentioned also gave me Chernow’s “Titan” about John D. Rockefeller.

        World Power: She also gave me Chernow’s “The House of Morgan” (Side note: I stacked the last two books and added Washington and measured the width. 5.5 inches of Chernow 😉 ) I had also thought maybe one of the socialists like Eugene Debs

        To World War II: So many to choose from. May go foreign with Winston Churchill

        Cold War to Watergate: Way too many choices here: Kruszchev? Sam Rayburn? one of the others who served in Congress for centuries, or so it seemed during this period?

        Reagan: Still a lot to choose from. I guess the safe bet would be Gorbachev.

        Post Reagan: Too many choices.

        Any suggestions?

        BTW, I apologize for the length of these posts. As you can see I am excited by this project and just like to share my thoughts.

  28. Oh my, you’re trying to pick “just one” non-presidential biography to go with each period? 🙂

    That’s too daunting a task for me, so here’s what I’ve come up with in that same general spirit (several names if not all of the names you mentioned are on my list): https://bestpresidentialbios.com/related-reading/

    And btw there are several hundred “frequent” and a couple-dozen “very frequent” visitors who follow comments on this site closely and frequently chime in with thoughts. Don’t worry about abbreviating comments or queries – it just gives folks more to chew on.

  29. Teacher in Tejas said:

    Hey Steve: I hope you haven’t already seen this presidential trivia question but I love it. What are the four Colleges that boast a President of the United States and a Super Bowl winning quarterback among their alumni?

  30. Walt East said:

    Steven, I posted the below on my FB page today. Thank you for inspiring me to begin my own journey with the presidents. Walt


    Two years ago, Lou and I watched the movie, 1776 in July. We followed up with the HBO series, John Adams. This lead my discovery of Stephen Floyd’s wonderful website/blog, My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies https://bestpresidentialbios.com. I began collecting presidential biographies and am now up to more than 150 volumes in my collection. Floyd is so inspiring that I have used his list and reviews as the basis for building my library. I have begun reading with Washington and have read three bios on the first president ( I have 9 on him).
    Floyd has been at it for 5 years and is up to Gerald Ford, having read 3 or more on each POTUS, his reviews are well-written and insightful. I highly recommend his blog.

    • Walt, thanks for the note and for the kind words!

      I would love to know what you think as you tick through the presidents and their biographies. George Washington, who you obviously started with, is blessed with several great biographies and I obviously loved Ron Chernow’s bio.

      And most (if not quite all) of the presidents – even some you wouldn’t suspect – seem more interesting than expected through biographies that often surprised me with their insight and observations.

      I don’t expect we’ll love exactly the same set of biographies but that’s part of what makes this sort of journey so fascinating – so do let me know when you run across biographies you love as well as ones I liked that you founding disappointing.

      And do let me know when you get to Lincoln – not only does he have a wonderful selection of biographies from which to choose, but after slogging through the slow-motion build-up to the Civil War, reading about Lincoln is when your faith in the power of one person will be renewed.

      I am just now getting to the presidents I actually remember so the next 9 months should be interesting!

  31. This is great Stephen! Thanks so much for your work. Several months ago I started my own journey (backwards) through the Presidents. I’ve been fascinated with the Presidency since i was a child. Your site is so helpful because I can get an opinion I trust rather than hoping the Amazon reviews are accurate! Thanks again! If you’re ever in Atlanta, let me buy you dinner!

    • Congrats on your (backwards) journey through the Presidents! On the off chance you have a website documenting your adventure, let me know so I can link to it on my Related Sites pages. Otherwise, please let me know from time to time what you’re reading and what you think – particularly when you love something I failed to uncover or really dislike something that popular sentiment favors.

      Not sure I’ve ever mentioned it online, but my parents are from the Atlanta area so as a kid I spent major holidays rolling around in red Georgia dirt and marveled as kudzu consumed the countryside. And somewhat later in my life I introduced my New York-native wife to famously fabulous Southern hospitality and to Brunswick stew at a great place just down the road from the Atlanta airport!

