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***The Best Presidential Biographies***

Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 5 stars, with equal weight given to my subjective assessment of: (1) how enjoyable the biography was to read and (2) the biography’s historical value (including its comprehensive coverage and critical analysis of its subject).

Blue titles indicate Pulitzer Prize WINNERS.  Blue italicized titles indicate Pulitzer Prize finalists.

This list was most recently updated May 23, 2017.  If I’m missing a great presidential biography that you’ve read, please let me know!

George Washington:
Washington: A Life (2010) by Ron Chernow REVIEW (5 stars)
Washington: The Indispensable Man (1974) by James Flexner REVIEW (4 stars)
His Excellency: George Washington (2004) by Joseph Ellis REVIEW (4 stars)
The Ascent of George Washington (2009) by John Ferling REVIEW (3 stars)
Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993) by Richard Norton Smith REVIEW (3 stars)
James Flexner’s four-volume series:
George Washington: The Forge of Experience 1732-1775 (1965) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
George Washington in the American Revolution 1775-1783 (1967) REVIEW (4½ stars)
George Washington and the New Nation 1783-1793 (1970) REVIEW (4½ stars)
George Washington: Anguish and Farewell 1793-1799 (1972) REVIEW (4½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of George Washington ***
Follow-Up:
Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman (Richard Harwell’s 1968 abridgment of Pulitzer Prize-winning 7-volume series)
George Washington: A Biography by Washington Irving (Charles Neider’s 1994 abridgment of 5-volume series)
John Adams:
John Adams: A Life (1992) by John Ferling REVIEW (4¾ stars)
John Adams (2001) by David McCullough REVIEW (4½ stars)
John Adams (1735-1826) (2 volumes) (1962) by Page Smith REVIEW (4½ stars)
First Family: Abigail and John Adams (2010) by Joseph Ellis REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800 (2004) by John Ferling REVIEW (4 stars)
Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams (1993) by Joseph Ellis REVIEW (3¾ stars)
John Adams: Party of One (2005) by James Grant REVIEW (3¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of John Adams ***
Thomas Jefferson:
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (2012) by Jon Meacham REVIEW (4½ stars)
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson (1996) by Joseph Ellis REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson (2008) by Alan Pell Crawford REVIEW (4 stars)
Thomas Jefferson & The New Nation (1970) by Merrill Peterson REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Dumas Malone’s six-volume series:
Jefferson the Virginian (Vol 1) (1948) REVIEW (3½ stars)
Jefferson and the Rights of Man (Vol 2) (1951) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Jefferson and the Ordeal of Liberty (Vol 3) (1962) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Jefferson the President: 1st Term (Vol 4) (1970) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Jefferson the President: 2nd Term (Vol 5) (1974) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Jefferson and His Time; The Sage of Monticello (Vol 6) (1977) REVIEW (4 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Thomas Jefferson ***
Follow-Up:
Thomas Jefferson (2004) by R. B. Bernstein
Thomas Jefferson: A Life (1993) by Willard Sterne Randall
James Madison:
James Madison (2011) by Richard Brookhiser REVIEW (4 stars)
Madison and Jefferson (2010) by Andrew Burstein REVIEW (4 stars)
James Madison: A Biography (1971) by Ralph Ketcham REVIEW (3¾ stars)
James Madison and the Making of America (2012) by Kevin Gutzman REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Madison ***
Follow-Up:
James Madison (author’s 1970 abridgment of his 6-volume series) by Irving Brant
Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father (2015) by Michael Signer
James Madison: A Life Reconsidered (2014) by Lynne Cheney
James Monroe:
James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity (1971) by Harry Ammon REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe (2009) by Harlow Unger REVIEW (3¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Monroe ***
John Quincy Adams:
John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life (1997) by Paul Nagel REVIEW (4 stars)
Mr. Adams’s Last Crusade (2008) by Joseph Wheelan REVIEW (4 stars)
John Quincy Adams: A Personal History of an Independent Man (1972) by Marie Hecht REVIEW (3¾ stars)
John Quincy Adams (2012) by Harlow Unger REVIEW (3¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of John Quincy Adams ***
Follow-Up:
Life and Public Services of John Quincy Adams (1849) by William H Seward
The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams (1986) by Leonard L. Richards
John Quincy Adams (1949/1956) by Samuel Flagg Bemis (2 volumes)
John Quincy Adams: American Visionary (2014) by Fred Kaplan
John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit (2016) by James Traub
Andrew Jackson:
The Life of Andrew Jackson (1988) by Robert Remini REVIEW (4 stars)
The Life of Andrew Jackson (1938) by Marquis James REVIEW (3¾ stars)
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (2008) by Jon Meacham REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (2005) by H.W. Brands REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Age of Jackson (1945) by Arthur Schlesinger REVIEW (3 stars)
Robert Remini’s three-volume series:
Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Empire (Vol I) (1977) REVIEW (4½ stars)
Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Freedom (Vol II) (1981) REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Democracy (Vol III) (1984) REVIEW (4 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Andrew Jackson ***
Martin Van Buren:
Martin Van Buren and the American Political System (2004) by Donald Cole REVIEW (3½ stars)
Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics (1983) by John Niven REVIEW (2¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Martin Van Buren ***
William Henry Harrison:
Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison (2007) by Robert Owens REVIEW (4 stars)
Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time (1939) by Freeman Cleaves REVIEW (3 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of William Henry Harrison ***
John Tyler:
John Tyler (2008) by Gary May REVIEW (4 stars)
John Tyler: Champion of the Old South (1939) by Oliver Chitwood REVIEW (3¾ stars)
John Tyler: The Accidental President (2006) by Edward Crapol REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of John Tyler ***
Follow-Up:
And Tyler Too: A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler (1963) by Robert Seager
James Polk:
Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America (2008) by Walter Borneman REVIEW (4 stars)
A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk (2009) by Robert Merry REVIEW (3¾ stars)
James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse (1996) by Sam Haynes REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Polk ***
Follow-Up:
James K. Polk: A Political Biography (2 volumes) (1922) by Eugene McCormac
Zachary Taylor:
Zachary Taylor (2008) by John S. D. Eisenhower REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest (1985) by Jack Bauer REVIEW (3 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Zachary Taylor ***
Follow-Up:
Zachary Taylor: Soldier of the Republic (Vol 1) and Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House (Vol 2) (1951) by Holman Hamilton
Millard Fillmore:
Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President (1959) by Robert Rayback REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Millard Fillmore (2011) by Paul Finkelman REVIEW (2½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Millard Fillmore ***
Follow-Up:
Millard Fillmore (2001) by Robert J. Scarry
Franklin Pierce:
Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son (2004) by Peter Wallner REVIEW (4 stars)
Franklin Pierce (2010) by Michael Holt REVIEW (4 stars)
Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union (2007) by Peter Wallner REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills (1931) by Roy Nichols REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Franklin Pierce ***
James Buchanan:
President James Buchanan: A Biography (1962) by Philip Klein REVIEW (4 stars)
James Buchanan (2004) by Jean Baker REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Buchanan ***
Abraham Lincoln:
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (2005) by Doris Kearns Goodwin REVIEW (4½ stars)
Abraham Lincoln: A Life (2 vols) (2008) by Michael Burlingame REVIEW (4¼ stars)
A. Lincoln: A Biography (2009) by Ronald C. White Jr. REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Lincoln (1995) by David Herbert Donald REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Abraham Lincoln: A Biography (1952) by Benjamin Thomas REVIEW (4¼ stars)
