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Reading Presidential Biographies

February 15, 2016

In an age when presidential election campaigns provide as much fodder to The Daily News and Entertainment Weekly as they do the New York Times and Time magazine, it seems quaint to celebrate our presidents as individuals. So much spin, empty promises, and inanity!

Yet today is President’s Day, when we in the United States celebrate our presidents, and I can’t think of a better time to announce my new reading project. In an effort to better understand the men who held the office, the office itself, and even our nation’s history, I’ve decided to read a biography of a baker’s dozen of our presidents.

I chose them according to my own interests and what I already had on my bookshelves, and I intend to read them in chronological order of the presidents’ terms in office. I expect some will take me quite a few months to read, so I make no promises to complete this project in any particular timeframe. Instead, I plan to read as much and as willingly as I would any other nonfiction book, perhaps occasionally interrupting it for a good page-turner or classic children’s novel. And the list here may change, since I have more than one biography of a couple of the presidents represented, and I may decide to change out LBJ for Nixon or Jackson for Quincy Adams or perhaps some other substitution.

As it stands today, I’ll  read the following biographies:

  1. Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
  2. John Adams by David McCullough
  3. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Joseph J. Ellis
  4. James Madison by Richard Brookhiser
  5. Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini
  6. With Malice toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen B. Oates
  7. Grant by William S. McFeely
  8. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex, Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
  9. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  10. Truman by David McCullough
  11. An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917–1963 by Robert Dallek
  12. Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of an American President and Presidential Power Ever Written by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  13. Turning Point: A Candidate, a State, and a Nation Come of Age by Jimmy Carter

If you’ve read any of these volumes or want to read along with me, I’d be delighted to share perspectives with you.


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  1. Jim M permalink

    Thanks for pointing this out on our Springsteen group, Joanne! Glad to have someone to talk about these presidential bios with.

    What are we going to do when we get to guys like Franklin Pierce, Millard Fillmore and the other “forgotten” presidents? Not much popular history out there on them.

  2. Well, actually, my project is to read just a baker’s dozen, a selection of presidents who’ve interested me over the years. Or maybe presided over interesting times in the country. But I really want to hear what you think of the ones whose terms seem unimportant or uneventful or even worse. I keep second-guessing my picks, too, by the way, and I may change my mind about a few. So keep in touch as you read through them! I hear there’s a decent bio for John Quincy Adams out, probably a year ago, by Fred Kaplan. Might be worth reading.

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