      • Thanks for asking. Actually, you inspired me to start documenting my journey on the web so I created another page on my personal blog dedicated to presidential bio’s.
        I’m still working on my first review. Starting with Decision Points by Bush 43. I’ve skipped Trump & Obama just until something comes out that interests me about them. Have you read Decision Points?
        Currently I’m reading Goodwin’s Lyndon “Johnson and the American Dream.” I’m not loving it like I thought I would but I’m pushing forward.
        I didn’t catch from your site that you spent time in Atlanta. My wife is a fan of Brunswick stew and we’re always looking for new places to try.

        Would love for you to check out my site.

  32. James Salerno said:

    I didn’t realize you set a deadline, best of luck meeting it! Do you anticipate any trouble meeting your deadline? I ask because I’m doing something similar but on a much smaller scale. I plan on reading one bio on each deceased president from July 4 2018 to July 4 2020. Your site has been incredible in helping me pick the best of the best. So far I’ve completed Shlaes’s Coolidge and I’m almost done with McCullogh’s Adams.

    I decided to jump around eras because I’m ADD like that and a lot of the supporting cast remains the same, which can get tiresome for me, although I do realize how interesting it can be seeing different perspectives on the same eras. I also own Smith’s Grant, McCullogh’s Truman, Chernow’s Washington, Remini’s condensed Jackson and Merry’s McKinley. I think I’m in good hands based on what I’ve read so far and your reviews!

    • Good luck on your own journey and…well…about once or twice a year I hit a mental “block” and need to take a week or two off. Then I’m refreshed and realize I’m six or eight hundred pages behind (assuming I still want to finish by Presidents’ Day 2019) and I spend the next month or two reading the 50-60 pages a day I already needed as well as the extra pages I need just to catch up 🙂

      In the end, however, it’s not much of a problem since the underlying task is so interesting and given the fact that it’s not a job…so I can’t be fired!

  33. Hi Steve, been following you for a while and love your speed reading! Really appreciate your thoughts, your suggestions have helped me in my own journey through the presidents. I’m currently on Hayes. I began several years ago thinking I’d read one book on each president in order, but there are just too many interesting books so I have read several books on each president, along with some side track books!

    My question, and forgive me for asking an impossible question, but in your opinion, how would reconstruction have been different, if at all, had Lincoln lived?

    Thanks again, your site is invaluable!

    • Thanks for your note – I love getting feedback (esp. when it’s positive!)

      Your question is tantalizingly thought-provoking, and I’ve thought a bit about it the past day or so and come to the conclusion that I…have no idea. The first thing to consider, I suspect, is that had Lincoln lived it would very likely have meant that Andrew Johnson would never have become president. But would Lincoln have run for another term? Would Grant have run in 1868? Once you figure out who would have been president I think you can start to tackle the question, but even assuming Lincoln had lived and served a third term…I’m not sure I know how he would have managed reconstruction (or how the south would have responded to his efforts).

      I’m sure there are some Lincoln aficionados who might have a more informed opinion…

      • Thank you for your response! I know it was a ridiculous question. I am wondering, when you finish the presidents and move on to your reading list about other historical figures, are you going to continue to post reviews? I am really hoping the answer is yes!

      • I wouldn’t call the question ridiculous…just extremely challenging 🙂

        And, yes, I absolutely will post reviews of the “other” biographies I read. I haven’t decided whether on this or perhaps a “sister” website so I can keep presidential bio reviews and all other reviews neatly organized & distinct, but I’m considering posting an abbreviated review of those books on this site with a link to the full review on the other site. Fortunately I’ve got a few months to figure it out…

        Not that I’m growing tired of presidential biographies (which is certainly not the case) but I’m really looking forward to reading about some of the fascinating other folks I’ve come across during this journey and Ron Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” is right at the top of that list!

