***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 comprehensive coverage and critical analysis of its subject).

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

This list was updated March 23, 2023.  If I’m missing a great presidential biography that you’ve read, please let me know!
My master list of best biographies of all time (including non-presidents) can be found here.

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)
Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman (Richard Harwell’s 1968 abridgment) REVIEW (3 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 ***
George Washington: A Biography by Washington Irving (Charles Neider’s 1976 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 ***
Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson (2017) by Gordon Wood
Thomas Jefferson:
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (2012) by Jon Meacham REVIEW (4½ stars)
Jefferson: Architect of American Liberty (2017) by John Boles REVIEW (4¼ 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)
Thomas Jefferson: A Life (1993) by Willard Sterne Randall REVIEW (3½ stars)
His Masterly Pen: A Biography of Jefferson the Writer (2022) by Fred Kaplan REVIEW (not rated)
The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson (2008) by Kevin J. Hayes REVIEW (not rated)
The Jeffersonians: The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe (2022) by Kevin Gutzman REVIEW (not rated)
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 ***
Thomas Jefferson (2004) by R. B. Bernstein
James Madison:
James Madison (2011) by Richard Brookhiser REVIEW (4 stars)
James Madison: America’s First Politician (2021) by Jay Cost REVIEW (4 stars)
Madison and Jefferson (2010) by Andrew Burstein REVIEW (4 stars)
James Madison: A Biography (1971) by Ralph Ketcham REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partian, President (2017) by Noah Feldman REVIEW (3½ stars)
James Madison and the Making of America (2012) by Kevin Gutzman REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Fourth President: A Life of James Madison (author’s 1970 abridgment of his 6-volume series) by Irving Brant REVIEW (3 stars)
James Madison: A Life Reconsidered (2014) by Lynne Cheney REVIEW (3 stars)
The Jeffersonians: The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe (2022) by Kevin Gutzman REVIEW (not rated)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Madison ***
Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father (2015) by Michael Signer
James Monroe:
James Monroe: A Life (2020) by Tim McGrath REVIEW (3¾ stars)
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 (3½ stars)
The Jeffersonians: The Visionary Presidencies of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe (2022) by Kevin Gutzman REVIEW (not rated)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Monroe ***
John Quincy Adams:
John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit (2016) by James Traub REVIEW (4¼ stars)
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)
The Lost Founding Father: John Quincy Adams and the Transformation of American Politics (2017) by William Cooper REVIEW (3¾ stars)
John Quincy Adams: American Visionary (2014) by Fred Kaplan REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of John Quincy Adams ***
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)
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 (1984) 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:
President without a Party: The Life of John Tyler (2020) by Christopher Leahy REVIEW (4¼ stars)
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 ***
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 ***
James K. Polk: A Political Biography (2 volumes) (1922) by Eugene McCormac
James K. Polk (2 volumes of 3 originally planned) (1957) by Charles Grier Sellers
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 ***
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 ***
Millard Fillmore (2001) by Robert J. Scarry
The Presidencies of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore (1988) by Elbert Smith
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)
Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln (2014) by Richard Brookhiser REVIEW (3 stars)
Abraham Lincoln: The War Years (4 Vols) (1939) by Carl Sandburg REVIEW (3 stars)
And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle (2022) by Jon Meacham REVIEW (not rated)
Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times (2020) by David Reynolds REVIEW (not rated)
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2010) by Eric Foner REVIEW (not rated)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Abraham Lincoln ***
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
Father Lincoln: The Untold Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Boys (2016) by Alan Manning
Sidney Blumenthal’s series: A Self-Made Man, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1808-1849 (Vol 1) (2016) and Wrestling With His Angel: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1849-1856 (Vol 2) (2017) and All the Powers of the Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1856-1860 (Vol 3) (2019)
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 ***
The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation (2019) by Brenda Wineapple
Andrew Johnson: Plebeian and Patriot (1928) by Robert Winston
Ulysses S. Grant:
Grant (2001) by Jean Edward Smith REVIEW (4½ stars)
Grant (2017) by Ron Chernow 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)
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant (2016) by Ronald C. White, Jr. 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 ***
“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
The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant (2017) by Charles Calhoun
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 ***
Rutherford B. Hayes: And His America (1954) by Harry Barnard
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 ***
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 ***
The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur (2017) by Scott Greenberger
Grover Cleveland:
Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character (2000) by Alyn Brodsky REVIEW (4 stars)
A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland (2022) by Troy Senik 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)
President McKinley: Architect of the American Century (2017) by Robert Merry REVIEW (3½ 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 ***
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 ***
Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters (7 vols) (1927-39) by Ray Stannard Baker
Wilson (5 vols) (1947-65) by Arthur S. Link
The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made (2018) by Patricia O’Toole
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)
The Jazz Age President: Defending Warren G. Harding (2022) by Ryan S. Walters REVIEW (not rated)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Warren Harding ***
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:
Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times (2017) by Kenneth Whyte REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency (2016) by Charles Rappleye REVIEW (4 stars)
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 ***
An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover (1984) by Richard Norton Smith
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)
Man of Destiny: FDR and the Making of the American Century (2015) by Alonzo Hamby REVIEW (3½ stars)
Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History (1948) by Robert Sherwood REVIEW (3¼ stars)
Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life (2017) by Robert Dallek 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 ***
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)
The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World (2017) by A.J. Baime REVIEW (3 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)
The Age of Eisenhower (2018) by William Hitchcock REVIEW (3¾ 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 ***