With Malice Toward None (1977) by Stephen Oates REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President (1999) by Allen Guelzo REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (2008) by James McPherson REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Abraham Lincoln (1916) by Lord Charnwood REVIEW (3½ stars)
Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years (2 Vols) (1926) by Carl Sandburg REVIEW (3½ stars)
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (4 Vols) (1939) by Carl Sandburg REVIEW (3 stars)
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010) by Eric Foner REVIEW (not rated)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Abraham Lincoln ***
Follow-Up:
Abraham Lincoln: A History (10 volumes) (1890) by John Hay and John Nicolay
Herndon’s Life of Lincoln (1888) by William Herndon, edited by Paul Angle
Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln (2014) by Richard Brookhiser
Father Lincoln: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Boys (2016) by Alan Manning
Andrew Johnson:
Impeached: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy (2009) by David Stewart REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1989) by Hans Trefousse REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Avenger Take His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days that Changed the Nation (2006) by Howard Means REVIEW (3½ stars)
Andrew Johnson and Reconstruction (1960) by Eric McKitrick REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Andrew Johnson ***
Ulysses S. Grant:
Grant (2001) by Jean Edward Smith REVIEW (4½ stars)
The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant In War and Peace (2012) by H.W. Brands REVIEW (4 stars)
Ulysses S. Grant: Soldier & President (1997) by Geoffrey Perret REVIEW (4 stars)
Ulysses S. Grant (2004) by Josiah Bunting REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Grant: A Biography (1981) by William McFeely REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity 1822-1865 (2000) by Brooks Simpson REVIEW (3¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Ulysses S. Grant ***
Follow-Up:
“Lewis/Catton” series: Captain Sam Grant (1950) (Vol 1) by Lloyd Lewis, Grant Moves South (1960) by Bruce Catton, and Grant Takes Command (1969) by Bruce Catton
U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (2009) by Joan Waugh
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant (2016) by Ronald C. White, Jr.
Rutherford B. Hayes:
Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President (1995) by Ari Hoogenboom REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Rutherford B. Hayes (2002) by Hans Trefousse REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Rutherford B. Hayes ***
Follow-Up:
Rutherford B. Hayes: And His America (1954) by Harry Barnard
Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876 (2003) by Roy Morris Jr.
James Garfield:
Garfield: A Biography (1978) by Allan Peskin REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Dark Horse: the Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield (2003) by Kenneth Ackerman REVIEW (4 stars)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President (2011) by Candice Millard REVIEW (4 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Garfield ***
Follow-Up:
The Garfield Orbit (1978) by Margaret Leech
Chester Arthur:
Gentleman Boss: The Life and Times of Chester Alan Arthur (1975) by Thomas Reeves REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Chester Alan Arthur (2004) by Zachary Karabell REVIEW (3¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Chester Arthur ***
Grover Cleveland:
Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character (2000) by Alyn Brodsky REVIEW (4 stars)
An Honest President: The Life & Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (2000) by H. Paul Jeffers REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland (1988) by Richard E. Welch, Jr. REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage (1932) by Allan Nevins REVIEW (3½ stars)
Bourbon Leader: Grover Cleveland and the Democratic Party (1957) by Horace Samuel Merrill REVIEW (2¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Grover Cleveland ***
Benjamin Harrison:
The Presidency of Benjamin Harrison (1987) by Homer Socolofsky REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Benjamin Harrison (2005) by Charles Calhoun REVIEW (3½ stars)
Harry J. Sievers’s three-volume series:
Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Warrior (Vol 1) (1952) REVIEW (4 stars)
Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier Statesman (Vol 2) (1959) REVIEW (4 stars)
Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier President (Vol 3) (1968) REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Benjamin Harrison ***
William McKinley:
William McKinley and His America (1963) by H. Wayne Morgan REVIEW (4 stars)
The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror and Empire (2011) by Scott Miller REVIEW (3¾ stars)
In the Days of McKinley (1959) by Margaret Leech REVIEW (3¼ stars)
The Presidency of William McKinley (1980) by Lewis Gould REVIEW (3¼ stars)
 ***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of William McKinley ***
Theodore Roosevelt:
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (2005) by Candice Millard REVIEW (4½ stars)
Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt (1961) by William Harbaugh REVIEW (4 stars)
The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism (2013) by Doris Kearns Goodwin REVIEW (4 stars)
Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition by Jean Yarbrough (2012) REVIEW (4 stars)
Mornings on Horseback (1981) by David McCullough REVIEW (3¾ stars)
TR: The Last Romantic (1997) by H.W. Brands REVIEW (3¾ stars)
When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House (2005) by Patricia O’Toole REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Theodore Roosevelt: A Life (1992) by Nathan Miller REVIEW (3½ stars)
Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life (2002) by Kathleen Dalton REVIEW (3½ stars)
Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography (1931) by Henry Pringle REVIEW (3 stars)
The Republican Roosevelt (1954) by John Blum REVIEW (not rated)
Edmund Morris’s three-volume series:
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Vol I) (1979) REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Theodore Rex (Vol II) (2001) REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Colonel Roosevelt (Vol III) (2010) REVIEW (4¼ stars)
 ***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Theodore Roosevelt ***
Follow-Up:
I Rose Like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt by Paul Gronahl (2004)
William Taft:
The William Howard Taft Presidency (2009) by Lewis Gould REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Life and Times of William Howard Taft (2 vols) (1939) by Henry Pringle REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of William H. Taft ***
Woodrow Wilson:
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (1991) by August Heckscher REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Wilson (2013) by A. Scott Berg REVIEW (4 stars)
The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (1983) by John Milton Cooper REVIEW (4 stars)
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (2009) by John Milton Cooper REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman (1987) by Kendrick Clements REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Woodrow Wilson (American Prophet and World Prophet) (1958) by Arthur Walworth REVIEW (3 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Woodrow Wilson ***
Follow-Up:
Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters (7 vols) (1927-39) by Ray Stannard Baker
Warren Harding:
Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents Series (2004) by John W. Dean REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration (1969) by Robert Murray REVIEW (2¾ stars)
The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G Harding in His Times (1968) by Francis Russell REVIEW (2¾ stars)
The Available Man: The Life Behind the Masks of Warren Gamaliel Harding (1965) by Andrew Sinclair REVIEW (2½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Warren Harding ***
Follow-Up:
Incredible Era: The Life and Times of Warren Gamaliel Harding (1939) by Samuel H. Adams
Calvin Coolidge:
Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President (1967) by Donald McCoy REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Calvin Coolidge: The Man From Vermont (1939) by Claude M. Fuess REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Coolidge: An American Enigma (1998) by Robert Sobel REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Coolidge (2013) by Amity Shlaes REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Life of Calvin Coolidge (1924) by Horace Green REVIEW (3¼ stars)
The Preparation of Calvin Coolidge (1924) by Robert A. Woods REVIEW (3 stars)
A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge (1938) by William Allen White REVIEW (2¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Calvin Coolidge ***