  34. Jeffrey Nydick said:

    Regarding books other than presidential bios, I noticed that Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides is on (the photo of) your bookshelf. I recently read this book and found it fascinating and very well-written. I think it would be of interest to your readers as it provides great insight and knowledge concerning (among other things) 19th Century American history, how the West was really conquered, the Indian Wars, the geological wonders of the New Mexico Territory, the absolutely incredible life of Kit Carson and American Indian culture. Did you find the book as well-written and interesting as I did? I would be interested to know. Needless to say, I highly recommend it to your readers.

    • Apologies, my reply was sitting “on hold” for all this time (up to early Feb!) Although I have Blood and Thunder on my bookshelf, I didn’t get to it before I started on this presidential-focused adventure so it’s still waiting to be read. I can’t remember who recommended it to me but I understand it’s excellent and glad to hear you can confirm that!

  35. Steve,

    Re: John F. Kennedy

    I have a book that may be of interest to you. Written by myself you can find out enough about it without buying it and going to the site I’ve set up http://www.JFKDataRace.com. It’s not a biography like Dallek’s excellent work. It studies the specific relationship between JFK and technology. JFK talked endlessly about science and technology and his New Frontier” was all about technology and a race he defined, which is what my book is about – JFK’s Data Race. I observe for example that Dallek’s book only uses the word technology six times in c700 pages. Since Dallek’s book much has changed on the technology front especially since 2016 and it’s primarily the events since 2016 that inspired the inquiry into JFK’s race.

    Be interested in your thoughts – does it constitute a book worthy of analysis by you? Whilst it looks at the future, it does cast JFK is a somewhat different light as I argue he is the founding father of modern America.

  36. Josh Snyder said:


    I came across your website about two years ago when I was looking for a good book on American history. I really liked the idea of reading a biography on each President. During the last two years, I have made it up to Grant (making a few non-presidential detours along the way). Your website has been my first stop every time I’m looking for my next book.

    Thanks for all the great reviews!

    Best regards,

    • Congrats on your adventure! I love the fact that there is a way to combine the educational experience of reading about American history with the fascinating revelations that come with reading presidential biographies. Grant was one of my favorites, in large part because he is such a complicated figure but also because much of his Civil War activity took place within miles of where I live…not to mention the fact that some extremely gifted authors applied their talents to his life!

      Good luck as you enter Reconstruction and the Gilded Age…and watch out because Teddy Roosevelt’s going shock your system (mostly in a great way) when you get to him-

      • Josh Snyder said:

        Grant is one of my favorites as well. I read Ron Chernow’s Grant, which was excellent. So far I have only read one biography per President, but both Grant and Lincoln are very tempting for multiple biographies. You gave Jean Edward Smith’s Grant biography such high reviews that it makes it even more tempting. However, I’ve been on a long civil war detour reading a biography on Robert E. Lee, Battle Cry of Freedom and now slowly working my way through Civil War a Narrative. So, I may come back to Grant and Lincoln after I finish my first pass through all of the Presidents.

        One thing that has been a pleasant surprise about reading the biographies is the overlap in them. It is interesting reading about the same events from different perspectives (both from the author of the biographies and their subjects).

        Best regards

      • Teacher in Tejas said:

        Josh, I love the overlap too, like succeeding waves crashing on a shore, as issues come back into view, often from different perspectives and new personalities get introduced, such as in Monroe when all of a sudden, Jackson, Calhoun and Henry Clay take their first steps onto the historical stage.

      • Although not strictly speaking a presidential biography, I recommend “The Wars of the Roosevelts” by William Mann.

        It looks at the multigenerational tension between the two great branches of the Roosevelt clan – the Hyde Park branch (FDR and ER) and the Oyster Bay branch (TR).

        In addition it is an excellent overview of the life of the person who should have been our third Rooseveltian president: Eleanor Roosevelt.

