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Jim Habeck said:
October 6, 2014 at 9:58 am
Great reviews and a very useful resource as I’m currently reading through at least one biography of each president in order. I’m only through Van Buren, so your timing is perfect, as I can use it as a reference to select the best bio available. Thanks for providing the guidance and making my reading experience more efficient and pleasurable.
October 6, 2014 at 12:27 pm
My pleasure! It’s always great to find someone else going through the presidents in order and I’ll be interested to get updates as you keep making progress. Especially interesting is anything you read & enjoyed that I missed entirely, or books we both read where you had an entirely different opinion. btw, I thought Van Buren was more interesting than I had previously given him credit for. But with the exception of Polk you are about to get to a slow, dull group…!
Graham Hooper said:
June 6, 2015 at 2:00 pm
For reasons I’ve never been able to fathom out I’ve always been fascinated by the American Civil War (more strange given I’m British!). This led me to further research Grant – and this then led me to your great Journey Through the Best Presidential site. It’s absolutely terrific. Your reviews are really helpful and I admire your pluck and stoicism at tackling such a huge task. Once you’ve finished your mammoth American presidents project, could I tempt you to have a go at the best biographies of British Prime Ministers. We’ve only had 73!
Graham Hooper (London, England)
June 6, 2015 at 3:29 pm
You’re the second person to suggest I make my way through the British PMs, and I think it’s an excellent idea! It would certainly seem a great way to dig into British History, which I find as fascinating as US history. The hardest part for me, of course, would be figuring out which biographies of each to read and how to obtain them (some are probably easily available in the US, but some might be far easier to get if I was living in London).
Out of curiosity, there are obviously a large number of Americans reading a bio of each President; on a similar note, do you think there are people in the UK on quest to read at least one bio of each Prime Minister? Any websites you know of by people on that adventure?
December 30, 2015 at 6:00 am
It’s one of your British fans here (London branch).
I just wanted to congratulate you on reaching the third year of your huge but fascinating project.
I think it’s even more admirable you’ve got to where you have given you have kids! I have two youngish ones myself and never have the time (or energy) to read as I used to do.
Where and when do you fit it all in? I’m in awe of your ability to consume so much reading so quickly with all your other commitments.
Like many, my reading is now largely confined to that precious period just after I’ve rolled wearily into bed. The trouble is my eyes start to blur after about fifteen minutes and I realise I’ve ‘read’ three pages without the faintest idea of what I’ve supposedly taken in!
I’ve always thought your American Presidents project is as much an insight into the art of reading as it is about the biographies themselves. Perhaps you should do a blog on reading tips for us strugglers? Your reflections on reading – in the face of some pretty tough books and so little time – would be great.
Anyhow, you may recall I wrote to you earlier in the year about Grant. I’ve yet to explore the biographies of him recommended by you (no surprise there!) but they’re on my ridiculously over-ambitious 2016 reading list.
I’m eagerly awaiting your arrival at Roosevelt – Franklin D. I’ve recently finished a book on America’s entry in the war and got a bit of an insight into him. I’m now desperate for more.
Good luck with 2016’s Presidential biographies. We salute you!
December 30, 2015 at 8:17 am
I have to admit it’s getting harder to find time to keep up the pace, especially as my kids get older and into more activities. But it’s also difficult maintaining a consistent pace since I insist on taking notes as I go through each biography (on average about 20 pages of memorable or clever quotes, important facts to remember, etc.) That slows things down.
Where I used to read about 60 pages every day (or night) I now find I’m often unable to read anything for two or three days but then I have an entire afternoon and I can “catch up”. Nonetheless, my pace definitely slowed in 2015…I should already be on FDR, not getting ready to take on Herbert Hoover.
For me the art of reading in quantity mainly involves ruthlessly taking advantage of the blocks of free time when most people would be playing on a smartphone, aimlessly surfing the web or watching tv. But I usually won’t pick up a book unless I have at least 20 minutes to spare; I find it hard to read a book in small chunks over a long period of time and really keep it distinct from the other biographies on the same president that I’ve read.
I don’t know what else is on your reading list, but Grant should be fun. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed – at least not in the reading experience. You might be disappointed by his presidency(!)
I’m occasionally asked whether I’ve considered reading biographies on each of the British PMs (I think you might be among many who have inquired about that). I find the concept intriguing – particularly since it’s the UK equivalent of my current project – but also daunting given the number of books that would entail. Do you happen to know whether there are good biographies on each of Prime Ministers, or are some of them essentially “forgotten” and uncovered?
Thanks, and see you in 2016!
Dan C said:
January 10, 2016 at 12:10 pm
I had a friend who engaged in the same project many years ago. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind and now that I’m 59 years old I would like to take up the project. Thanks for being the trailblazer and coming up with your choice of the best presidential bios to give me a good roadmap.
January 10, 2016 at 7:06 pm
If you decide to undertake the audacious task of reading a biography of every president, do let me know! And please let me know when you read (and enjoy) something I missed – I’m always trying to expand and improve my master list!