Herbert Hoover:
Herbert Hoover: A Biography (1947) by Eugene Lyons REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Presidency of Herbert Hoover (1984) by Martin Fausold REVIEW (3½ stars)
Herbert Hoover (2009) by William Leuchtenburg REVIEW (3½ stars)
Herbert Hoover: A Public Life (1979) by David Burner REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Herbert Hoover ***
Follow-Up:
An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover” (1984) by Richard Norton Smith
Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency” (2016) by Charles Rappleye
Herbert Hoover: A Life” (2016) by Glen Jeansonne
Six-volume “George Nash” series:
The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Engineer 1874-1914” (Vol 1) (1983) by George Nash
The Life of Herbert Hoover: The Humanitarian, 1914-1917” (Vol 2) (1988) by G. Nash
The Life of Herbert Hoover: Master of Emergencies, 1917-1918” (Vol 3) (1996) by G. Nash
The Life of Herbert Hoover: Imperfect Visionary,1918-1928” (Vol 4) (2011) by K Clements
The Life of Herbert Hoover: Fighting Quaker, 1928-1933” (Vol 5) (2012) by G. Jeansonne
The Life of Herbert Hoover: Keeper of the Torch, 1933-1964” (Vol 6) (2013) by Gary Best
Franklin D. Roosevelt:
FDR (2007) by Jean Edward Smith REVIEW (4½ stars)
Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of FDR (2008) by H. W. Brands REVIEW (4¼ stars)
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (1994) by Doris Kearns Goodwin REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court (2010) by Jeff Shesol REVIEW (4 stars)
Nothing to Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the 100 Days that Created Modern America (2009) by Adam Cohen REVIEW (3¾ stars)
FDR: Champion of Freedom (2003) by Conrad Black REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006) by Jonathan Alter REVIEW (3½ stars)
Eleanor & Franklin (1971) by Joseph Lash REVIEW (3½ stars)
Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (1948) by Robert Sherwood REVIEW (3¼ stars)
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezvous with Destiny (1990) by Frank Freidel REVIEW (3¼ stars)
FDR: A Biography (1985) by Ted Morgan REVIEW (3 stars)
The Roosevelts: An American Saga (1994) by Peter Collier REVIEW (3 stars)
James MacGregor Burns’s two-volume series:
Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox 1882-1940 (Vol 1) (1956) REVIEW (3½ stars)
Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom 1940-1945 (Vol 2) (1970) REVIEW (3½ stars)
Geoffrey Ward’s two-volume series:
Before the Trumpet: Young Franklin Roosevelt 1882-1905 (Vol 1) (1985) REVIEW (4 stars)
A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, 1905-1928 (Vol 2) (1989) REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s three-volume series:
The Crisis of the Old Order (1919-1933) (Vol 1) (1957) REVIEW (3 stars)
The Coming of the New Deal (1933-1935) (Vol 2) (1958) REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Politics of Upheaval (1935-1936) (Vol 3) (1960) REVIEW (2½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Franklin D. Roosevelt ***
Follow-Up:
Man of Destiny: FDR and the Making of the American Century” (2015) by Alonzo Hamby
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Road to the New Deal, 1882-1939” (Vol 1) (2015) by Roger Daniels
Franklin D. Roosevelt: The War Years, 1939-1945” (Vol 2) (2016) by Roger Daniels
Kenneth Davis’s 5-volume series on FDR published between 1972 and 2000
The Mantle of Command: FDR at War (1941-42)” (Vol 1) by Nigel Hamilton (2014)
Commander in Chief: FDR’s Battle with Churchill, 1943” (Vol 2) by Nigel Hamilton (2016)
Harry Truman:
Truman (1992) by David McCullough REVIEW (4½ stars)
Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman (1995) by Alonzo Hamby REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Harry S. Truman: A Life (1994) by Robert Ferrell REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Harry S. Truman (2008) by Robert Dallek REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Harry Truman ***
Dwight Eisenhower:
Eisenhower in War and Peace (2012) by Jean Edward Smith REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life (2002) by Carlo D’Este REVIEW (4 stars)
Eisenhower: The White House Years (2011) by Jim Newton REVIEW (4 stars)
Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage (2013) by Jeffrey Frank REVIEW (4 stars)
Eisenhower: Soldier and President (1990) by Stephen Ambrose REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World (2012) by Evan Thomas REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Eisenhower (1999) by Geoffrey Perret REVIEW (3½ stars)
Eisenhower: Portrait of the Hero (1974) by Peter Lyon REVIEW (3 stars)
The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader (2009) by Fred Greenstein REVIEW (not rated)
Stephen Ambrose’s two-volume series:
Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect 1890-1952 (Vol 1) (1983) REVIEW (3½ stars)
Eisenhower: The President (Vol 2) (1984) REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Dwight Eisenhower ***
Follow-Up:
Ike: An American Hero” (2007) by Michael Korda
Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission” (2017) by Bret Baier
John F. Kennedy:
An Unfinished Life: JFK 1917-1963 (2003) by Robert Dallek REVIEW (4¼ stars)
John F. Kennedy: A Biography by Michael O’Brien REVIEW (3½ stars)
Kennedy: The Classic Biography by Theodore Sorensen REVIEW (3½ stars)
Jack: A Life Like No Other by Geoffrey Perret REVIEW (3 stars)
The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys by Doris Kearns Goodwin
A Thousand Days: JFK in the White House by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
President Kennedy: Profile of Power by Richard Reeves
JFK: Reckless Youth by Nigel Hamilton
JFK’s Last Hundred Days by Thurston Clarke
A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy by Thomas C. Reeves
Herbert Parmet’s two-volume series:
Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy
JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy
Lyndon B. Johnson:
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson by Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President by Robert Dallek
Robert Dallek’s two-volume series:
Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1908-1960
Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973
Robert Caro’s Ongoing Series:
The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume I)
Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume II)
Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume III)
The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume IV)
Richard Nixon:
Richard Nixon: A Life in Full by Conrad Black
Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell
President Nixon: Alone in the White House by Richard Reeves
Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of An American Politician by Roger Morris
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein
One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream by Tom Wicker
Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas
Richard Nixon and His America by Herbert Parmet
Stephen Ambrose’s three-volume series:
Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913-1962 (Vol 1)
Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 1962-1972 (Vol 2)
Nixon: Ruin & Recovery 1973-1990 (Vol 3)
Gerald Ford:
Time and Chance: Gerald Ford’s Appointment with History by James Cannon
Gerald R. Ford by Douglas Brinkley
Write it When I’m Gone by Thomas DeFrank
The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Greene
Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life by James Cannon
James E. Carter:
The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Quest for Global Peace by Douglas Brinkley
Jimmy Carter: A Comprehensive Biography from Plains to Post-Presidency by Peter Bourne
Ronald Reagan:
Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader by Dinesh D’Souza
When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan by Peggy Noonan
Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan by Edmund Morris
The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism by Paul Kengor
Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years by Haynes Johnson
Reagan: The Life by H. W. Brands
Lou Cannon’s two-volume series:
Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power by Lou Cannon
President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon
Steven Hayward’s two-volume series:
The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order: 1964-1980 by Steven Hayward
The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989 by Steven Hayward
George H. W. Bush:
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham
George Bush: Life of a Lone Star Yankee by Herbert Parmet
William J. Clinton:
First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss
Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President by Patrick Maney
The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John Harris
George W. Bush:
Bush by Jean Edward Smith
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker
Barack Obama:
[pending]

