***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 most recently updated August 16, 2021.  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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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)
The Road to Monticello: The Life and Mind of Thomas Jefferson (2008) by Kevin J. Hayes 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 ***
Follow-Up:
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)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Madison ***
Follow-Up:
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)
***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 ***
Follow-Up:
Life and Public Services of John Quincy Adams (1849) by William H Seward
The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams (1986) by Leonard L. Richards
John Quincy Adams (1949/1956) by Samuel Flagg Bemis (2 volumes)
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 ***
Follow-Up:
And Tyler Too: A Biography of John and Julia Gardiner Tyler (1963) by Robert Seager
James Polk:
Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America (2008) by Walter Borneman REVIEW (4 stars)
A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk (2009) by Robert Merry REVIEW (3¾ stars)
James K. Polk and the Expansionist Impulse (1996) by Sam Haynes REVIEW (3½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of James Polk ***
Follow-Up:
James K. Polk: A Political Biography (2 volumes) (1922) by Eugene McCormac
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 ***
Follow-Up:
Zachary Taylor: Soldier of the Republic (Vol 1) and Zachary Taylor: Soldier in the White House (Vol 2) (1951) by Holman Hamilton
Millard Fillmore:
Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President (1959) by Robert Rayback REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Millard Fillmore (2011) by Paul Finkelman REVIEW (2½ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Millard Fillmore ***
Follow-Up:
Millard Fillmore (2001) by Robert J. Scarry
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)
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 ***
Follow-Up:
Abraham Lincoln: A History (10 volumes) (1890) by John Hay and John Nicolay
Herndon’s Life of Lincoln (1888) by William Herndon, edited by Paul Angle
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
“Lewis/Catton” series: Captain Sam Grant (1950) (Vol 1) by Lloyd Lewis, Grant Moves South (1960) by Bruce Catton, and Grant Takes Command (1969) by Bruce Catton
U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (2009) by Joan Waugh
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
The Garfield Orbit (1978) by Margaret Leech
Chester Arthur:
Gentleman Boss: The Life and Times of Chester Alan Arthur (1975) by Thomas Reeves REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Chester Alan Arthur (2004) by Zachary Karabell REVIEW (3¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Chester Arthur ***
Follow-Up:
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)
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 ***
Follow-Up:
I Rose Like a Rocket: The Political Education of Theodore Roosevelt by Paul Gronahl (2004)
William Taft:
The William Howard Taft Presidency (2009) by Lewis Gould REVIEW (3¾ stars)
The Life and Times of William Howard Taft (2 vols) (1939) by Henry Pringle REVIEW (3¼ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of William H. Taft ***
Woodrow Wilson:
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (1991) by August Heckscher REVIEW (4¼ stars)
Wilson (2013) by A. Scott Berg REVIEW (4 stars)
The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (1983) by John Milton Cooper REVIEW (4 stars)
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (2009) by John Milton Cooper REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman (1987) by Kendrick Clements REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Woodrow Wilson (American Prophet and World Prophet) (1958) by Arthur Walworth REVIEW (3 stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Woodrow Wilson ***
Follow-Up:
Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters (7 vols) (1927-39) by Ray Stannard Baker
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)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Warren Harding ***
Follow-Up:
Incredible Era: The Life and Times of Warren Gamaliel Harding (1939) by Samuel H. Adams
Calvin Coolidge:
Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President (1967) by Donald McCoy REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Calvin Coolidge: The Man From Vermont (1939) by Claude M. Fuess REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Coolidge: An American Enigma (1998) by Robert Sobel REVIEW (3¾ stars)
Coolidge (2013) by Amity Shlaes REVIEW (3½ stars)
The Life of Calvin Coolidge (1924) by Horace Green REVIEW (3¼ stars)
The Preparation of Calvin Coolidge (1924) by Robert A. Woods REVIEW (3 stars)
A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge (1938) by William Allen White REVIEW (2¾ stars)
***SUMMARY REVIEW: The Best Biographies of Calvin Coolidge ***
Herbert Hoover:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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 ***
Follow-Up:
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.

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

  1. Travis Satterlee said:

    I am reading each president’s bio by decade to get a 3d perspective of where each past, present, and future president was at any given time. I will be starting 1870 but then I came across your list and was disappointed that I had not read “the best” bio. Going back and reading your recommendation before moving forward with the books on my shelf. One question, with H.W. Bush and Carter bios, since they were written prior to the end of their life, do you think other bios will come out that are more comprehensive? What is your understanding of how long before a time period is “declassified”? I feel like we will have to wait awhile before the Bushes and Clinton’s influence is considered history vs current events.

    • In both cases (Bush 41 and Carter) the most complete biographies I read were extremely comprehensive. And in the case of Carter, the two most recently published comprehensive biographies seem to have fully captured his post-presidency (which has been long and productive). I’m not sure I would wait for something better to come along.

      There has been a bit of discussion on various parts of this site about how many years (or decades) need to pass before history can begin to adequately and thoughtfully judge a presidency. The consensus is around 20 years though it depends on the circumstances. I suspect it will be quite some time before there is a serious “traditional” biography of POTUS 45. And Clinton was relatively young at the beginning of his post-presidency – and his wife’s political career may or may not have even come to a conclusion yet – so it may be awhile before a “definitive” bio of Clinton is possible.

      • As a historian myself, that is the general time period I’ve heard discussed for the last few decades, 20 years. However, partisanship has been making noticeable inroads into academic scholarship in recent years and I feel that that time frame is expanding. As for President Trump, it will take a much longer time for the extreme partisanship that surrounds his presidency to adequately dissipate, allowing for an evaluation of his presidency that’s far more objective than subjective.

