***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. 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?


    • 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.


    • 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 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.


      • 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!


  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.

      • Hi Steve, if you ever get around to reading the Oxford series, I would love your take on the writing. I just noticed a new book in this series coming out soon by an author named White, covering the years spanning the Reconstruction and the Gilded Age. Sounds very intriguing.

    • Max Placje said:

      A good book on the Gilded Age is American Colossus by H W Brands. They cover all the Robber Barons you mentioned and how they interacted with the presidents.

  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.”

    • I read Baker’s book, Days of Fire. I liked it but it’s hard for me to judge it since it’s the only book I’ve read so far on W. I do, however, have Smith’s Bush in my shopping cart and I’m looking forward to purchasing and reading it. I’ve never read a Jean Edward Smith presidential bio yet, but I do have his Eisenhower book on my shelf, so I’m inching to get to it. It does seem odd, though, that he wrote such a very critical assessment on Bush. I heard that it is quite one-sided.

      • J.L. Jensen said:

        You heard correct. I was quite taken aback at the vehemence with which Smith lambasted Bush 43. It was actually disconcerting to read. Granted, his treatment of Bush’s early life seemed fairly even handed, but once he unleashed his fury I was left questioning how truly objective even the first part of the book had been. Given that I enjoyed Smith’s other books, I was utterly amazed at this one. It was like it was written by a different author altogether. His “Grant” is my favorite bio on our 18th president, and I’ve read quite a few (Chernow’s upcoming bio may take my #1 spot for Grant bios). My friends who hate Bush 43 loved this book, but even they admit it is not objective. They know how moderate I am in my views and how meticulous I am in my pursuit of academic honesty, and they were amazed I even read “Bush” because it is so far from the usual fare I study.

  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?


    • 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!

  40. I am also reading biographies on Presidents as well as other American historical figures. My reading has not gone in chronological order but rather randomly move from one President to another. Your reviews have been a tremendous help as well as provide interesting analysis that I have used throughout my own reading.I was not sure if you have added “Jefferson: Architect of Liberty” by John B. Boles to your list. I found that Boles offered great insights into both the personal and political life of Jefferson. In my mind, it is a contender with Jon Meacham’s “The Art of Power” as the best comprehensive single volume biography on Jefferson. Would love to see a review of this in the future to read your thoughts.

    Take Care

    • Thanks for your note and for the info on Boles’s recent book. I have it listed under 2017 Releases on my “New Releases” page since it came out about 6 weeks ago…but you’re the first person who has provided me any feedback. At some point in the near future I’m going to thoroughly comb my “New Releases” page for biographies that have come out in the past few months and which I haven’t yet added to my “Follow-Up” list. Based on just a few minutes of research, the Boles bio definitely looks like something I should read!

  41. Steve, I read Gentry’s bio on Hoover many years ago and remember enjoying it, so it might be worth the read for you. It was my first foray into Hoover and the makings of the FBI, so I was intrigued.

    Btw, I just noticed a new FDR bio by Robert Dallek coming out later this year. You might want to look into that as well. I’ve never read anything by Mr. Dallek, but I have listened to a series of lectures by him regarding the U.S presidencies of the twentieth century and I was riveted, so I would like your take on his writing, if you can. Thanks!

  42. Is Lewis Gould’s treatment of Teddy Roosevelt on your to-read list yet? I would be surprised if I knew of a Presidential biography that you did not given the amazing thoroughness of the above list, but I don’t see it listed.

    • Since I’ve read Gould’s books on the McKinley and Taft presidencies it might stand to reason I would have added his book on TR’s presidency (but I see that I have not). I’ll have to take a look at it; I hate to miss something awesome but I’m also increasingly focused on biographies that are comprehensive rather than focused on just a person’s presidency. And despite how many books I’ve either read or plan to read, you might be surprised how many are *not* on my list. Presidential biographies are a more popular topic than I suspected when I first jumped into this project!

  43. Judy P. said:

    What a wonderful source for us Presidential nerds!!! I have read a number of these bios. Looking forward to reading ones unfamiliar to me. One of the best bios ever is “Destiny of the Republic.” Garfield was a gentleman and Scholar. His death was a blow to the progress of our nation.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I loved “Destiny of the Republic” and if I could peek into the “future that might have been” I would LOVE to see how the Garfield administration would have turned out and how US history in the late 19th century might have evolved differently…

  44. Chris Scheer said:

    I was very surprised you didn’t read Douglas S. Freeman’s George Washington bio. Is there any reason why?