Ike: An American Hero (2007) by Michael Korda
John F. Kennedy:
The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys (1987) by Doris Kearns Goodwin REVIEW (4½ stars)
An Unfinished Life: JFK 1917-1963 (2003) by Robert Dallek REVIEW (4¼ stars)
President Kennedy: Profile of Power (1993) by Richard Reeves REVIEW (3¾ stars)
JFK: Reckless Youth (1992) by Nigel Hamilton REVIEW (3¾ stars)
John F. Kennedy: A Biography (2005) by Michael O’Brien REVIEW (3½ stars)
Kennedy: The Classic Biography (1965) by Theodore Sorensen REVIEW (3½ stars)
JFK’s Last Hundred Days (2013) by Thurston Clarke REVIEW (3½ stars)
A Thousand Days: JFK in the White House (1965) by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. REVIEW (3 stars)
Jack: A Life Like No Other (2001) by Geoffrey Perret REVIEW (3 stars)
A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy (1991) by Thomas C. Reeves REVIEW (3 stars)
Herbert Parmet’s two-volume series:
Jack: The Struggles of John F. Kennedy (1980) REVIEW (3½ stars)
JFK: The Presidency of John F. Kennedy (1983) REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of John F. Kennedy ***
JFK: Coming of Age in the American Century (2020) by Fredrik Logevall
The Dark Side of Camelot (1998) by Seymour Hersch
Lyndon B. Johnson:
Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President (2004) by Robert Dallek REVIEW (3½ stars)
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream (1976) by Doris Kearns Goodwin REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson (1991) by Joseph A. Califano, Jr. REVIEW (3¼ stars)
Robert Dallek’s two-volume series:
Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1908-1960 (1991) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973 (1998) REVIEW (3½ stars)
Robert Caro’s Ongoing Series:
The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol I) (1982) REVIEW (4½ stars)
Means of Ascent (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol II) (1990) REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Master of the Senate (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol III) (2002) REVIEW (4½ stars)
The Passage of Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Vol IV) (2012) REVIEW (4¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Lyndon Johnson ***
LBJ: Architect of American Ambition (2006) by Randall Woods
LBJ: A Life (1999) by Irwin Unger
Richard Nixon:
Richard Nixon: The Life (2017) by John Farrell REVIEW (4 stars)
President Nixon: Alone in the White House (2001) by Richard Reeves REVIEW (4 stars)
Richard Milhous Nixon: The Rise of An American Politician (1990) by Roger Morris REVIEW (4 stars)
Richard Nixon: A Life in Full (2007) by Conrad Black REVIEW (3½ stars)
Being Nixon: A Man Divided (2015) by Evan Thomas REVIEW (3½ stars)
One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream (1991) by Tom Wicker REVIEW (3¼ stars)
Richard Nixon and His America (1990) by Herbert Parmet REVIEW (2½ stars)
Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man (1970) by Garry Wills REVIEW (not rated)
Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008) by Rick Perlstein REVIEW (not rated)
Stephen Ambrose’s three-volume series:
Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913-1962 (Vol 1) (1987) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 1962-1972 (Vol 2) (1989) REVIEW (4 stars)
Nixon: Ruin & Recovery 1973-1990 (Vol 3) (1991) REVIEW (4 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Richard Nixon ***
Gerald Ford:
Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life (2013) by James Cannon REVIEW (3½ stars)
Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford (2017) by Scott Kaufman
REVIEW (3½ stars)
Gerald R. Ford (2007) by Douglas Brinkley REVIEW (3½ stars)
Time and Chance: Gerald Ford’s Appointment with History (1994) by James Cannon REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Gerald Ford ***
The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford (1995) by John Robert Greene
Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s (2005) by Yanek Mieczkowski
When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency (2018) by Donald Rumsfeld
James E. Carter:
His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life (2020) by Jonathan Alter REVIEW (4½ stars)
President Carter: The White House Years (2018) by Stuart Eizenstat REVIEW (4 stars)
The Outlier: The Life and Presidency of Jimmy Carter (2021) by Kai Bird REVIEW (4 stars)
The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Quest for Global Peace (2007) by Douglas Brinkley REVIEW (4 stars)
Jimmy Carter: A Comprehensive Biography from Plains to Post-Presidency (1997) by Peter Bourne REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Jimmy Carter ***
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: The Georgia Years, 1924-1974 (2010) by E.Stanly Godbold Jr.
Ronald Reagan:
Reagan: An American Journey (2018) by Bob Spitz REVIEW (4¼ stars)
When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan (2001) by Peggy Noonan REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Reagan: American Icon (2016) by Iwan Morgan REVIEW (4 stars)
Reagan: The Life (2015) by H. W. Brands REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Lou Cannon’s (unplanned) two-volume series:
Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power (2003) REVIEW (4 stars)
President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime (1991) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Steven Hayward’s two-volume series:
The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order: 1964-1980 (2001) REVIEW (not rated)
The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989 (2009) REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Craig Shirley’s (informal) four-volume series:
Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All (2005) REVIEW (3½ stars)
Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980 (2017) REVIEW (3 stars)
Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America (2009) REVIEW (4 stars)
Last Act: The Final Years and Emerging Legacy of Ronald Reagan (2014) REVIEW (2½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Ronald Reagan ***
Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (1999) by Edmund Morris
President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination (2005) by Richard Reeves
The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 (2008) by Sean Wilentz
The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2006) by Paul Kengor
George H. W. Bush:
Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (2015) by Jon Meacham REVIEW (4 stars)
George Bush: Life of a Lone Star Yankee (1997) by Herbert Parmet REVIEW (3¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of George Bush ***
George H. W. Bush: The American Presidents Series (2007) by Timothy Naftali
William J. Clinton:
First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton (1995) by David Maraniss REVIEW (4½ stars)
The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House (2005) by John Harris REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Bill Clinton: New Gilded Age President (2016)by Patrick Maney REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Bill Clinton ***
Bill Clinton: The American Presidents Series (2017) by Michael Tomasky
George W. Bush:
Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (2013) by Peter Baker REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Bush (2016) by Jean Edward Smith REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of George W. Bush ***
First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty (1999) by Bill Minutaglio
Barack Obama:
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (2010) by David Remnick REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Barack Obama: The Story (2012) by David Maraniss REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (2017) by David Garrow REVIEW (2 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Barack Obama ***
Obama: The Call of History (2017) by Peter Baker
Obama: From Promise to Power (2007) by David Mendell