  37. ricketyspr said:

    Great site – happened upon it today and just forwarded it to several family and friends. I’m sure many would love to tap into your brain and extract all that you’ve read, as well as the expanded grey matter and synaptic connections as you’ve digested the facts, stories, impacts and perspectives of these (mostly) great men and their biographers. You’ve probably attained an expert, nuanced understanding of the art of great storytelling, historical perspective and analysis and true scholarship. And, probably a strong perspective on the ‘Great Man’ view of history. I’m sure the readers here would like to hear about how you’ve changed and what you’ve learned through this process, including your opinions (without going into politics).

    Some random questions, I’m not sure if you have the time to respond:

    Do you have a 5-book ‘must-read’ short list? Going through your ratings I see that you have eleven books you rate a 4.5 or higher. Still stand by each of your ratings now that you’ve gone through 240 books?

    Would you share your list of ‘Top Quartile’ presidents? Most important leadership qualities? Does it take a great crisis to make a great president?

    Do you have a ‘taxonomy’ of how good biographers approach and illuminate their subjects. Who are the best of the best and how do they do it?

    Cheers. Now off to ordering “Washington, a Life’ Still think it’s a 5.0?

    • So many excellent questions, so little time (at the moment, anyway – flight about to push back from gate)!

      In reverse order:

      – I’ve been asked (and often wondered) what I would think of Chernow’s “Washington” if I read it again. Which I will, someday. Because it came so early in my journey and because I really liked it, it has more or less come to define the closest thing to a perfect presidential bio I’ve encountered. If I could “do it all over again” I would pull both ends of the ratings bell curve out so there would be a few more 5s and more 2s. I think my method of selecting books pretty well prevented me from attempting to read 1s…

      But as I’ve gone through this I have concluded that for the most part, if I re-read a book without recalling how I had previously rated it, I would expect to be spot-on, or within 1/4 star at least 75% of the time. So yes, I think this would still be a “5” though it may well share that spot with a few others.

      – I’ve “backed into” an understanding of how the best biographers achieve their task – at least as I’ve slowly come to understand what I think makes a great biography. This is a complicated topic, but the approach I prefer is one that involves an excellent literary/writing style (descriptive, illuminating, engaging), a deep sense of and understanding of the history and context, an ability to “observe” people and figure out what makes them tick, an ability to analyze and synthesize and share revealing conclusions.

      In short, I like a biography that describes someone’s surroundings, dissects their character/persona and explains how and why they reacted to events the way they did. Some of the best are Chernow, McCullough, Jean Edward Smith, Remini, Ronald White and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

      – I’m working on “top” presidents. It’s a tough task and one I’ve been contemplating for years by now…with the expectation I would eventually finish this journey and feel compelled to post something responsive to your question. But I haven’t yet gotten all the way past the recognition that a great president during the Civil War might have been a terrible president during the Gilded Age or during the Great Depression, or that a terrible president during stagflation might have been a great president during a different period.

      So, to come up with my list of top presidents I have to figure out whether I’m going to pick people who were the right person in the right place at the right time, or whether I’m going to pick people whose skill-sets are more durable and timeless. But there are a small handful like Lincoln, Washington, FDR and TR who seem likely to be timeless gems no matter what the criteria.

      – Let me answer your first question this way: off the top of my head, if asked what 5 or 6 presidential bios I would take with me on a lengthy vacation to an isolated destination, the list would probably include: Chernow’s “Washington: A Life”, Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”, Ferling’s bio of John Adams, Remini’s series on Andrew Jackson (counting 3 vols as one) and Caro’s series on LBJ (ditto). JESmith’s bios on Grant, FDR and Ike would probably be next… Ooops, did I run over 5 or 6? 🙂

      Finally, I’m delighted you found the site (better late than never!!!) and please let me know what you think, what you’re reading and what you enjoy. The first part of your note is remarkably on point – I’ve even had a publisher inquire as to whether I would consider writing a book about how to write a great biography (despite the fact I’ve never written a biography of *any* quality). So I’ve put that inquiry “on hold” for the moment and beyond what’s contained in my “What’s Next” page, I’m not yet certain what my next great mission is going to be.