    • When I started this project (with George Washington) I simply was not aware of the Douglas Freeman series or its abridgment. By the time I stumbled upon it as a “must read” I was already on to John Adams, so I started a “follow-up” reading list with Freeman’s biography as the inaugural member.

  45. This website is an incredible resource. Being from Detroit, I have been reading about post-WWII expansion and then decline of the city and I became interested in other aspects of that era. I previously read Truman by McCullough and am in the middle of An Unfinished Life by Dallek. I’m already looking for Eisenhower and LBJ biographies and stumbled across this website. WOW. Now I have about 40 more books I want to read. I can’t wait for the LBJ reviews.

    • Jeff, thanks; I can’t wait for the LBJ reviews either 🙂 I’m enjoying JFK (he’s more interesting AND more flawed than I expected) but I’m *really* looking forward to Caro’s series on Lyndon Johnson…

  46. Michael K said:

    Steve, thank you for creating and maintaining this excellent blog. A little over three years ago I started my own journey through the presidential biographies. I just wrapped up my initial goal of one biography per president earlier this month with David Cay Johnston’s “The Making of Donald Trump”. Your blog was an extremely valuable resource in deciding which biographies to go with.

    It has been a fascinating way to learn more about American history, the growth of the country and government, and the people who have shaped our country. Plus it’s been nice to add a little focus to my reading. Now I just need to figure out what to read next! I think my first follow up might be to dive into TR’s story a little more. I read the Edmund Morris series, but want to learn more about my new favorite president.

    • Thanks for your comments and congratulations on finishing such an audacious project!

      I’ve found this journey keenly insightful and have gained a perspective on our political system that would be difficult to appreciate without having “lived through” so many presidencies (Washington through JFK at the moment).

      TR is still on my short list of favorite presidents (well, at the very least, one of my favorite presidents to read about…) The Morris series was great but if you’re now hoping to dive into his life story in more depth, Candice Millard’s “River of Doubt” might be just what you’re looking for.

      • Michael K said:

        Thanks for the follow up recommendation. I just finished it last night. Probably the best page turner of all the presidential books I’ve read so far.

  47. First off, i would like to thank you Steve for this wonderful website. I hope i am not being off-topic with this website but would you consider reviewing biographies of Confederate President Jefferson Davis? I am only able to read 1 book per president and I usually choose the book that you rated the highest, and I have never been disappointed with your recommendations. Right now, I am choosing between two biographies of Jefferson Davis, the one by William Cooper and the one by William Davis. I am really hoping you would review biographies of the one and only Conferederate President Jefferson Davis someday so I can finally choose which one to buy.

    • John, thanks! I have a “Related Reading” list of biographies I’ve been inspired to read based on my journey through my collection of presidential bios. Jefferson Davis is absolutely on that list and right now I’m planning to read bios of him by McPherson, Cooper, Davis and a series by Strode. Unfortunately it will probably be 2019 before I get to these… 😦

    • In my opinion, William Cooper’s biography replaced The Man and His Hour by William Davis. Dr. McPherson’s book has the benefits of brevity and great writing.

      • Thanks for the preview! I certainly hope one or more of these bios will live up to the potential contained in Jefferson Davis’s life.

      • Speaking of related reading: You should consider Taylor Branch’s AMERICA IN THE KING YEARS trilogy on Martin Luther King, Jr. PARTING THE WATERS (volume 1) won the Pulitzer in 1989. He had access to many sources (i.e., FBI files, wiretaps, etc.) unavailable to Stephen Oates in 1970.

      • Thank you a thousand times – I somehow missed the Branch series when I was searching for excellent coverage of MLK! Really looking forward to reading this.

  48. redskullduggery said:

    Only two more JFK books before you can start reading Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson series! Are you excited?