Every book I review has been purchased by me. Bestpresidentialbios.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.


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

  1. Thanks so much for compiling this list. It’s incredibly helpful to me!

    • Thanks! It’s a work in process and I’m open to suggestions. I have a couple to add which have been recently published which a number of readers have highly recommended…

  2. You have done a great job with your blog. Your reviews are very insightful and helpful. Thanks for all the work you have done. A great site that I will be sure to recommend.

  3. Thank you so much! I got the idea for reading all the presidential biographies a couple of months ago. Thank you for the great reviews and giving me a path to follow!

    • Thanks for your note, and good luck on your adventure! Please check back regularly and let me (and everyone else) know how you feel about the biographies you’re reading!

  4. I am doing the same but only reading one book per President. Thank you for the reviews, great idea. Garfield and Destiny of the Republic was my first President.

    • I’m curious how you chose James Garfield as your first president to read!?! In any event, that bio is definitely on my list and I’m scheduled to get to it mid-summer next year. How’d you like it?

      • Destiny of the Republic was the most current and well reviewed. No reason. Yes it was very good. The Republican Convention was amazing. Don’t want to give anything away. As much as that can happened with history.

  5. Billy Watson said:

    Thanks for your blog. I have just started on this journey and will probably follow your path as it looks like an excellent list. I just read the first chapter last night from the Fernow book on Washington. I am very excited about this project. Since I have to do everything different than everyone else, I will be going through the presidents twice. The first trip through I will read one book on each president. The second trip through I will read the rest of the books on each president. To my way of thinking, the first trip through lays a foundation for the second trip through. Probably makes sense to no one but me, but we’re all different.

    Thanks again

    • I think your plan sounds more logical (and sane) than mine. But as you say, we’re all different and sometimes we take different paths to the same destination. Please let me know what you think about the books you read, definitely let me know if you read a great biography I’ve missed…and welcome on board!

  6. Great blog. I’ve been an avid reader of Presidential history for the last decade and have read a few you have listed. I’m going to start with Washington and move on through the list of president’s. I won’t hit every book you’ve listed but at least a couple on each. Started last week with Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life”. Keep the blog going. I book marked it for future reference. Thanks again.

  7. What a treasure trove of books about presidents! I’m happy to have found this after finishing Destiny of the Republic about Garfield. Now, the only book I’ve read on Lincoln, I highly recommend: Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk. More of a psychological biography. Fascinating.

    • Thanks – I’m looking forward to Destiny of the Republic in a few months when I get to Garfield. Lincoln is coming up in about 2 or 3 weeks. I’m even more excited about that! I’ll have to look up Shenk’s book; it’s not on my list, and I’ve not heard of it before now…

  8. arthurfellill said:

    Excellent work, sir! Might I recommend Nigel Hamilton’s two books on Bill Clinton to add to your list? One is called “Mastering the Presidency” and the other is “An American Journey.”

  9. Since it appears that you like (or at least are willing) to delve into older, multi-volume works, you may want to consider a three-volume bio on U.S. Grant coauthored by Lloyd Lewis and Bruce Catton. The first volume, Captain Sam Grant, was written by Lewis, A Chicago journalist-turned-historian, and published in 1949. Sadly, Lewis died that same year. Catton later stepped in to complete the project (at the request of Lewis’s widow, I believe) and wrote volume 2, Grant Moves South, and volume 3, Grant Takes Command (both published in the 1960’s). I own all three but must confess that I’ve not read them yet. I have, however, read Catton’s Army of the Potomac trilogy. His Civil War writing is second to none.

    At this point, I think all three books are out of print, but they are readily available through used sellers online.

    • I should note that this trilogy is really a military biography, as it does not cover Grant’s life after the Civil War. I believe the first volume does cover Grant’s early life, but it focuses mainly on his early military career before the Civil War. Since these books do not cover Grant’s presidency, they may not fit your criteria for inclusion in your project.

  10. Something that’s really bugging me, in the picture at the top of the page with your bookshelves, what is that book in the top left next to A People’s History by Howard Zinn? I recognize the binding from frequent trips to used bookstores but I can’t identify it from the picture alone.

    • I should also mention, I’ve been checking this site frequently since I found it last summer, and I love the work you’re doing. I hope to do something similar soon, but I keep finding myself adding books to my to-read stack rather than removing them. I’m also not sure I could be as patient as you are with the lesser-known presidents, particularly because my favorite era is FDR to Nixon, and that’s quite a ways in the chronology.
      Speaking of which though, there’s a pretty decent book called Nixonland that came out in 2008 that while not an outright biography of the man is a really interesting look at how he shaped the 60s to his electoral benefit at the expense of creating a huge cultural divide. I notice it’s not on your curriculum, but maybe when all is said and done you’d be interested in reading it.

      • Billy Watson said:

        Thanks for the mention of Nixonland. I have two great interests in my reading appetite. One is presidential biographies ad the other is the science part of political science ( why do groups migrate from one party to another, why do coalitions rise and fall, how do events and specific people affect elections and others don’t, etc ). Sounds like this book is a combination of both of my great interests. It has been added to ye olde reading list.

    • I think you’re referring to Paul Johnson’s “A History of the American People.” When I have some spare time I think it would be interesting to read an American history book by a British author/historian. That book and “A Patriot’s History of the United States” (off the pic further left) are intended to counterbalance Zinn(!)

      • justphins said:

        I noticed you had multiple volumes of the Oxford History of the United States. I’ve read the four covering the Revolution to the Civil War, and they are excellent (although the weakest of the four is The Glorious Cause on the Revolution). I didn’t see An Empire of Liberty by Gordon S. wood on your shelf. If you don’t have it, I strongly recommend it. Wood covers the period from Washington’s presidency to the end of the War of 1812, and it is superb.

      • justphins, thanks! You have a keen power of observation – before I started reading the presidents I was planning to read the Oxford History of the US but decided to wait until it is complete. I now have the Gordon Wood book (which I really wanted since I took a course of his at Brown Univ. “way back when”).

  11. alamo2000 said:

    One resource I recommend is the “Presidency” series from the University Press of Kansas. You have some of them listed (Harrison, McKinley, Taft, and Hoover). They aren’t full-fledged biographies, though the first chapter usually includes a brief biographical sketch, but they are solid academic accounts of the presidential administrations. Better yet, they all have a detailed annotated bibliography in the back that always includes the author’s list (and often assessment) of the various biographies that are out there. The only drawback to this feature is the fact that the list (obviously) ends with the copyright date of the book, which means more recent work is not included. But you may find other books on some of the more obscure presidents mentioned in these bibliographies, and your local university library probably has them (or ought to). The books themselves are usually very solid analyses of the specific administrations — really good accounts, for example, of Harrison/Tyler and Taylor/Fillmore, to pick two more obscure examples (though I found the Polk volume to be a crashing bore). Anyway, worth a look as a resource for further reading.

    • I’ll definitely have to look into these. They would be particularly useful if one or more are relatively new, have a complete bibliography in the back and a thorough assessment of those books. That might be a real jackpot.

      • alamo2000 said:

        The series dates back at least as far as the 1980s, so the older volumes would not be particularly helpful, but they always provide a good list of resources, and sometimes the authors provide their own opinions about what is worthwhile and what is not. Nothing, however, as detailed and systematic as what you are attempting. I teach the presidency as an institution at a university, and find these bibliographies quite helpful when researching specific aspects of an administration. Your work, however, sets a new standard!

  12. judgingcorrectly said:

    What a great idea for a blog. Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us!