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202 thoughts on “***The Best Presidential Biographies***”

  1. Matt Stahl said:

    I’ve been wanting to read through biographies of all the Presidents for some time and this list will be helpful. I’ve always been a little bothered by the fact that it is hard to find truly objective biographies for more recent Presidents- understandably so, since everything is still too close to home.

    Ultimately, though, most of the books from Reagan forward either seem to be gushing praise jobs or political hit pieces. I don’t trust Dinesh D’Souza as an objective source, for example.

    Have you found it challenging to find fair-minded biographies for more recent Presidents?

    • I’m only up to FDR in terms of what I’m reading, but I have tried to be mindful of objectivity when selecting presidential bios across the spectrum. I’ve found that no matter the president (Washington, Buchanan, Reagan,…) there is often bias in the biography whether intentional or unintentional. Some biographies I’ve selected in spite of this (Finkelman’s bio of Fillmore comes to mind) but my ideal treatment of a president is unwaveringly objective and penetrating.

      The problem with more recent presidents, of course, is that their legacies often need to age a bit in order for history to judge them outside the passion of the times. I believe that is the reason you are beginning to see biographies of Bush (41) but little in the way of Clinton and Bush (43). For those presidents – and Obama – I fear I will have to wait quite awhile to get balanced and insightful biographies.

      • Matt Stahl said:

        Interestingly, I imagine that the clock will have to be reset on Bill Clinton objectivity if his wife wins in the Fall.

  2. Marty Moore said:

    I stumbled across your blog just last week – what an excellent site and it seems created soley for me and my interests!! I’ve been reading presidential biographies for over 45 years (I started in 4th grade!). I am pleased that many of your recommendations are in my library and I have read them but more importantly, you have provided new books for me to read This is a very useful and helpful site for me – thanks for taking the time and effort to research, read, critique and inform.

    I am currently reading Being Nixon (Evan Thomas) which is an excellent and balanced in its treatment of RMN. IIn my opinion, Nixon is one of the most interesting of presidents, not because of what he did, but because of who he was – a personality of conflicts, paranoid, overtly political but yet withdrawn from everyone around him – fascinating man.

    • Richard Hubbell, M.D. said:

      I was going to leave a comment until I read Mr. Moore’s above. I will just leave it at “what he said!”

  3. I read Julian E. Zeilzer on Jimmy Carter. I don’t know how it compares to your other books on Jimmy Carter, but I noticed it was on the presidential podcast reading list and its short. 🙂

  4. Sean Verneau said:

    It seems to me that you are missing some key books, especially on FDR and Nixon — a wonderful trilogy that has been written on Reagan is also absent.

    • Thanks – feel free to let me know what you think I should specifically add! Might be too late for FDR (I’m about halfway through and not certain I can afford to delay my move to Truman too long) but I can always add worthy bios to my follow-up list…

      • Sean Verneau said:

        Certainly….I take special interest in Nixon and feel strongly that the books by Monica Crowley (especially Nixon in Winter) is by far the best books on Nixon and perhaps on any president period. Perhaps not biography per se, what it reveals about the man in his post retirement is utterly fascinating and I know of no other book on any other American President (Perhaps “Write it When I’m Gone” on Gerald Ford comes close) that comes near to what Crowley does in painting a biographical portrait of a president in his later years. Nixon fan’s can’t skip them.

        Reading through your FDR list, It was so curious how the 5 books by Kenneth Davis missed the list. Though it was left sadly incomplete, you highlighted the Burns and Schlesinger sets, however, no reader interested in FDR biographies could afford to miss Davis. (The non-biographical book by Powell and two by Folsom are also very interesting).

        On Reagan, and especially for fans of Reagan, do not delay in reading the books by Craig Shirley (the most recent one being “The Final Act”). He is in the midst of a fourth one and they are terrific!

        Hope this sheds some new light!

    • Thanks, very helpful. I will go through your list of books & authors and expand both my primary and my follow-up lists. It’s beginning to look like I may not be done with my primary list by Presidents’ Day 2017 🙂

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with Marty Moore on Being Nixon by Evan Thomas, published only last year. Its 600 odd pages in hardcover are an easy read because the book is so well written and informative. Few presidential biographies give such a deep insight in the character and personality of its subject. To understand Nixon an absolute must.