  38. ricketyspr said:

    Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Quite the mission you’re on – thanks for sharing. I’ve gotten a bit of the genealogy bug, so I might start with Remini Vol 1 of Jackson; as my earliest traced Scots-Irish ancestors settled and lived within 25 miles of his birthplace (and Polk’s, I believe). I hope that will give me a flavor of that ‘Born Fighting’ spirit of these people.

    Interesting thoughts about great presidents. Perhaps a new genre of historical novels: “Lincoln in the Age of Malaise,” or “W.H. Harrison: Axis Killer.”

    I believe you’re targeting President’s Day to complete your first cycle?

  39. Will you be writing book reviews of the items listed in your “Follow Up” List for each POTUS as part of your next leg?

    • Absolutely! I’ll put the full reviews of the follow-up presidential bios on this site and I’ll put summaries of the non-presidential bios here with a link to the full reviews (which I’m posting on a site dedicated to the broader category of general biographies).

      • Ah, good to know! And you’ll be tackling your Follow Up List of biographies after you complete the Reading List for 2019 that is on your sister website (the list starting with Chernow’s ‘Hamilton’)?

      • I’ll be doing 1/3 presidential bio follow-ups, 1/3 biographies of people related to the presidents in some way (Hamilton, Lafayette, Churchill, Ben Franklin, etc.) and 1/3 biographies of “others” (Mozart, Jackie Robinson, Gandhi, etc.)

  40. Jeffrey Nydick said:

    Steve; I am a lawyer with limited recreational reading time. Here is a theory I have developed based upon my on-going conflict between interest and reading time: The significant facts/ contributions of any historic figure’s life can be meaningfully portrayed in 300 to 500 pages. I offer as Exhibit A Remini’s concise bio of Andrew Jackson, which I recently read based upon your recommendation. (I truly enjoyed it.) There are simply too may 900+ page biographies, which only serve to discourage people with limited reading time. Moreover, many are padded with insignificant minutiae. Concise biographies have other obvious advantages in that people will tend to read AND retain more from such books. Do you disagree?

    • I don’t disagree that 900+ page biographies are often of limited value and can only appeal to a narrow slice of readers. I was just looking at my spreadsheet data concerning the previous 238 presidential biographies I’ve read and the sweet spot for me seems to be 500-750 pages.

      Over that and, as you suggest, there is often gratuitous detail and perhaps a difficulty by the author synthesizing information and articulating key themes. (I’m 750 pages into an 1100 page biography at the moment and…oh boy…if this book doesn’t support your thesis, nothing could!)

      There are exceptions, of course, like the Caro series on LBJ (which I firmly believe would be even better if whittled down by 1/3 or more) or the Burlingame series on Lincoln (I believe the two volumes averaged 800 pages each).

      And below some minimum, l find there just isn’t enough information about the subject -or- there’s a presentation of facts without setting the scene and engaging the reader. Some authors can use their space far more efficiently than others (Candice Millard does A LOT with just 300-400 pages) and if every author could pack that much punch per page, the very best biographies for me might well fall into the 300-500 page range.

      It’s funny (but not surprising) you mention Robert Remini – he’s still one of my favorite biographers and I’m still planning to read everything he has ever written, right down to his history of the US House of Representatives…which I think clocks in right at 500 pages 🙂

  41. Steve,

    I have greatly enjoyed following your reviews ever since I first discovered your site, I know that you’re on the verge of ending your journey with presidential biographies and are preparing to move on, but after reading ricketyspr’s question I wondering if, before you move on, you might post something about some general thoughts you’ve formed about the presidency itself. It would be interesting to read how you’ve come to view the institution and its officeholders differently after spending so much years reading about the people who have held it.