    Have you considered ranking the presidents? Surely it is inevitable for you to draw conclusions about the relative merits of each of these men as you study their lives and administrations. Maintaining some kind of ongoing ranking would seem a profitable (and natural) way in which to summarize and share those thoughts with the rest of us (in addition to these world class book write-ups.) It would also have the rather unique benefit of being constantly updated and re-evaluated in a historical context as you move chronologically through time. Food for thought.

    I know I, for one, would be very keen to benefit from your insights as you compare/contrast the subjects of your studies.

    • Thanks for your comments – and I have wondered what I’ll do after I finish, though I have a fairly extensive follow-up list to get through (of the bios that followers of my blog can’t believe I didn’t read the first time through).

      Alongside creating a ranking of the best biographies of the presidents, I have indeed considered my own version of ranking the presidents themselves. Much of what is imbedded in the “rankings” I’ve seen (and I’ve collected and reviewed lots of these historical surveys) is subjective and emotional rather than objective and hard-nosed. I would love to find a way to create a president-by-president analysis/ranking that is unique, systematic, interesting and instructive…I’m still pondering.

      In the meantime, I’m still staring at over 50,000 pages of presidential raw material (biographies) to get through. There’s a lot of this mountain still left to climb..!

      • I would also be interested in a ranking. A major reason I started reading presidential biographies was for this purpose–as well as having read some books on the presidential rating game. But, I think the ranking would inevitably say as much about you as it would about the presidents, which given your growing knowledge on the subject, would be a good thing. Many of the historical presidential polls seem lacking to me for this reason–I just end up wondering who are these people who seem to end up ranking the presidents in a rather predictable order without explanation.

        Thomas E. Woods Jr. was right when he said: “The polls take for granted that there exists an objective, apolitical, nonideological basis upon which such a ranking of the presidents may be compiled. But there is no such thing. To evaluate whether someone has been a good president requires a standard of measurement–philosophical, moral, economic, and constitutional. What constitutes good “economic management,” for instance? A Keynesian will say one thing and a free-marketer another.”

  13. judgingcorrectly said:

    Personally, I find the basis for all such evaluations highly dependent on one’s understanding of the Framers’ intentions when they constructed the office of POTUS (in addition to the broader concepts embedded in the Constitution). A simple example – of which Thomas Woods is illustrative – is one’s understanding of the nature of the union. Those who adhere to the compact theory of the union will find Lincoln to be a tyrant who waged a wholly unnecessary (and unconstitutional) war. Those who would side with, say, Daniel Webster’s understanding of the nature of the union will no doubt rank Lincoln as among our greatest presidents. Two completely divergent opinions.

    • There is no doubt that one’s perspective will meaningfully alter how one sees each of the presidents. This is partly why I am reluctant to undertake the exercise of ranking the presidents as has been done frequently (of course there is also traditional bias in favor of presidents who undertook, by choice or otherwise, bold actions or fully used presidential powers). I am also considering ranking the presidents by how they outperformed my expectations relative to conventional wisdom. Jefferson, for one, was unexpectedly disappointing to me and Monroe does not strike me as having been the fifth best president in our history (as was recently asserted in a poll of historians).

  14. I decided about a year ago that I would fill in gaps in my knowledge of US history by reading presidential biographies. In searching the web to find the best books to guide my reading I found your blog and it has been immensely helpful. But as a result of your reviews, I have broadened my readings to include exceptional biographical books from eras where I felt my basic knowledge was complete. For example, I just finished Team of Rivals which I very much enjoyed because of its unique theme. (I had read years ago the Sandberg biographies, so I did not find the book lacking in its dearth of discussion of Lincoln’s early years.) Next on my list is Cernow’s Washington biography and Smith’s on Grant. After that I will jump to Truman as I consider my primary goal as having been completed. Thanks very much for doing this blog and sharing some “neat stuff” as well.

    • You’re certainly picking some of my favorites! One of the books I’m most looking forward to at this point is David McCullough’s “Truman” which so dominates that biographical space that I had a hard time even finding another biography of Truman to put on my list. Let me know which Truman bio you read and what you think about it!

      This project has served as a fill-in-the-gaps for me as well. There’s so much history my high school & college classes didn’t cover, much of it fascinating. So many interesting personalities, so many times when history could have gone very differently but for a particular person or battle or stroke of luck (or genius).

      Somehow, my next phase will have to involve reading biographies of people like John Jay, John Marshall, Ben Franklin, Lafayette, Sherman, Robert E Lee, Seward…who were also extremely influential and often interesting.

      • There is no question that McCullough is a great and very popular biographer. He can also fall in love with his subject, which can lead to some biased judgments. If you really want to balance him out with another Truman biography, it is my understanding that Robert H. Ferrell’s book “Harry S. Truman: A Life” is both very good and well-respected. Copyright 1994, University of Missouri Press. I confess I have not read it myself — have a copy, but so many books, so little time……. But I acquired it on the recommendation of a historian who knows the Truman literature, and thought it was more balanced than McCullough’s treatment.

      • Alamo, thanks. I’m all over it! As romantic as McCullough’s Truman sounds, I would love something to counterbalance that perspective and it sounds like Ferrell’s will hit the spot. Too bad I won’t get there until late next summer but at least I’ve got the book on the way…

      • Also on Truman, don’t forget Alonzo Hamby’s tome. It’s a McCullough-sized doorstop that came out not too long after McCullough’s. It’s in my reading que, along with McCullough, Ferrell, and Dallek. From the NYT review:

        “The need to be recognized and respected dominated Harry Truman’s life. That is the main theme of Alonzo L. Hamby’s superb new biography, “Man of the People.” So much has been written about Truman in recent years — most of it celebratory — that yet another book about him runs the risk of being ignored. That would be unfortunate in this case, since the Truman we meet in these pages is more troubled, complicated and genuine than the man we have read about before. While Mr. Hamby’s account lacks the narrative drive of David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Truman,” published in 1992, it is superior, I think, in providing a clear interpretive framework for understanding the relationship between Truman’s personal traits and his momentous Presidential decisions.”

        Mark Vos
        Rancho Cucamonga, CA

      • Mark, thanks for your note – I’ll definitely check out Hamby’s monster bio of Truman. Given the surprising lack of Truman biographies in my library this could make an interesting addition.

  15. Great. Then I can find out whether you think it’s worth my time….. 😉

  16. I just stumbled upon your website and am thrilled to have found it. I’m currently working on a senior research project(I’m a history major) that is going to require reading 10-12 books over the next couple months, but afterwards plan on doing something similar to your reading journey. Thank you for what you’re doing.

