Kiddosphere: Hail to the Chief aka Presidential Biographies
It all started with the 2012 presidential campaign.
Half of my attention was on one of the debates, while the other half was focused on Ron Chernow’s relatively new biography of George Washington. While I’ve been a presidential history fan since I was a child, it had been a long time sine I had read a single biography of a president. “Why not,” I thought to myself, “read a biography of each president?”
Well, here we are, three years later, and I am DONE.
When people found out that I was embarking on this project, the question that was inevitably asked was, “Which president is your favorite?” Now, that is a LOADED question. I don’t have a favorite president. What I do have is a list of the top 10 presidential biographies I’ve read:
The actual narrative of Washington, A Life is around 800 pages, which I normally have no patience for, but Chernow delves so brilliantly into Washington’s psyche and the birth pangs of the new nation that I was lost in it.
David McCullough’s John Adams was a monster bestseller and a popular HBO miniseries for all the right reasons; Adams is a fascinating character who was often unfairly overshadowed by Washington and Jefferson.
Hopefully, the renewed attention to John Adams will spill over to John Quincy Adams, who deserves to be better studied and known. John Quincy’s childhood was quite chaotic; as the son of one of the Founding Fathers (and a very popular First Lady), expectations for him were sky-high. His political career began in his teen years, and his presidential term ended in defeat; his later Congressional career, in which he fought against the slave trade, deserves to be better known (the movie Amistad has definitely helped in that regard). John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life is a must read for American history fans.
If I had to make a top 5 list, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House would absolutely be included. Jackson’s place in history is undeniably tied to the forced migration of Native Americans; he was a provocative and scandal-ridden man in his day, but also devoted to his family (he had three adopted children, including a Native American child).
Although James Garfield was only president for nine months (and incapacitated for most of it), Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, And the Murder of a President is a captivating account of his early political career and the dazzling changes in the late nineteenth century. Fans of medical history would love this.
Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris is the second entry in Edmund Morris’s trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt; as I am mostly interested in reading about the actual presidential term(s), I chose this one for my TR book. This begins with Roosevelt’s shocking ascendant to the presidency after William McKinley’s assassination and details his advancement of the national parks system, his controversial meeting with Booker T. Washington, and his own assassination attempt on his life (this part is incredible reading, as he continued with his speech while Secret Service agents were desperate to get him to stop).
The Bully Pulpit: Theordore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, And the Golden Age of Journalism was the first of two Doris Kearns Goodwin doorstoppers that I read. She wrote an engrossing account of the friendship between Roosevelt and Taft, and how Taft’s abrupt dismissal of Roosevelt’s policies led to the near-destruction of their friendship.
Having a bewildering amount of biographies to choose from is quite dizzying; luckily, I don’t think I could have chosen better than Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II. Although this was written before the full extent of FDR’s extramarital affairs was discovered (Goodwin does discuss them in detail), it stands the test of time as a thrilling account of an extraordinary life and lifetime.
David McCullough’s Truman is a classic in presidential biographies, and an enormous read. Truman’s Missouri boyhood, his faithful devotion to his wife and daughter, his unbelievable second-term victory and humiliating conclusion of his presidency is an amazing read.
Being Nixon: A Man Divided is a stunning biography (and a brand new 2015 title!). Evan Thomas explores the weird, tragic, and unbelievable life of Richard Nixon in a fair and eye-opening read.
For the full list, please see The Kiddosphere @ Fauquier.
Jennifer Schultz, Youth Services Librarian, Fauquier County Public Library
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