    • I had hoped to have a few “essays” drafted by now addressing what I like in presidential biographies, what I’ve learned about the presidency, my conclusions on who the “greats” are, etc. but the end of this part of the journey seemed to sneak up on me suddenly (yes, I realize that sounds ironic given how long this whole thing has taken!)

      What I now plan to do is post “thought pieces” during the breaks where I’m reading non-presidential biographies (which will be about 2/3 of the time). These posts will probably be less definitive and more thought-provoking than anything else, designed to spur discussion or just reflect on what I’ve seen on the journey.

      I’ve also been asked to consider doing the same thing for a few media organizations, so I’ll just have to see where it all goes….!

      • Jeffrey Nydick said:

        In regard to your non-presidential project: Blood and Thunder, highly recommended in my prior post, is essentially (but much more than) a biography of Kit Carson. I had no idea why Kit Carson was such an American legend until I read this immensely interesting and very well-written book. The events and scope of his life are nearly unbelievable. I virtually guarantee you will agree! But just a suggestion.

        BTW, on your recommendation I also recently read Lone Star Nation, which I found enjoyable and interesting.

  42. Richard Dasheiff said:

    The time required to handle this website and your new one on Best Bios will require you to either hire a full time assistant or quit your day job.

    I would also ask anyone of influence who reads this to arrange for you to be awarded a honorary PhD in Presidentology.

    • Yes, I’m beginning to wonder about how to manage my time as well 🙂 But to your last point, there are some in my family who would replace “Presidentology” with “Insanity” and call it a day!

  43. Al Colburn said:

    Hi Steve … Just a quick FYI to let you know your page with summary links to the best biographies (https://bestpresidentialbios.com/best-bios-summaries/) is missing Ford.

  44. Here is a book i would recommend regarding John Quincy Adams and his post-Presidential stint in the House where he as a leading Abolitionsist. while not a biography per se, I think it is the best depiction of Adams’ time in the House and his willingness to fight tooth and nail for an unpopular cause at the time (at least among many). It’s also very well written.


  45. Hi Steve, I’m on a somewhat similar journey to yours although less ambitious. Starting in 2014 I asked my husband to buy me a biography of each president in order, one per year every Christmas. He then gives me the accompanying First Lady biography for Mother’s Day. It’s made his holiday shopping easy for the next couple of decades! I stumbled across your website when trying to choose the best bio for JQA (and thanks a lot for your solid recommendations!) I can’t help but notice that you didn’t read many first lady biographies in your ‘What’s Next’ project. In some cases, the volumes have not yet been written, but for the many that have I encourage you to explore the stories of the women who stood behind and beside American presidents. Patricia Brady’s biography of Martha Dandrige Custis Washington is an excellent place to start!

    • Emily, thanks for the observation / suggestion! There are several First Ladies whose lives I found surprisingly interesting and a few who nearly seemed to outshine their husbands. The two most interesting for me were Abigail Adams (imagine the impact she could have had if only she had lived in a different era!) and Eleanor Roosevelt, but Washington’s wife is an interesting place to start. I’ll have to make it a priority to more comprehensively identify and include the best bios of the greatest First Ladies on my master list. Coming soon!

      [And…Dolley Madison!!!]

  46. bshoe85 said:

    Would you say that Hamilton by Chernow is difficult to read, I’ve also read from several sources that it can be a but biased against Jefferson, so I was wondering is there an (entertaining) deep dive on Jefferson that you recommend that is comparable to chernows Hamilton

    • I found Chernow’s bio of Hamilton very engaging read (see my review here) and not particularly challenging to read. I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether & how biased the book is against Jefferson (who, as much as he fascinates me, left himself quite vulnerable to criticism). The most “entertaining” bio of Jefferson, for me, is Jon Meacham’s “The Art of Power.”

      • Thanks Steve! I will be ordering both today. I have also just purchased the newly released Franklin and Washington the founding partnership by Edward J Larson and was wondering if you’ve heard anything about it?