  17. Thanks for this list very helpful. I’ve read several of them and am reading Oates’ Lincoln and Morris’ Dutch right now. My favorite was McCullough’s John Adams: phenomenal.

  18. If anyone is interested, the Kindle versions of books 1 and 2 of Edmund Morris’s TR trilogy are $1.99 each right now. I think the price drop is because of TR’s birthday yesterday, but those prices will only last for a few days.

    • Thanks, Steve. I am a big Kindle guy. I am on several lists that email me free or reduced price books daily. For some reason volume 1 was on one of my lists but not volume 2. Now I have both volumes. It is amazing how many presidential biographies I have accumulated for 1.99 over the past couple of years.

  19. I’m so glad to have found your website. Last June, I finished my “presidential bio project” after 2 years of reading. Now it looks like I have to start over! Many of my favorites are on your list but some new must-reads are there too. Thank you for bringing some additional bios to my attention. I recommend “Lincoln’s Boys” by Joshua Zeitz and “Those Angry Days” by Lynne Olson for follow-up reading.

    • Congratulations on completing your project – that’s quite a feat! I’m always excited to hear about great bios that others have read that have escaped my attention. I’ll look into the Zeitz and Olson books asap and along the way do let me know if there are others you feel strongly about!

  20. Steve, I have to say that I am so impressed with your persistence and the quality of your reviews. As you are probably aware my reading follows my interests in a scattergun manner and I could never stick to such a focused enterprise over such a long period. All kudos to you. Just curious but did you get to read anything other than presidential biographies during this time?

    • Malcolm, thanks – I’m more than a little surprised myself that I’ve stuck with it for so long (and unless I’m mistaken, you were one of my first visitors!) I’m not prone to giving up on things easily but I think the website has helped me stay on target, particularly in those moments when I was tempted to stray (Andrew Johnson will do that to you I guess). My ability to read unrelated nonfiction has evaporated, but I occasionally sneak in some fiction in parallel (for sanity). I’m a voracious consumer of online information, but otherwise the only other thing I read in print is The Wall Street Journal. Couldn’t do with out that!

  21. Dave Stewart said:

    I have just joined your blog and look forward to future posts. As an avid collector of presidential biographies, I have some favorites. One modest in scope but very excellent biography not on your list is Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer. Its appropriately academic narrative is punctuated here and there by bursts of wonderful humor. It is the only biography in my collection that I read (at a single sitting) and found full of laughs. Anyone who wants a quick view of this minor president might enjoy this one. I don’t know Ted Widmer but am sure that he must qualify as good company on any occasion.

    • Welcome aboard! I can’t wait to hear more about your favorites, particularly where they are missing from my library (like the Widmer bio on MVB). I thought Van Buren was fascinating and deserved an even better biography than the two I read. I’ll look at adding Widmer’s to my follow-up list.

  22. I just started my journey on reading a bio on every president! And I’m using your list to read on each president! Just finished Washington: A Life! Now I’m onto John Adams; I LOVE YOUR WEBSITE AND THE BIOS THAT YOU HAVE PICKED I find this very interesting and one of my favorite websites

  23. I am looking forward to Ron Chernow’s upcoming biography of Grant. He is the best biographer I have read, bar none. He is a true wordsmith. Even after reading Jon Meacham’s recent biography of Jefferson, I found myself referring back to Chernow’s Hamilton biography to flush out the story (example the Citizen Genet affair). I wish I knew when it was coming out.

    • It seems there are a lot of us who feel the same way! The two presidential bio-related events people seem most fixated on at the moment: the publication of Chernow’s “Grant” and of Robert Caro’s final volume in his series on LBJ.

  24. Hi Steve – still pouring over your website and still enjoying it immensely. I’m now reading Dallek’s LBJ two volume biography which is a great counterweight to Caro. Both brilliant biographers but really interesting to read their different perspectives. Elliott

    • I’ve been told that Caro’s volumes are going to change my life – but I’m glad to hear that Dallek’s are also fantastic! Sounds like LBJ got lucky with his biographers. I’m going to be really interested to hear your opinion of the two-vol series once you finish-

  25. Hey Steve,

    I know this does not fit within your scope of presidential books but have you looked into William Manchester’s trilogy on Winston Churchill, The Last Lion? Manchester is a great biographer whose thoroughness compares to that of Robert Caro’s.

    • Funny you mention that – at some point after I’m finished with the presidents I plan to move on to great biographies more broadly. Manchester’s Churchill trilogy is already on my bookshelf just waiting for an opportunity(!)

  26. Love the site. For another perspective, see presidentialbios.com .
    And I too have moved on to great biographies more broadly. Next up Simon Bolivar!

    • Thanks for the website reference – looks interesting! I’ll have to figure out whether I’m missing any biographies on presidents #27-44 that made your “best” list!

  27. Steve,

    Congrats on the TV spot. That was awesome and well deserved. My only criticism was they should have pointed out you have inspired many to do the same. At any rate that was neat. It was good to put a voice to a name.

  28. What an outstanding blog! I blog and review Christian books, but enjoy reading presidential biographies. I have read a few and would like to eventually read one or two on every president. What a resource this blog will be as I decide to pick which ones to read. To have read so many gives such insight on individual volume’s worth. I look forward to following your journey.

    • Thanks so much for your comment! One thing I’ve been increasingly begun to observe is to what extent each believed in a Supreme Being and how, if at all, that influenced their behavior. Many, of course, were not strictly “religious” but did believe in a Prime Mover. Others (John Adams comes to mind) were extremely devout and undoubtedly were shaped by their views/faith. I will enjoy checking out your blog as well –

      • Thanks!
        Yes, some Presidents were devout, some were as you say, and the rest claimed some sort of Christianity apparently only for political purposes. There seems to be evidence that Washington was a stronger believer than most biographers mention. Adams does seem devout. Lincoln seemed to make a profession of faith after Geetyburg. Reagan had a strong faith. It is one fascinating part of the story.
        I enjoy reading your reviews in that I may be looking for one good biography of each, and you really help in deciding. Great job!

  29. How are you able to read so quickly? I write notes while I read nonfiction as well (or else I’ll forget a lot of it), and I seem to trudge through big nonfiction tomes at a turtle pace. I have almost 1,000 books on my to read list, and I’d like to jump into reading more American history, but my reading speed is so aggravating. Any tips on how to get through nonfiction books quicker?