    • …you have no idea! 🙂

      • Hi, Steve. You have created a very impressive website. Your reviews are lucid and thoughtful. Two questions: 1) How much time each day do you read a biography? (It looks as though you read a book a week.) 2) How long does it take to write a review?
        Also, here a two reference works that I have found to be useful: The Presidents – A Reference History, second edition, 1997, Henry Graff, editor; and The American President – From Teddy Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, 2015, by William Leuchtenburg.
        Best regards, Brad

      • Brad, I try to read 50-60 pages a day (either first thing in the morning – I’m an early riser! – or in the evening) but have found that more often than not I find time every *other* day and get through about 100-125 pages. For each book I keep a running list of interesting/funny/clever or particularly insightful quotes as well as my impressions of the book as I work my way through it. I use those impressions to create the outline of my review; writing, editing and publishing a review usually takes me at least 4-5 hours… I’ve just not found a way to go any faster 🙂

        Thanks for your references – I’ve got Graf’s book (I only wish it was circa 2015 not 1997!) and I’ve looked at Leuchtenburg’s but have never pulled the trigger. Might be time to go ahead and get that one!

      • Darren Seacliffe said:

        I’m intrigued. If you read 50-125 pages a day, how many pages do you read an hour…..I wonder how you’re able to read 1 page a minute. I usually take 5 minutes to get through a page when I read.

        It’s already very fast…..if it were me, I’d take twice the amount of time to write, edit and publish a review. I’m a relentless self-editor. I simply can’t release the “Enter” button unless I’ve edited each paragraph twice.

      • I probably average 20 or 30 pages an hour, but it varies depending on the author’s writing style, the density of the topic, etc. If it took me five minutes to get through a page I would probably still be on Andrew Jackson 🙂

        Part of the value of my taking notes (I never read without my laptop open to a Word document where I record the best quotes and most notable observations I come across) is that it limits my speed and reinforces what I’m reading / learning.

        I still feel like 5 hours to write an 8 paragraph review is inefficient. While I’m reading I am (at least subconsciously) thinking about what I might say about the book, and I’m also taking notes to that effect. And yet…I find that writing the review is tedious and time-consuming (but also rewarding, in the end). Fortunately, after about 190 reviews I have it down to as much of a science as it can be (for me). But I’m not joking when I say I probably go through about 40-50 drafts before I hit “publish”…!

      • Darren Seacliffe said:

        Damn, what’s your secret to finishing a page in 2 to 3 minutes. I spend an average of 5 minutes per page….Even if you spent 4 years reading 36 to 40 books, that’s about 8 to 10 books per year…I’m embarrassed at my reading speed….unless you don’t need to spend 5 minutes because you might already have read what you’re reading now so you can get through the page more quickly. Even more so if this is the third or more time you’re reading about something….

        My reading list is as long as yours so I’m hoping to find out your secret of reading quickly and effectively….I don’t know if I can review the books I read as well as you do.

      • In part, I think the benefit of reading multiple (often a dozen or more) biographies of one person is that once I’ve read about something one or two or three times…the next time I’m not “re-learning” facts so much as I’m absorbing the author’s writing style and point of view on the event. But I’ve never consciously thought about the degree to which my first book on a president takes me longer than the next several.

      • Yes, I think it has a lot to do with the writer’s style on how many pages one can get through an hour or day (or minute). But it also has to do with how the page is laid out (how many lines of text are on a page due to the font size, leading and so forth). Right now I am reading Chernow’s Grant and I seem to be breezing through it without feeling bogged down and I’m generally getting through at least 50 pages a day in about two hours. His style of writing lends much to that effect. Before Grant, I read Jean Edward Smith’s bio on George W. Bush. At about seven-hundred pages, I read that in a week, which is quite an accomplishment for me but if you looked carefully, the book is constructed to have an average word count less than, say, Grant. Also, Smith’s writing style lends to an easy read. On the other side of the spectrum, though, seems to be Caro’s LBJ series. I went over to my bookshelf and picked up one of his books. I opened up the book and looked at a page. “Wow!” I thought to myself, seeing a thick block of black text scrunched together, “this is definitely going to be a task to read!” No wonder if been holding it off.

        Also, Steve, I just encountered a new book coming out next year on Eisenhower called ‘The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s” by William Hitchcock. You may want to check it out.

      • Roger Chambers said:

        I am not sure if this is the right thread, but I have followed with interest the various comments by many on various presidential biographies. While not perhaps as widely read as some of the participants in this discussion, might I add a few general and specific comments.