January 11, 2016 at 11:34 am
I’m starting with Ron Chernow’s book on Washington and I already own McCullogh’s book on John Adams so that will be next. Very exciting!
Ronald Tenney said:
April 5, 2016 at 9:30 am
Wonder what you thought of The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation”. I love Washington and am a more reserved fan of Jefferson. I respect Thomas J. Fleming as a historian. Yet I found this book to be so biased that it became boorish. If you have read it, I would like your perspective. By the way, I just stumbled onto your website and love it. I have only read a fraction of the books you have, but agreed with many of the reviews and value you place on the books that I have read.
April 6, 2016 at 7:14 am
I haven’t read “The Great Divide” but given what I learned about Washington and Jefferson (and their contemporaries Adams and Hamilton) it sounds like a fantastic topic. It’s unfortunate when an author’s bias (whether intentional or not) is an impediment to good analysis. It is often easy to identify an author’s lack of objectivity and to recalibrate in response. But other than a presidential biography simply being too boring to read all the way through, the single biggest flaw I think I’ve found in the biographies I’ve read is bias so severe that the reader doesn’t know whether to trust the material at all.
Gerry Conley said:
February 6, 2017 at 5:51 pm
just finished “His Excellency”, which you recommended as “best” GW on your website. I am glad I found your site as I read very slowly (trained in an Evelyn Woods course to read at 900+ words, I suffer from a predilection to enjoy both prose and scope; thus, my preferred and habitual speed is usually about the speed of sound – – the speed of conversation, if you will) and your recommendations have opened to me that small part of history of U.S. presidents and their effect on history. Since I am now 70 years old, I must pick my reads carefully to ensure that I can reach amongst the narratives reaching as many presidents as possible – – your recommendations are paramount to my endeavors. THANK YOU.
Oh, and I enjoyed “His Excellency” and the revelations of history and character of GW and other founding fathers. Looking forward to either Ferling’s “JA: A Life” or McCullough’s “JA” … as you recommend.
Gerry Conley, USMC(Ret)
“Be now the shield for ever more
from every peril to our Corps.”
February 7, 2017 at 5:35 pm
Gerry, thanks for your note! I’m always overjoyed when I discover someone who finds the site to be helpful. I can’t argue with your pace of reading – the best of the best biographies of the presidents are surely worth savoring. I haven’t made any formal plans, but I expect that in about a decade when my life is a bit slower I will go back and re-read the very best one or two biographies of each president. I plan to read…slowly…and just for fun.
Please let me know which Adams bio you choose and how you end up liking it. I really really like McCullough’s colorful, easy narrative style but Ferling’s bio of Adams also really made an impression on me. I don’t think you can go wrong.
By the way, I’m lucky enough to live well under an hour from Quantico and count a number of retired Marines as friends. The most popular license plate style in my neighborhood is the USMC variety – “Semper Fi!”
Stephen VanLuchene said:
March 11, 2019 at 2:36 pm
Just a note to let you know how much I appreciate your presidential biography project. It is valuable to me and I am sure to many others to get guidance from someone with cogent good sense before launching into the world of US presidents.
March 11, 2019 at 2:52 pm
Thanks for the kind words and good luck as you navigate the interesting presidential waters! -Steve
Brandon Hooker said:
May 18, 2020 at 1:14 pm
I am a locally-elected county official in NC and have always been and avid fan of history and government. I set out to do the same thing you’ve done here at about the same time in 2012. However, I became distracted by several life events and strayed off my reading path. I now have the time to get back into the swing of reading and have found your site an invaluable resource. I am finishing up JES’s book on Eisenhower and have a renewed respect for his subtle genius. The discovery of your site could not have come at a better time for me and I have developed a reading list based off of your reviews. I just want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the exhausting effort you’ve put into this project. Like so many others, I am amazed at the amount of reading you’re able to get in amid children and what I’m sure must be a demanding career. I am recently married and will probably be starting a family soon and I just hope to still find the required time to devote to my quest as you have yours. If you have suggestions on how to accomplish this, I would appreciate them.
All the best,
May 18, 2020 at 2:45 pm
To be honest, if I didn’t have so much overseas travel for work (a thing of the past?!?) I might not have started this journey. But the 7 to 12 hour flights I was regularly taking to Brazil, the UK, Japan and China just seemed to scream out for something more productive than watching movies or sleeping.
Now with the stay-at-home paradigm I find – ironically – that I have less time for reading and need to devote more time to other things (including managing my two kids who are home from school for the foreseeable future). But I’ve found that I can be quite productive between 5-6am since no one else in my house is awake. Your mileage will probably vary (perhaps you’re not the morning person I am, for instance) but it’s not going to be easy 🙂
Still, I’ve definitely found that the best presidential biographies are so good they tempt me to skip meals, my favorite tv shows, etc. and I’ve even tempted one of my sons with multiple biographies (I convinced him over three years to read two Candice Millard bios and one by Ron Chernow).
Good luck and let me know how you enjoy it assuming you carve out some time!
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