    • Fantastic, thanks. Since I’ve got a few (!) months before getting to Nixon I’ve got time to add this one, and I’ve consistently heard it’s great. So much to read, so little time…!

  6. Yesterday I stumbled upon The First Year Project by the Miller Center. As part this project they are providing brief bibliographical essays on each President called ‘By the Book’.

    Their summary:
    The first year of a new president’s first term is always a crucible. But often it’s only in hindsight, within the carefully considered pages of an authoritative presidential biography, that the full measure of that first year can be taken. In this new series on the best presidential biographies, Miller Center presidential scholars and experts recommend the ones most worth reading.

    The list is incomplete as it is a work in progress and I was unable to locate a central index linking just the book entries. However, here’s the URL for the Grant summary: http://firstyear2017.org/blog/by-the-book-ulysses-s.-grant. Searching their site will yield the others already posted.

  7. Just stumbled across your site a few weeks ago and I have spent way too much time here when I should be doing other things! This is so great! I have two questions for you –

    1) You are probably aware, but did you know Nigel Hamilton is in the middle of a FDR War Biography trilogy? I would love to see your take on it.

    2) Once you conquer the presidents, what is your next project? I hope you consider doing something like this site again – perhaps for another area of American history?

    Thanks!

    • Funny, but my wife thinks I spend way too much time here, too(!)

      1. I’m watching as Hamilton publishes his series and I’m eager to read it. It will end up as part of my follow-up list since I started FDR before he completed his series…

      2. If only I knew! I’ve considered expanding the project to include biographies more generally (I must be the only person on earth not to have read Chernow’s “Hamilton” or Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs”) but I’ve also got an ever-expanding list of presidential biographies to read as part of my follow-up list (bios I didn’t know about when I read that particular president or which were published after I finished that president). I have lots of ideas, but thankfully I have 18+ months to sort through them all…

      • Thanks so much for the response. I will enjoy the next 18+ months and will look forward to whatever is next!

  8. This is a wonderful website that’s right up my alley. Since grade school, I’ve been fascinated with presidential biographies. In fact, I fondly remember the very first book I read on the subject, a chronology of all the presidents, ending with Lyndon Johnson. I must have checked that book out of the school library dozens of times. (Side note: I was born after LBJ’s incumbency, but I was always drawn to him because he looked exactly like my principal!)

    Fast-forward a few decades, and I have read dozens of presidential bios—many of them appearing on your list. I still feel that my favorite single-volume bio is Conrad Black’s FDR tome, but Chernow’s Washington is a close second. (I have McCullough’s Truman on the shelf and something tells me I’m going to enjoy it just as much.)

    Have you read Willard Sterne Randall’s biography on Jefferson? I would like your take on it since that was one of the very first presidential biographies I purchased on my own when I was a youngin’ and don’t recall how well the book was written.

    Happy reading!

    • Thanks for stopping by! Given your close call with LBJ (academically speaking anyway) you’re going to have to check out Robert Caro’s not-quite-yet-complete series. I’m told by sources I trust that it’s going to redefine the term “best presidential biography.”

      I have not read Randall’s bio of Jefferson but that looks like a biography I definitely need to add to my follow-up list. Don’t hold your breath, though, it may be 2 years before I can get to it…

      • Coincidentally, I recently purchased Caro’s four-volume set. Looks like a real masterpiece and I’m excited to jump into it. As my principal, Mr. Adams, would say long ago, “Straighten up, young man, and hit those books!”

        Thanks, Steve!

  9. I noticed that your list has exactly zero of the great presidential autobiographies: Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant being the biggest one. Is there a reason for that or will they be added into the collection of follow-up books. To me, it seems that the first place to go during this project would be to the autobiographies, at least the older ones that are less likely to be written by ghost-writers.
    I also want to say that I have taken up the project and plan to write about it on my blog. I plan to start with a biography that was written within roughly one hundred years for each president before branching into the more modern biographies. I also find that reading obituaries is the best way to learn about how a president was viewed at the time of his death.
    Your blog has been a great resource for finding some of the more modern biographies, but I am struggling with finding authoritative classics. Do you have any recommendations? I have access to a pretty large academic library so I should be able to find them.
    Currently I am reading George Washington, by Henry Cabot Lodge, copyright 1889, and am enjoying it quite a bit.

    • I’ve avoided autobiographies and memoirs the first pass through the presidents for several reasons…but I’m planning to read them on a second pass. Grant’s memoirs, in particular, are said to be legendary.

      In many cases I have read old “classics” but more often I’ve focused on more readable, more modern biographies. In several cases, I’ve seen that I missed an old classic that I want to get to so I’ve added it to my follow-up list. The American Political Biography Press (http://www.apbpress.com/) seems to have many of the oldies-but-goodies so if I were you I would be sure to check their list out!

  10. Great choice on Lodge’s Washington. The American Statesmen Series would provide excellent reading on the 18th and 19th century presidents. Most of the pre-20th century presidents are represented there.

  11. Jeff Kinder said:

    On your next pass, for Teddy Roosevelt you might consider Douglas Brinkley’s The Wilderness Warrior. I enjoyed it.

    • Thanks – I’ll have to look into it! Teddy Roosevelt makes for a great subject so I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed dozens of great books on his life and adventures.

  12. Gary Schantz said:

    I have been following your site for a few years now. I am using it as a resource to read and build my own library.

    I am wondering if you have thought about adding books written by presidents to your list? Some have written good books while others merely kept diaries.

  13. Peter McClintock said:

    I am wondering if anyone knows where or how I can obtain a good copy of Roosevelt & Hopkins.

    • abebooks.com would typically be my first choice to find a copy, but there is an Amazon seller with a nice copy in jacket (@ $50).

  14. abebooks.com would typically be my first choice to find a copy, but there is an Amazon seller with a nice copy in jacket (@ $50).

  15. redskullduggery said:

    Are you planning on reading “The Invisible Bridge” by Rick Perlstein when you get to Reagan? Just curious since you are doing “Nixonland” for Nixon.

    https://www.amazon.com/Invisible-Bridge-Fall-Nixon-Reagan/dp/1476782423/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1478280409&sr=8-2&keywords=the+invisible+bridge

    • I’ve been told “The Invisible Bridge” is a compelling sequel to “Nixonland” but goes only as far as the 1976 Republican Convention…in which case I probably won’t read it as part of this journey. But I haven’t really looked into it seriously (Reagan seems so, so far away right now!)