  2. Sometime in the Reagan years I started collecting the single “best” one-volume biographies of U.S. presidents. I’d haunt used book stores to fill out the library, read what I bought, and would often sell back or give away books that seemed too biased, not well-researched, or simply out of date in any moral perspective. [At the same time I was also buying Civil War histories and biographies, and creating a large library of birding field guides and bird books. My own published books are on bird status, distribution, or identification topics — obviously, I like books.] My wife advises we’ve run out of shelf space. And it is only now, in Dec 2021, that I find your site! Now what am I to do?
    Fortunately, as I review your site, I find my own choices for the presidential biographies I have on my shelf today to be, in most cases, the #1 or #2 choice you’ve designated for each president. I absolutely agree that the Chernow “Grant,” Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals,” and McGrath’s “Monroe” are fabulous — although most will agree on these — but that Donald’s “Lincoln” could have been better despite its place on my shelf as my choice for a one-volume Lincoln. I found that your balance between “readability” and “historical accuracy” was what I’ve been looking for as well. Yet there have been very poor presidents (Andrew Johnson, Buchanon) and I do appreciate the biographies that make that clear. I did not like Brodsky’s take on Grover Cleveland — he praised GC’s “honesty” when, in fact, Cleveland lied about paternity issues to protect his married friend, while he trashed Clinton (a much better president on policy than GC) — that I couldn’t abide to keep it, and am still looking for an even-handed approach for our only double-numbered president. Still, I’m engaged by your site and your project, and will surely, a very few quibbles aside, spend many hours there as well. And as much fun as I’ll have on your site, I look forward to both more reading and more travel — at least my wife enjoys visiting Presidential libraries, birthplaces, family homes, and graves as we travel across America looking for birds and Civil War sites and National Parks… It is a great life.
    Thanks so much.

    • I’m amused to read that your wife has alerted you to the fact you’ve run out of shelf space. I’ve heard that one before 🙂 We’re now converting an “exercise room” into a library – – exercise for the mind, if you will.

      If I could start this project fresh, I would break my ratings explicitly into “entertainment” and “historical value” and I would undoubtedly be better-placed to rate the former than the latter (since I’m not a historian by trade or training). I hope my commentary provides some insight into those two broad buckets, but I think I would feel better if I made my view more explicit. But now that I’m in a groove…

      I’m having a harder time convincing my spouse to visit libraries, homes, etc. We’ve done everything in the central Virginia area – and there’s certainly a lot here! – but I would love to get to Boston, Michigan, Texas, etc. and just roam and savor.

      Keep me (and everyone else here) up to date on your travels, travails and the moments of presidential serendipity you encounter

      • Thanks! I will say that visiting homes sometimes is more enlightening about a President than even the best biographies. The contrast between the middle-class home of James Garfield — a working farm in his time — and Rutherford B. Hayes’ mansion was evident in a trip to Ohio a couple years back. Just based on their homes, Hayes was a very rich man with a splendid mansion, while Garfield, born in a log cabin, had worked his way up to his expansive farm. Although they were contemporaries, Garfield was clearly much more a “man of the people,” and thus a reformer (for which he was ultimately shot to install Arthur, an old-wing politician), than Hayes. The self-taught Garfield, who allegedly could “write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other” is, I think, much under-appreciated. Like Jefferson, Garfield was always tinkering and improving his farm, and visiting “Lawnfield” is very worthwhile. You see the same dramatic difference in Virginia, as you know, between the homes of wealthy Madison but more middle-class Monroe. We live in California, so visiting most presidential sites have to be during the occasional trip eastwards, and we typically get to see only a couple in any trip. My wife particularly likes those visit that are “one-stop shops,” to wit, the birthplace, the Presidential Library (if any), and the grave are all in one place. With Hoover or Nixon, you get all three at one single site, while for John Adams, Van Buren, or Coolidge, the sites are scattered about a single small town. Just as reading biographies is a work in progress, and ever changing with new publications, visiting all the Presidential sites is also a work in progress, as well as Civil War battlefields, and (for us) birding the world….

  3. I use your blog all the time to help me find Presidential biographies to read. Thank you for your amazing work!

  4. Gary Schantz said:

    Perusing the list, I may have missed one or there are simply none listed by Harlow Giles Unger. I have several of his books and I found them to be good (albeit short ones) books. Yet I run into people that have a dislike of anything this man writes. Do you have a similar opinion since he doesn’t appear in your list?

    • Gary, I’ve read two of Unger’s biographies – one of James Monroe (which was ok, but far from my favorite) and one of John Quincy Adams (which I found good, but was not my favorite of the JQA bunch). I have his biography of Lafayette on my shelf but I haven’t gotten to it yet-

  5. Justin E. Forgam said:

    Hey Steve, I was thinking of picking up a biography solely for entertainment. I know in your criteria you consider historical accuracy and thoroughness amongst other things. Setting aside those, which one of these biographies was most entertaining to read?

    • Some of my favorites for entertainment/engagement: Candice Millard’s “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey”, Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life”, David McCullough’s “John Adams” and John Ferling’s “John Adams: A Life”.

  6. This is incredible! I heard about you from a recent Presequential episode. I began a quest to read one book about each U.S. president years ago, but became hooked and couldn’t stop once I reached my goal. To help me retain what I’ve read, I started doodling cool things I learned along the way. I need to back and read another about Jefferson because I read his biography pre-doodles. I wasn’t sure which biography to pick until checking out your site. (Perfect timing.) Thank you for the recommendation!

    Here’s my bibliography, if you want to take a peek: https://www.potuspages.com/bibliography

    • I love notes / stories like yours! Can’t wait to get your periodic emails and…I love your doodles! Would love to emulate, but the left side of my brain just isn’t quite capable. I’m going to love going through your website in more detail. So much to do & read, and so little time 🙂

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