  47. Should I read Hamilton by Chernow?Is it too biased in favor of Hamilton? And from some of the reviews I’ve read I am worried that its length and verbiage will make it to scholarly and not enjoyable, please tell me im wrong! I have also read that it is biased against Jefferson and was wondering what book you recommend to get a more accurate picture of Jefferson, I have American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis but that is not really a biography covering his whole life.

  48. I’ve not read it and have only anecdotally heard that it sounded like it could be great…but was somewhat disappointing. I don’t have any specific insights to offer, however, so if you bite the bullet and read it – please let us know what you think!

    • Jeffrey Nydick said:

      I do not believe Steve has ever reviewed this brief biography of TJ, but I can strongly recommend it as both scholarly and balanced:

      Thomas Jefferson by R. B. Bernstein

      • bshoe85 said:

        In the other comment you left you said that meachums Jefferson bio is too lefty… this would dissuade me from reading it, so I will look into the suggestions you have offered! Thanks for the help

      • Jeffrey Nydick said:


        Meacham’s Jefferson bio received a very good review from Steve. Meachum is a Pulitzer Prize winning historian; a big commercial success and a media darling. His Jefferson bio is probably an excellent book. I did NOT mean to imply that the book itself has a left wing bias. It is Jon Meacham who is, IMHO a very left wing pundit. He gives hard left political commentary on MSNBC all the time, and his remarks are not those of a thoughtful historian. He has a bit of a split personality. I appreciate books written by great LIBERAL historians, but Meachum is off-the-charts left. I just cannot get past his TV commentary.

      • I saw him when he was making the rounds on his bio on 41 (the first Bush). If anything, Mr. Meachem sounds like an intelligent moderate.

      • Jeffrey Nydick said:

        HBM: I know Meacham is a moderate when discussing his history books. It is his political commentary on current affairs that is far left. That is the very point I was trying to make when I said he “has a bit of a split personality.”

      • Got it. I misunderstood the “off-the-charts left” part.

  49. Indeed I have not yet read that one. But ironically I am scheduled to read the same author’s upcoming new release on John Adams (currently scheduled for release on June 1).

    • Jeffrey Nydick said:

      Steve: This recent full bio, in one volume has also received excellent reviews. I have not read it, but intend to at some point.

      Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty by John B. Boles (2017)

      I make these (supplemental) recommendations because I cannot stand, and therefore could not tolerate reading Meacham’s work. I know you avoid being overtly political on your website, but his lefty polemics, and condescension are just too much for me to swallow.

  50. Steve, this site you have dedicated to cataloging the best presidential biographies is truly amazing. It has inspired me to read and learn more about the history of our great nation and its leaders. I was wondering if you have read or could suggest any great books about the colonial era before Washington. Thanks again for creating and sharing for such a great resource of information!

    • Thanks for your note, and I love your question! Unfortunately I’ve not yet read any anything devoted to the colonial era even though I have several on my bookshelves (such as Daniel Boorstin’s “The Americans: The Colonial Experience” and Alan Taylor’s “American Colonies” and seemingly-related books like Gordon Woods’s “The Radicalism of the American Revolution” and McCullough’s “1776”)… If you take the plunge, let me know what you read and how you felt about your choice 🙂

      • Jeffrey Nydick said:

        Mark; I hope you do not mind a fellow reader making a recommendation. Hopefully, you will not find my recommendation controversial. The book I recommend is a truly scholarly work examining the history of colonial Virginia: American Slavery, American Freedom, The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia by Edmund S. Morgan. Both the book and the author have won many awards and citations. I have read two other books by Professor Morgan. He is an eloquent writer and incredibly knowledgeable concerning early American History.

      • Len Gardner said:

        The only one of those you mention that I’ve read is David McCullough’s “1776.” I think it was the only book by him of those I’ve read that disappointed me. Everything else by him has exceeded my expectations. Maybe that was the problem. My expectations were too high.

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