  16. MaxGoldman45 said:

    Before you start on Eisenhower, I’d like to propose some additional titles: (1) The Hidden Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader, by Fred I. Greenstein; (2) Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, by Carlo D’Este and (3) Partners in Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower In War and Peace, by Mark Perry. None is a cradle-to-grave biography, but each adds some focused insight into a person that I never imagined I would become as intrigued by as I have. The book by Greenstein, a Princeton professor, is particularly good at challenging preconceptions about Eisenhower, and a nice compliment to Evan Thomas’ more recent book on Eisenhower’s presentation of himself as president.

    • Thanks very much for your note and thoughts. Since I have a little time I will absolutely look into each of those titles and hopefully will add at least one. For some reason I thought I had D’Este’s book on my list / in my library but that turned out to be his book on Patton.

      • I echo the recommendation of Greenstein’s book. It’s one of the first scholarly works to debunk the notion that Eisenhower was this naive avuncular figure used by shrewder men for their purposes. In fact, he had firm control over his administration — which Greenstein discovered when he did archival research. Highly recommended, even if not straightforward biography.

    • Thanks again to you and Alamo for your recommendations and insight! Each of these books seems to add unique insight into Eisenhower and although they aren’t “comprehensive” I’m treating myself to Greenstein’s and D’Este’s. I trust these will land on my doorstep or in my mailbox in plenty of time. Perry’s book also looks compelling, so even though I probably won’t read it initially I’m going to have to find time to squeeze it in somewhere – it looks absolutely fascinating!

  17. What a delight to find your site. I have been making my own journey through American history through biographies, and presidential biographies should obviously be a big part of such a study.
    I am pleased that your reviews of a few of the books that I have read resonate with my experience. I’ll just mention Chernow’s George Washington, McCulloch’s John Adams, and Meacham’s Andrew Jackson. Your views are about as close to mine as I can imagine anyone’s being, and so I will probably read Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson book, bearing in mind your qualifying remarks.
    I do have a recommendation. It is Robert Caro’s LBJ series. I can see why it might be disqualifed, since it is actually not finished, and according to Caro himself, may never be, but I have seldom enjoyed a book more than the four on LBJ he has completed. I recommend his book on Robert Moses, not a president, but another important subject for a student of the exercise of power.
    I am a neophyte in subject of presidential biographies per se, but I am now much encouraged to follow this line. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for your note – I’ve definitely got the Caro series on my list! I’ve been told it is so good it will be “life altering” so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that Robert Caro is in excellent health and has many years of productive writing ahead of him! I wish you well as you read about more of the fascinating characters embedded in American history – do let me know when you run across something great (whether on a president or anyone else for that matter)!

      • I will just mention two non-presidential biographies that I thought were great. One was another of Ron Chernow’s, “Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.” and “The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt” by T.J. Stiles. Thank you again for starting this site, I think it’s a great source!

  18. Loving your list and looking forward to diving into some of these myself!

    While not related to the purpose of this blog, I was wondering what non-presidential political figures have you stumbled across in your reading that you think warrant just as much attention as any president? Off the top of my head, I was thinking of people like Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, Bobby Kennedy,etc. who didn’t hold the office, but whose actions and ideas had great effect on American politics and/or life.

    Thanks!

    • Thanks for your comment! The number of political figures I’ve become interested in as a result of this project is enormous. I’ve started keeping an informal list (and I’ve started mentioning the names at the end of every “The Best Biographies of ____” post. Alexander Hamilton has been at the top of the list for a variety of reasons but is accompanied by folks like Seward, Henry Clay, Winston Churchill, George Marshall, John Hay, et. al. There will just never be enough time… 🙂

  19. redskullduggery said:

    Just read your preview of the Eisenhower lineup. I am particularly interested in hearing what you think about the Smith book (the only one the list that I’ve read). I thought it was great but seemed lopsided in terms of its coverage of Ike’s pre-presidency life. Most presidential biographies seem to have the opposite problem so its a bit unusual to finish the book wishing the coverage of the presidency was as comprehensive as the coverage leading up to it. Perhaps a two volume approach would have been best?

    • I’m about 150 pages in and I certainly detect your emphasis on Ike’s pre-presidency! (I obviously can’t speak to that in relation to the focus on his presidency as I have a few hundred pages before I get there…)

      In my experience, even complicated presidents can be covered in one very well-edited volume. On a few occasions I’ve read a series and then read the author’s abridgement and although the single volume never seems to be quite as good as the original series, those single volume abridgements are often better than the competing single-volume biographies. Will be interesting to see what I think about this Smith bio as I make my way through more of it…

  20. For George W. Bush, I’d add Peter Baker’s “Days of Fire.” https://www.amazon.com/Days-Fire-Cheney-White-House/dp/0385525192

  21. Thanks – I’ll definitely take a look at it!

  22. Dude, I just found this blog and holy @#?# you are awesome. I’ve set myself the goal of reading biographies of at least half of the presidents but wanted to find just the right ones. As a college student, I can’t really afford to waste what little time I have of free reading on incomplete bios. Thanks and I’ll be referring to this list for the next year or so!

  23. Eunchan Lee said:

    Thank you for providing good information to read presidential biographies. As an immigrant, I always admire for sovereign men those who ventured their lives to establish the United States of America. I have books which are recommended to read on your website. There are hundreds books to read American history through my life.

    • Thank you for your note, and among the unexpected benefits I’ve discovered reading about the U.S. presidents is that I’ve learned a fair amount about world history more generally (though seen from a U.S. perspective). I’ve just started creating a list of individuals I have been inspired to read biographies of based on my presidential reading – some Americans and some from other countries (Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, etc.) Thanks for visiting and come back soon!

  24. I don’t know how I missed this part of your website! I found this site over a year ago, but got so focused on reading individual reviews and looking at the list of upcoming releases that I didn’t see this page until today. I was actually going to reach out regarding Reagan books but see you already have some selected. I’ve been studying presidents my whole life, but the past 12 years have really focused on the Cold War era, and especially Reagan (it all began when I wanted to truly know if it was possible to say that if it wasn’t for Reagan, the Cold War would not have ended when it did). I now give lectures on Reagan, on various topics, and have become friends with a few Reagan historians. My own book on Reagan is a long ways off, but the idea has received enthusiastic support from everyone I’ve shared it with. It won’t be a biographical treatment but will focus on a unique aspect of his presidency that has not been covered yet.