    • I don’t read quickly so much as I just read very, very consistently – usually before anyone else is up, after they’re all asleep, during my kids’ swim or soccer practices and on flights. Anytime you’re likely to be on your iPad or iPod or iPhone, I’m probably reading(!) I also take notes (lots of them) but on a laptop since I can type much faster than I can read (or write). I’m impressed at your backlog – I thought I was being audacious with a couple hundred bios!

  30. Linda Davenport said:

    I think you should add David Stewart’s recently released “Madison’s Gifts” to your list of biographies. I just finished it as a companion to Lynne Cheney’s new book on Madison, and found that it filled in a lot of gaps with its approach of looking at the 5 partnerships Madison formed at different points in his life and political career with Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Dolley, and James Monroe.

    • Thanks, I have referenced it (and three other) recent Madison biographies on my “Recent/Upcoming Releases” page. I’m not sure yet which I will read first after I read Irving Brant’s class multi-volume series, but I will undoubtedly read them all(!)

  31. Billy Watson said:

    I understand H.W. brands has a bio of Reagan out in a few days. I seem to be adding books to my list faster than I read them.

    • Yep, just under three weeks now! Didn’t love Brands’s bio of Andrew Jackson, but I did like his Grant bio and am really loving his bio of Teddy Roosevelt (which I’m reading now). And speaking of adding books faster than you can read them, when I started this I was projected to be finished by now. Instead I’ve got another 80+ books to go(!)

  32. I thought Nixonland by Rick Perlstein was an interesting book about Nixon and his time, but I have not read it in while! 🙂

  33. Scott La Mar said:

    I have just finished the book Reagan : The Life. By H. W. Brands.
    Though I was not a big Reagan fan living through his presidency. I have reconsider my option of Reagan. I found the book to be very good and helped my understanding of why things were done as they were.
    I hope you enjoy it as well as I did. I am looking forward to your review of this book on Reagan and the suggestions from all your reviews of Reagan.

    Thanks again for your reviews and the time you spend in your quest.
    Thank you
    Scott La Mar

  34. Darren Seacliffe said:

    Will you be planning to start on this Herbert Hoover series?

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Life-Herbert-Hoover-Imperfect/dp/0230103081/ref=pd_sim_sbs_b_5?ie=UTF8&refRID=05R1NQ9XZPH306A978ED (one of the volumes)

    Though I have little experience in this field of history, I’ve ample faith that this is the most detailed comprehensive biography of Herbert Hoover at the moment. If you do get down to reviewing it, I’m very sure I’ll read it the moment you publish it. I’ve 2 of the volumes myself. You don’t have to buy all of them if you can’t afford them. I’m happy enough if you can review the volume Imperfect Visionary and the one that comes after it.

    Thank you for your work. I feel motivated to undertake a similar challenge when it comes to my personal library. I may not have as many presidential biographies as you do but I think I’ve enough books to fill up at least half your list of presidential biographies.

    • I would love to read the series but have never been able to acquire the entire set for less than about $200. So while some of the individual volumes look excellent it’s difficult for me to justify spending the time and money to purchase and read the series when relatively few other people are likely to do the same. And I haven’t ever read just one or two volumes in a larger series; so far I’ve either decided to skip a series, or read every volume.

      But given how interesting some of the volumes in this series appear to be I am almost certainly going to put the series on my “follow-up” list and read it once I’ve gotten through all the presidents one time through.

      • Darren Seacliffe said:

        I’ll see if I can acquire the first volume.

        I already have the volumes on Hoover as Secretary of Commerce and President.

        I passed over the volumes on his humanitarian work and his start in public administration. I’ve no interest in his life after the Presidency.

        From what I’ve read, he certainly does seem to be a very interesting man.

  35. Steve Martin said:

    Love your blog so much. Helps me decide what to read next.

    • Thanks for your note, and if you read something that blows you away (or repulses you) do let me know! I love to hear what other people think…even if you completely disagree with me.

  36. redskullduggery said:

    I am planning on attempting a much less ambitious project (reading the single best presidential biography of each president) and your exhaustive reading list will be invaluable in creating my reading list. Thank you so much for undertaking this project!

    Also, when you get to Eisenhower, I will be interested to hear what you think of Jean Edward Smith’s book. I thought it was fantastically written and researched but I was disappointed with the relatively short shrift given to Eisenhower’s presidency, particularly for a book as long as it is.

    • I’m looking forward to Jean Edward Smith’s bios of both Eisenhower and FDR. His biography of Ulysses Grant was my favorite of the half-dozen Grant biographies I read, and I really hope I’m not disappointed when I get to Ike…!

  37. Billy Watson said:

    Agree about Smiths Grant bio. Soooooooo good

  38. redskullduggery said:

    One quick follow up, it appears that Smith has a biography of one of the Bushes coming out in July 2016:


    • Thanks; I just added this one to “upcoming releases” a day or two ago…but I’m still looking for definitive word on whether the subject is Bush 41 or Bush 43…!

  39. I’ve been meaning for quite some time to leave a message thanking you for this outstanding resource. Since about April of this year, I’ve been on my own quest to read biographies of each president. I discovered your blog when I was on John Quincy Adams, and have referenced it ever since. (Incidentally, I greatly enjoyed Kaplan’s biography of Adams, and think you will as well. Liz Cheney’s biography of Madison, on the other hand, struck me as entirely too eager to “reconsider” Madison by engaging in revisionism. This from a guy who’s a fan of both Mrs Cheney and President Madison.) I’m eagerly awaiting your review of Amity Schlaes’ “Coolidge”. I first read it shortly after it came out, well before I decided to read about all his predecessors and successors, as well. Even after the many outstanding biographies I’ve read on the other presidents, I think “Coolidge” is, with the sole exception of Jean Edward Smith’s “Grant”, my favorite, so I’m eager to see your take on it.

    My sole source of complaint, and I’ll age it that this one is a tad unreasonable in my part, is that I’m rapidly catching up to you, since I’m currently reading only one per president. I’m on Cleveland now, and when I pass you I’ll be lost again! Thank you, though, for this blog. It’s been an invaluable resource in my own attempt to learn more about our presidents and our history, and I’ve shared it with several other friends who are equally interested in history.

    • Congrats on your quest and thanks for your comments! I finished Shlaes’s “Coolidge” yesterday and although several people got me excited about it…I was a little disappointed. Part of the problem is probably Coolidge himself whose personality was clearly not designed for a great biography. But although Shlaes was committed to revising history’s view of CC, she didn’t make a convincing case in my opinion. But as always, I’ll need to get through all 6 (or 7?) Coolidge bios before I can really appreciate what Shlaes added to the discussion. But we are in complete agreement on JES’s “Grant” – one of my favorites without a doubt!