        I have a collection of reprint biographies of the Founding Fathers, a boxed set of 8 or 9 biographies, one on George Washington by Henry Cabot Lodge. According to Lodge, Washington was portrayed as a patron saint of the American Independence, one who could do no wrong. Another bombastic and almost Trump like in its demeanor is Teddy Roosevelt’s autobiography. And yet another is a biography / history of Spanish American War and McKinley, published c1901, in the same super patriotic saint like coverage.

        It is interesting how various Presidents are dealt with in different eras, perhaps particularly Jefferson, Jackson, and now Grant, with the new biography supposedly tends to emphasize his views on racial equality, or at least more opportunity for former slaves now often at a loss of what to do or how to live.

        It is perhaps difficult during the time of the President’s retirement years for definitive biographies of perhaps Bush I or Bush II to emerge, and the better ones would likely emerge a decade or so after their death. Thus, the recent biographies on Lyndon Johnson are important, not having read them yet.

        Overall, I commend the originator and participants of this site for having the incentive to spread the word on the very interesting and varied as to quality or reliability of various biographies of the American Presidents. I find the various reviews and comments interesting and infrequent enough so as not to be annoying. Keep spreading the word on these books.

      • One of the reasons I enjoy reading biographies of different ages/vintages on specific presidents is that I love seeing how opinions of that president have “evolved” over time. But I admit I haven’t been terribly systematic or studious about this. Nevertheless, this does influence some of the “follow-up” reading I intend to pursue – in several cases I’m going back to get an older perspective on someone (such as Harry Barnard’s bio of Rutherford B. Hayes or the Ida Tarbell series on Abraham Lincoln).

        I’m still trying to understand Jean Edward Smith’s decision to publish a biography of Bush 43 so near the end of his presidency. I have an intuitive feeling that 20-25 years need to pass in order for a biography to have enough distance from the subject and his/her times to really fairly capture and assess the person.

        Thanks for stopping by so frequently and for your thoughts. As you said more fluently than me, the best feature of this site (in my humble opinion) is the commentary left by people who have read these books, often have special insight into them, and are willing to share their thoughts. (Of course, that’s also why my list has exploded from 100 biographies to 240 in addition to a robust follow-up list…!)

  49. John Conforti said:

    I found this site at the beginning of the year, and it has just been incredible. It’s inspired me to make a journey of one per president (on Lincoln). Thanks for the reviews – I often choose based on your recommendation (with the exception of Grant, as Chernow was always going to be my choice), and it has left me with some pretty stellar reads. So thank you!

    • If Chernow’s “Grant” had been out a few years ago it certainly would have been on my list to read and if history is a guide it probably would have been one of my favorites!

      • Bruce Wycoff said:

        I have as high an opinion as anyone of Ron Chernow’s work, but compared to all the attention Chernow is getting (four full-page reviews that I’ve seen), Ronald C. White’s 2016 Grant biography seems to have fallen through the cracks into oblivion. As of today, White’s biography of Grant is more highly rated by Amazon reviewers than either Jean Edward Smith’s or Chernow’s. Again, this is not to take anything away from Chernow, only to give a warning against new, shiny objects in general.

      • Since they were published after I finished reading several Grant biographies, I still need to follow-up with White’s and Chernow’s biographies. I can’t wait to see how they compare with JES’s which was my favorite of the ones I read at the time…

      • J.L. Jensen said:

        I re-read Smith’s “Grant” shortly after reading White’s “American Ulysses.” I loved them both, though for me, the edge still goes to Smith, but not by much. White produced a top notch biography that I recommended to a few friends who don’t read history like I do but they actually read it and all loved it.

  50. Steve, you may want to look into a new bio coming out next year on Jimmy Carter entitled, “President Carter: The White House Years,” by Stuart E. Eizenstat. The author worked within the administration, and being over a thousand pages, it appears to be quite comprehensive. Give it a look if you can.

    • I’ve been keeping my eye on it since I knew it was slated for publication – I periodically check to see if the “preview” of the table of contents is available and so far I haven’t seen it. But I have noticed its extreme length and the fact it’s focused on his presidency so although I may not be able to incorporate it into my current list, it seems likely to end up high on my follow-up list. Studies of presidencies, as opposed to presidents, sometimes leaves me yawning but I’m hopeful this proves penetrating *and* interesting!

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