    As for current works on Reagan, you have a good list to start from, though I can easily recommend removing “Dutch” from the list by Edmund Morris. By his own admission, he never really grasped Reagan and struggled to understand so much about Reagan that his biography is one of the few Reagan books I tell people at my lectures to avoid. Someone else mentioned Dinesh D’souza, and he does have a pro-Reagan bias. As was pointed out, with Reagan, so many people love him or hate him, and I’ve read most of the popular works on both sides. Craig Shirley was mentioned, and his works on Reagan are highly recommended, particularly “Rendezvous With Destiny” about the 1980 campaign. One of the newer books is H.W. Brands on Reagan, which is also one of the few one volume, pure biographical treatments of Reagan. You can read my Amazon review of that here (if the link works): https://www.amazon.com/review/R3COB9X44WJ3BW/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0307951146&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books

    The multi-volume sets by Cannon and Hayward are both excellent, and any work by Paul Kengor is highly recommended. I just communicated with Paul this morning and have grown to trust his scholarship and appreciate his sincerity. His new book coming out in April focuses on recently declassified information detailing the committed relationship between Reagan and Pope John Paul II in combating communism and supporting Solidarity in Poland. It is longer than his normal books, as he uncovered a wealth of new information, and looks to be a real page turner. Paul’s book “God and Ronald Reagan” is also one I highly recommend.

    I’d love to communicate further but have one of my boys requesting I take him to a store. I’ll be sure to continue following the comments on this thread in particular. Do you prefer communicating through comments? I didn’t find any sort of link to send you an email with more detailed or longer communications. Thank you, and as for today, enjoy your ongoing study of Eisenhower!

    • I’m really looking forward to reading Reagan – he’s the first president who’s tenure I vividly remember so he’s the first president whose biographies I will, to some extent, be able to judge based on my own observations. I have “Dutch” on the list primarily due to the fact I loved his series on TR…and I am curious to see just how bad this book is! 🙂

      Thanks for your insights on various other Reagan books – I’m quite keen to read Brands’s in particular since I’ve read his biographies of Jackson, Grant, TR and FDR and find him reliable and straightforward.

      Happy to communicate through comments or you can reach me directly at the email address on the “ABOUT” page (which, in the interest of minimizing spam, I will not repeat here in text format!)

      • tarch2ta said:

        Craig Shirley is sneaking up on a complete multi-volume Reagan bio, although published completely out of order. Revolution covers the 1976 campaign. Rising (to be released this spring) covers 1976-1980. Rendezvous covers the 1980 campaign. And Last Act covers Reagan in retirement.

        Since you’re reading JFK now, if anyone is looking for a unconventional but informative biography, Larry Kudlow released JFK & the Reagan Revolution last fall. It tracks JFK’s adoption of supply-side economics, the implementation of the JFK tax cuts in 1964 (post-assassination), their impact in the intervening years, and their return under Reaganomics. Look for a big cameo by Rep. Jack Kemp! The book is about 250 pages, but can be economically wonky at times.

        Enjoy!

      • Thanks – it seems I’m definitely going to want to add Shirley’s volumes to my list (and another few weeks to my timeline)!

  25. Drop everything – Chernow’s Grant bio is supposed to come out this October (2017).
    (Well, not you, Steve…you’re on a schedule)

  26. J.L. Jensen said:

    Ron Chernow’s “Grant” is now available for Pre-Order from Amazon, where we also learn that it will be 928 pages. Looking forward to this one!

    http://amzn.to/2kwFlSm

  27. I’ve read most of Mr. Chernow’s books and I can safely say that he is definitely one of only a very select number of authors whose books I must read as soon as they are published. He is such a great writer who transcends the art of biography. I am also looking forward to Caro’s LBJ series. I bought the entire 4-book set at once but I’ve yet to crack it open and start that journey. Daunting, perhaps, but I’m sure these books will be incredibly rewarding.

    • There are two authors, in particular, who I’ve been inspired to go back and re-read (as in…everything they’ve ever written on any topic): Ron Chernow and Robert Remini!

  28. Another presidential biography (actually, autobiography) that will be a drop everything read for me once it’s published will be Barack Obama’s memoirs. If you’ve read any of his previous books you will know he is an excellent writer.

  29. Aaron Janz said:

    I have started on a journey to read a good scholarly biography on every president over the course of this year, and this website has been a tremendous help in finding enjoyable, scholarly, and mostly unbiased books on each one of them so far. While there are some dead spots coming, where there are no truly definitive biographies about certain presidents, I am 4 presidents in, after starting this about a month ago. It has been a fun ride and I’m looking forward to the rest. Thank you for this highly informative and helpful website.

    • One thing I can promise: if you can stick it out through the “dead spots” you’ll find yourself on a journey more fascinating than you could have suspected! (Of course it would be nice if every author had an efficient, engaging writing style, but…)

  30. Roger Chambers said:

    An excellent site I found by accident when searching for bios on Andrew Jackson. I would like to note how period piece interpretations can vary considerably, and autobiography or memoirs are much different than well researched biographies.

    I have a reprint set of c.1900 biographies of perhaps 7 or 8 founders. In some cases the subject is glorified as a Saint who could do no wrong, e.g. Henry Cabot Lodge on Washington. A far cry from recent biographies of Jefferson, T. R. Roosevelt, and L. B. Johnson which sometimes tend to magnify faults.

    You are to be commended for such a project, providing useful insight for those looking for credible, reliable, and perhaps most importantly READABLE books on presidential histories.

    • Thanks for your note and your observations. At some point I am interested in going back to read some of the older biographies (though, as you point out, they are often little more than hagiographies) and although Lodge’s bio of Washington isn’t yet on my “to do” list there are others like it which are. I suspect I will find some of them “amusing” but not particularly objective.

  31. Sebastienaa said:

    I was looking through the comments, and I don’t believe anyone mentioned Gary Wills’ “Nixon Agonistes.” The only biographies I’ve read have been of Nixon (my favorite President), and this was my first. I noticed it wasn’t on your list, so I thought I’d mention it. It’s rather short at 602 pages, but highly compelling. It came out DURING Nixon’s administration (1970), and Wills was subsequently blacklisted–how many biographers can claim that? I actually thought it was an even-handed approach to Nixon’s early Presidentcy (it came out pre-Watergate), and it touches on events heavy in the political atmosphere of the late sixties. It really is more a work of political philosophy, beautifully written in a style akin to John Updike rather than a regular historian. It is, ultimately, critical of Nixon, casting him–as the title suggests–as a mythologically tragic figure, destined to fail, but it ends up being prescient about politics today, which is what the best histories often are. Thanks for the blog, and I can’t wait for you to get to Nixon.