      You and my wife both think I’m moving too slowly on this project…and every time a book gets added to my list it adds at least a week to my overall timeline. But thankfully I still find this a fascinating journey; there are few institutions quite as interesting and perplexing as the American presidency and exploring the personalities that fill the office. I sense you will pass me by the end of the year – – and then I can start taking my cues from your reading experiences!

  40. Darren Seacliffe said:

    Congratulations for finishing the Coolidge. When will the review be out? I look forward to reading it.

    I can’t wait for you to start on Herbert Hoover. I’m still thinking if it was right of me to buy the biographies of Andrew Mellon by David Cannadine and 2 of the Hoover volumes.

    Shlaes also wrote a book on the Great Depression. Maybe you can have a shot at it after you’ve read your way through all the presidents. Will you be adding the new president to your list after the elections?

    • Coolidge review should be out today or tomorrow – sometimes it seems to take me as long to write and edit a review as it does to read the book itself. With 130+ books in the rear view mirror now I find it harder to find the perfect way to articulate my impressions of a biography without sounding like something I’ve already said in a previous review.

      • Darren Seacliffe said:

        Well, I feel that me and the other readers aren’t too particular about the way you write these reviews. Even if you recycle some of the comments you made in earlier reviews, it’s the review that counts. Besides the amount of detail and the level of analysis in the books, you may want to talk about the readability of the books you’re covering, the extent to which the author introduces related historical figures or incidents, how much the author goes into the background of the topic he’s covering and your impression of the president after reading the author’s work instead. Personally, I was more interested in the parts where you dealt with these areas than the part on the analysis and the level of detail.

        After all, the most important thing in a biography is not giving the facts (Wikipedia’s enough for that), not analyzing the person (no one can truly understand a person better than him himself) but to engage the interest of the reader in the person and either win his sympathy or persuade him to think negatively.

  41. Steve, may I suggest the addition of Robert Remini’s John Quincy Adams to your follow up list? While it is a contribution to the American Presidents Series (and therefore more concise than a truly great biography ought to be) Robert Remini is a talented enough biographer to make up for this volume’s brevity.

    • Let me take a look. I once promised myself I’d read everything Remini wrote on any topic but while I was thinking specifically of his book on the history of the House of Representatives I’m sure I could handle one on JQA as well. I still wish someone would tackle this presidency in a more compelling and profound way, however…

      • Remini has also written excellent biographies on both Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. He is definitely the foremost author on that period of our history. Now if he would only write a biography on Calhoun to finish out the Great Triumvirate.

      • His House book is great but way too short for the task. He does a great job bringing the different eras to life but it sometimes felt like it was jumping ahead too fast because so much had to be crammed into one volume. I wish I had known more about the prominent Speakers of the House before reading it and it’s definitely something I’ll be reading more than once.

  42. Congrats on the blog and the arduous journey!

    Here’s a list presidential bios not listed on your site and you may want to consider during your follow-up reading:

    The Constitutional Thought of Thomas Jefferson
    The Fox at Bay: Martin Van Buren and the Presidency, 1837-1841
    William Henry Harrison and the Conquest of the Ohio Country: Frontier Fighting in the War of 1812
    The Republican Vision of John Tyler
    James Buchanan and the American Empire
    James Buchanan and the Political Crisis of the 1850s
    James Buchanan and the Coming of the Civil War
    The Loyalist: The LIfe and Times of Andrew Johnson
    President Grant Reconsidered
    Garfield of Ohio, the Available Man
    Benjamin Harrison: Centennial President
    Major McKinley: William McKinley & the Civil War
    Reticent Expansionism: The Foreign Policy of William McKinley
    William Howard Taft: Confident Peacemaker
    Chief Executive to Chief Justice: Taft betwixt the White House and Supreme Court
    William Howard Taft: The Travails of a Progressive Conservative
    Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917-1921
    An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover
    Conflict and Crisis : The Presidency of Harry S Truman, 1945-1948
    Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S Truman, 1949-1953

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and several of your reviews. Take care and enjoy!

    • Wow, that’s quite a list – thanks for taking the time to cross-reference your list and mine! I’ve printed this out and will be looking into each individually at some point. Obviously anything I add up through Wilson will end up on my “follow-up” list but I’ll try to look into Hoover and Truman quickly since there could still be time to make additions before I get to them the first time-

      • You’re welcome! I didn’t realize how long our lists were until I cross-referenced them. I hear that the “Life of Hoover” is an excellent read and I eventually get around to reading all 6 books in the set.

        There are 3 other books I highly recommend in addition to Presidential bios:

        The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America by Jay Sexton
        The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America by Walter R. Borneman
        Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

        Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, contains several insights into the Hamilton/Jefferson feud, Hamilton/Madison collaboration and feud. This is the book if you’re wanting a better understanding of Jefferson and his interaction with another great founding father in Hamilton. You will not be disappointed!

        It would be a real treat if Chernow wrote a Jefferson bio after he’s finished with U.S. Grant.

  43. You embarked on an awesome but profoundly pleasurable task. Owner an reader of biographies on all American presidents upto the Nixon years, I was delighted to see that we agreed in the majority of cases in our assessment. Nonetheless, it was extremely helpful to discover quite a few highly-rated titles unknown to me. Regretfully, many of these are currently out-of-print. Whilst the grand biographies, such as those by McCullough, Meacham and Smith, outshine most of the overly concise works like those in the Presidential Series, I wonder if you have come across Natalie Bober’s “Thomas Jeferson, Draftsmanship of a Nation” and, if so, how you judge its merit.
    Kind regards from a fellow bibliophile,
    Bart van Mourik
    The Hague, The Netherlands

    • Thanks so much for your note, and for some reason I continue to be somewhat surprised when I find people overseas who are as interested in great presidential biographies as I am! I have never come across Natalie Bober’s book, but I will look into it. In addition, someone may read your note and have a view, in which case I hope they’ll share it with us both!

  44. Thanks for the blog! I don’t have a reading plan, but I do read biographies from time to time, and all your research will benefit me when I do decide to pick up a presidential biography.

    I see that you have the Fred Kaplan volume on JQA on your list. I just finished it and loved it. It is one of the best written biographies I’ve read. I was disappointed by only two things. One, I felt that short shrift was given to his presidency. As thorough as other parts of the book are, the biography segment felt like more of a gloss. Quite odd.