    • alamo2000 said:

      I’ll vouch for “Nixon Agonistes.” There are a number of psycho-biographies of presidents, some good, some not so good. This one by Gary Wills is very interesting — unconventional — and really does anticipate aspects of Nixon and Watergate years before they occurred. I think you’d find it a worthy addition, even if it stops 20 years before Nixon’s death. But if biographies are supposed to teach us things about their subjects, you can’t go wrong with this one.

      • I wouldn’t have thought to read this given it was published before most of Nixon’s presidency had elapsed. Having said that, it sounds interesting and the fact it’s by Gary Wills leads me to the inescapable conclusion I need to add add it to my follow-up list. Thanks Sebastienaa and Alamo!

  32. Darren Seacliffe said:

    I’d like to consult you on a title in the Oxford History of America if you don’t mind: The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (Oxford History of the United States) [https://www.amazon.com/Republic-Which-Stands-Reconstruction-1865-1896/dp/0199735816/ref=pd_sbs_14_3?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=0199735816&pd_rd_r=DKFD187V38S49JQFNXGH&pd_rd_w=yhMtA&pd_rd_wg=nl4TY&psc=1&refRID=DKFD187V38S49JQFNXGH]

    I have the other volumes in the series in the e-book format. I was wondering if the book was interesting enough for me not to wait for the electronic copy to appear. I am very interested in this period of American history because it was when America caught up with the big European colonial powers in terms of economic clout. I thought having bios of the Robber Kings (Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, Gould [the bio you should be getting is the Maury Klein one, not the one you put under Related Reading, that’s the one I have because the one you put seemed spurious to me.) was enough to give me a solid understanding of this process. Do you feel there was more to that process than the involvement of the Robber Barons who played presumably a significant role in it, after reading the bios of all the US presidents from this period from Andrew Johnson to Cleveland. If there was, maybe I’d like to get a physical copy of this book if I can find the space for it somehow.

    I’d like to offer a belated thanks to you for your excellent review of Eisenhower – A Soldier’s Life by Carlo d’Este. It was what made me decide to buy the electronic copy. I look forward to your reviews of Kennedy’s bios and your round-up at the end of all that. Caro’s books didn’t give me a good impression of Kennedy and several of my American friends don’t think much of him as well.

    • Although I’ve been an avid collector of the Oxford History of America books I haven’t read any of them (I decided to start reading the presidents in order as a “poor man’s” way of experiencing that history) so I’m afraid I can’t give you an informed opinion on your question.

      Thanks for the Gould referral – someone turned me onto one but I will look at swapping it out for the Klein biography! What has surprised me about the Robber Barons is that while they were peripherally important in some (but not most) of the presidential biographies of that era, they never received the attention they probably deserved. I suspect that when I have a chance to read more directly about Rockefeller, Morgan, Gould, etc. I will wonder what parallel universe they lived in since they took on such understated role in the presidential biographies I encountered.

      I’m about halfway through my first book on JFK and it looks like Dallek’s biography is a winner – I hope my impression doesn’t change over the course of the last 300 or so pages…! JFK is more fascinating – and far more flawed – than I had realized.

  33. You may consider adding the new offering on Nixon from Doubleday books, Richard Nixon The Life by John A. Farrell.

  34. Mary Lazor said:

    I am just beginning my reading the bios on U.S. Presidents. This is a very helpful site. I do appreciate the work to organize this.

  35. For some more recent presidents I would recommend “The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House” and “Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House.” Both focus on the presidencies and aren’t cradle to grave biographies, but both are excellent and among the more objective works on both men’s presidencies. The one on Bush might particularly be a breath of fresh air after reading the scourging that Jean Edward Smith puts him through in “Bush.”

  36. Your site is such a great resource for discovering new American history books to add to my collection. I appreciate your slogging through some of the more rigorous, academic books; it really allows you to review the factual accuracy of the more popular biographies that I tend to read, and informs my choice when choosing which books to purchase. Keep up the good work!

    By the way, I recently read a great biography of Douglas Macarthur by Arthur Herman that was recently published. I was wondering if you were planning on adding it to your related reading section?

    http://amzn.to/2qaZuAB

    • Thanks for your note – I’ve got Herman’s bio of MacArthur on a “post-it” note stuck to the the side of my screen waiting to be added to my “related reading” list! Since you’ve given me a polite nudge, I’ll have to go ahead and get to it!

  37. Julian E. Zelizer’s short biography of Jimmy Carter. It is short, I think I read the book in two days, it has been a while since I read it but I remember it was similar to Leuchtenburg on Hoover or Dallack on Truman, a political science view of Carter’s presidency it is the only book on Carter so I don’t know how it compares to the other books on the list for Carter 🙂

  38. Grace B. said:

    I want to thank you for doing this even though I know many others already have. I am working my way through your list reading about each book and making a list of the Presidential biographies I hope to start collecting and reading soon. I also like that you have a “for further reading” list of many other influential historical figures. Researching some other U.S. history books that aren’t biographies per se, I found two books I thought you might find interesting once you have completed your President study.
    1. “Almost President: The Men Who Lost The Race But Changed The Nation” by Scott Farris

    2. “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power” by Jules Witcover

    I have not read either book yet, but I’d love to hear your opinion about them (when you get around to them!) after having read so many biographies.

    • Thanks for your note (I always like feedback!) and my “further reading” list came about largely as a result of comments I’ve received.

      I have your second book – I don’t remember where I first heard about it – and I’ve skimmed but not read it. It looked interesting and I’m looking forward to reading it more fully.

      Separately, I’ve thought about diving more deeply into the presidential “runners up” and in many cases they are on my “further reading” list. This first book you list (by Scott Farris) looks absolutely fascinating! I’m going to have to grab a copy…

      If you read either of them before I get to them, let me know what you think!

  39. Richard said:

    I’ve been watching the old FBI TV series on DVD recently and with the FBI in the news lately I’ve developed an interest in a Bio of J Edgar Hoover. He was FBI Director for almost 50 years and supposedly was feared by Presidents so he sounds like a good subject to learn more about. I came across 2 books poking around the internet, one by Curt Gentry and another by Richard Powers. Have you come across any good Bio’s of Hoover?

    • I can’t speak from personal experience (having never read a J. Edgar Hoover bio – yet) but I’ve been told the Powers biography is, on the margin, somewhat disappointing and that the Gentry biography is “fine or better.” If you read one or both, let me know what you think. I’m going to be adding the Gentry bio of Hoover to my “Related Reading” list shortly but I’m open to suggestions!

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