    The other disappointment I had with it was that when JQA died, the book ended. I guess that makes sense, given it is a biography, so when the subject dies, why keep writing? But I was rather looking forward to a summary of his legacy, including his descendants, a number of whom were prominent.

    I look forward to more of your reviews!

    • Yes, I have the Kaplan bio of JQA on my follow-up list since it was published after I did my tour through JQA. I’ve been told that I’m probably going to like it..but not love it, and probably for some of the reasons you point out. And I’m often bothered by otherwise excellent biographies that don’t take a few pages to consider a former president’s legacy. In my mind that’s the crucial last step in examining a president’s life. And even 2+ years after finishing my first run-through of JQA biographies I still find him one of the single most interesting presidents (though with a relatively lackluster presidency itself).

  45. A brief comment on James Cannon’s Ford. A second volume (An Honorable Life) was published by the Univ of Michigan Press in 2013. The newer volume picks up where Time and Chance ends (Nixon’s pardon) and takes Ford through Carter’s election.


  46. Awesome blog! Ive been following your page for a few months now & embarked on reading a biography on every president in chronological order. I use your list & reviews as my guide to picking the biographies I will read. I am currently up to James Polk, A Country of Vast Designs by Robert Merry. I started the presidential biography journey by first reading Team of Rivals, which was recommended by a friend, then skipped around to a few other presidents (LBJ, Teddy, Taft) which then made me want to start from the beginning, and so I did. I decided also to pick up a few books on topics/issues which happened during certain presidencies (War of 1812, Mutiny on the Amistad, Mexican-American War, Compromise of 1850, April 1865, etc), I find this gives me a better understanding of some of the contentious issues that these presidents had to deal with, which the biographies do not fully cover. I’ve also noticed that there are some other major characters in these biographies that never became president but played important roles in our government. Characters like Aaron Burr, Hamilton, Henry Clay, Calhoun, Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, etc. I have also picked up biographies on these characters as an in-between read. Anyway, I find your reviews great and extremely helpful, keep up the good work! Also, I am having a difficult time finding an affordable copy on any Franklin Pierce biography. Any recommendations on where to find one? Looking maybe to read the Wallner 2 Vol set.


    • The best site would probably be abebooks.com. There are listings for the Nichols bio in the mid-$20 range. If you’re not concerned about edition, the American Political Biography reprint of it would be a good option. Holt’s bio from the American Presidents series is offered from the mid-teens.

      On a side note, I hadn’t realized the Wallner books appreciated so much.

    • If I wasn’t afraid of turning this 5 year project into a 10 year project I would have *loved* to have read biographies of the supporting cast as I went along (Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, etc. as you point out). I hadn’t thought about reading subject texts on the War of 1812, etc., but that’s a fabulous idea. Only the Civil War seemed adequately covered by the nearly 20 Lincoln and Grant biographies I read. The War of 1812, WWI and WWII were never really the focus of the biographies I read on those respective presidents so I feel like I’m missing a great deal of context (and outright history).

      Re: Franklin Pierce – the Waller series is the place to go if you can find the series. I think I paid $40 in total for the two volumes (former library books as I recall) but I see the price has skyrocketed! I can’t guarantee success but your best bet might be to email the author directly (he has contacted me, so I know he is communicative…his contact info is HERE). You might let him know you found his series on this site and I thought he might be able to help you find a copy of his series at a price that doesn’t resemble a car payment. Maybe he has some sitting in his basement? 🙂

      Good luck, and let me know what you think of Robert Merry’s book on Polk!

      • mgeller20 said:

        Thanks for the recommendations Steve & HBM! Really helpful! I will let you know if anything comes of contacting the author directly!

    • RE; price

      Books are a lot like everything else. They go up and down in price. One thing you can do if you are patient is research the price history on Amazon and put in a notification for when the price gets down to a certain level. The way this works is go to a service (free) like Camelcamelcamel (my fave) or Keepa. You can look at the graphs and see what the lowest price has been and put in a notification. When the price reaches that level you will get an email. As an example, the Wallner book on Pierce about his New Hampshire years is now around $80 but as recently as last fall was 9.91. You could put in a notification on CCC for $10. Might be a month, might be a year or more.

      As an added bonus when you are through you could sell it for more than you paid for it when the price goes back up.

  47. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for producing this list and your excellent insights into these biographies.
    I am not a true scholar of past presidents, as the time available beyond my personal pursuits does not provide for such. I’m just someone who has an interest in learning and gaining a general knowledge of those who have shaped the fabric of our country and democracy. That said, I do enjoy hearing different perspectives regarding each of these men, and yet identifying a contrarian view from the jacket of a book is difficult at best. I’ve bookmarked your site as my “go to” resource for obtaining a clear understanding of what biographies may afford me the opportunity to hear both sides of the story.

    Thank you very much for taking the time and making the effort to build this excellent site!


    • Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts and welcome! I began this journey with the hope, at a very basic level, of getting to know more about the people who have served as president. That mission quickly expanded to understanding more of our country’s history. Now I find myself intrigued by the evolution over time in what it takes to be (and be seen as) a successful president. But to be honest, at the most fundamental level I’m still just interested to find great biographies about the people who have undertaken one of the most complex jobs on the planet.

      Even though this site is just a “hobby” I’m always interested in feedback, so do let me know what you think – particularly if you read something I need to add to my list, or if you disagree with something I’ve posted!


  48. Eliot Kopp said:

    Hi Steve,
    I noticed that you have finished the Black book on FDR. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you started it about two weeks ago. I’m just wondering how you find the time to read such a massive book in only two weeks and are able to truly digest the material enough to be able to review it adequately.

    • Yes, just finished this morning although it may be this weekend before I write / post the review. Answer to your question: a 3-day swim meet with a lot of downtime and two long airline flights. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t sleep on planes and you find yourself on two trans-Pacific flights 🙂 But wow that was a long biography (longest single-volume bio I’ve read so far)…

  49. Eliot Kopp said:

    Great. I’m excited to read your review, because it is difficult for me to read a book written by a non-historian who also happens to be a convicted felon. I am told that it is actually a very well-written, balanced book, but your seal of approval will make it easier for me to undertake the journey. . . 🙂

  50. Chris Carson said:

    I’d add Arthur Link’s 5 volume masterful biography of Wilson to your list. A very comprehensive list, and a great resource for this if us interested in Presidential history.

    Thank you!

    • I added the 5-volume set to my follow-up list in my post on The Best Bios of Woodrow Wilson…but I haven’t seemed to have added it to my master list. Thanks for noticing – I’ll have to make that change asap!

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