Presidents’ Day seems like a good day for updating my U.S. Presidents Reading Project. I’ve been slowly working on this reading project for a few years now. I had a goal of reading one biography of a president per month, but that was a little ambitious. I think I’ve averaged more like one biography every six months, or two per year.
Here’s a list of some of the biographies I either have read or plan to read for this project. If you have any suggestions for the presidents whose names have no biography listed, or if you think I should choose another book other than the one I have listed, please leave any and all suggestions in the comments.
1. George Washington, 1789-97. Washington: The Indispensable Man by James Thomas Flexner, READ: Semicolon review here.
2. John Adams, 1797-1801 (Federalist) John Adams by David McCullough. READ: Semicolon review here. I also watched the mini-series based on this book.
3. Thomas Jefferson, 1801-9 (Democratic-Republican) I’ve taken a dislike to Jefferson after the Washington biography and the John Adams one. So I’m not sure which Jefferson bio to choose, one that’s flattering to restore my faith in this rather contradictory and enigmatic president, or one that’s iconoclastic to reinforce my antipathy.
Beth Fish reviews Twilight at Monticello by Alan Pell Crawford.
4. James Madison, 1809-17 (Democratic-Republican) The Great Little Madison by Jean Fritz. (Read, but not reviewed.) Yes, this one is a children’s book. I plan to read children’s books for some of these presidents because sometimes they’re better than the adult tomes. And I may use the children’s biographies in future school years. And reading a children’s biography may tell me whether or not I want to read more about a particular president.
I also read and wrote about A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor.
5. James Monroe, 1817-25 (Democratic-Republican) James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity by Harry Ammon.
6. John Quincy Adams, 1825-29 (Democratic-Republican) The Life and Times of Congressman John Quincy Adams by Leonard L. Richards.
Or maybe, Mrs. Adams in Winter: A Journey in the Last Days of Napoleon by Michael O’Brien.
I read Cannibals of the Heart: A Personal Biography of Louisa Catherine and John Quincy Adams by Jim Shepherd.
7. Andrew Jackson, 1829-37 (Democrat) American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. I have a copy of this one, and I started it, but never got very far.
8. Martin Van Buren, 1837-41 (Democrat)
9. William Henry Harrison, 1841 (Whig) Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy by Robert M. Owens.
READ: Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too by Stanley Young. (Landmark history book for middle grade readers)
10. John Tyler, 1841-45 (Whig) John Tyler, the Accidental President by Edward P. Crapol.
11. James Knox Polk, 1845-49 (Democrat) Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman.
12. Zachary Taylor, 1849-50 (Whig)
13. Millard Fillmore, 1850-53 (Whig)
14. Franklin Pierce, 1853-57 (Democrat)
15. James Buchanan, 1857-61 (Democrat)
16. Abraham Lincoln, 1861-65 (Republican) Whereas with several of preceding presidents there is a dearth of good biographies to choose from, for Abraham Lincoln, it’s more like an embarrassment of riches. Which biography of Lincoln should I read?
Maybe, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Lincoln and Douglas: The Years of Decision by Regina Z. Kelly. (Landmark history book for middle grade readers)
Abe Lincoln Grows Up by Carl Sandburg.
I did read Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin, not a biography but rather an entertaining glimpse of the times about 10 or 12 years after the death of Lincoln.
17. Andrew Johnson, 1865-69 (Democrat/National Union) The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation by Howard Means.
18. Ulysses Simpson Grant, 1869-77 (Republican) Grant: A Biography by William McFeely.
The Story of Ulysses S. Grant by Jeanette Covert Nolan. Another juvenile biography.
19. Rutherford Birchard Hayes, 1877-81 (Republican) Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876 by Roy Morris Jr. READ, but not reviewed. I have some notes from this book, and I could write a review, even though I read it about a year ago. It was good, but not great.
20. James Abram Garfield, 1881 (Republican) Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield by Kenneth D. Ackerman.
I actually read Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard.
21. Chester Alan Arthur, 1881-85 (Republican) Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves.
22. Grover Cleveland, 1885-89 (Democrat) To the Loss of the Presidency (Grover Cleveland a Study in Courage, Vol. 1) by Allan Nevins.
23. Benjamin Harrison, 1889-93 (Republican)
24. Grover Cleveland, 1893-97 (Democrat) Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage by Allan Nevin. (2 volumes)
25. William McKinley, 1897-1901 (Republican) In the Days of McKinley by Margaret Leech.
26. Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-9 (Republican) I read Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough, River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard, and Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris.
27. William Howard Taft, 1909-13 (Republican) 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs–The Election That Changed the Country by James Chase.
28. Woodrow Wilson, 1913-21 (Democrat) Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency by W. Barksdale Maynard.
29. Warren Gamaliel Harding, 1921-23 (Republican) Florence Harding: The First Lady, The Jazz Age, And The Death Of America’s Most Scandalous President by Carl Sferrazza Anthony. I read most of this one last January/February (2015), but didn’t quite finish it. It’s a really long and discouraging biography of First Lady Florence Harding. The book itself and the writing are fine; it’s the people and events that the book chronicles that are discouraging and sad. I can’t believe that anyone could be as sexually promiscuous and dishonorable as President Harding and still live with himself, much less become president of the United States. No wonder the twenties were roaring.
The Strange Death of President Harding by Gaston B. Means and May Dixon Thacker.
1920: The Year of Six Presidents by David Pietrusza.
30. Calvin Coolidge, 1923-29 (Republican) A Puritan in Babylon: The Story of Calvin Coolidge by William Allen White OR The Autobiography Of Calvin Coolidge by Calvin Coolidge. (After Harding, they needed a “Puritan”—or atlas a gentleman.)
31. Herbert Clark Hoover, 1929-33 (Republican)
32. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933-45 (Democrat) Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham. I rather like Churchill, FDR not so much, so this one sounds like something I could enjoy and learn from.
I read FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin and enjoyed it very much, since it was neither hagiographic nor a a disparaging of FDR and his presidency.
33. Harry S. Truman, 1945-53 (Democrat) Truman by David McCullough. 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner.
34. Dwight David Eisenhower, 1953-61 (Republican) Ike: An American Hero by Michael Korda.
My Three Years with Eisenhower by Captain Harry Butcher.
Crusade in Europe by Dwight Eisenhower.
35. John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 1961-63 (Democrat) I might just re-read Profiles in Courage in lieu of a biography of this overrated (IMHO) president.
I read and wrote about “The President Has Been Shot!” The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James L. Swanson, a YA nonfiction account of Kennedy’s assassination.
36. Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1963-69 (Democrat) The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate, Volume 3 (2003 Pulitzer Prize for biography) by Robert Caro.
37. Richard Milhous Nixon, 1969-74 (Republican)
38. Gerald Rudolph Ford Jr , 1974-77 (Republican)
39. James Earl Carter, 1977-81 (Democrat) An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood by Jimmy Carter
40. Ronald Wilson Reagan, 1981-89 (Republican) Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader by Dinesh D’Souza.
I am reading Reagan: The Life by HW Brands—slowly. It’s good, but exhaustive.
41. George Herbert Walker Bush, 1989-1993 (Republican)
42. William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001 (Democrat)
43. George W. Bush, 2001-2009 (Republican) Decision Points by George W. Bush.
44. Barack Hussein Obama, 2009- (Democrat) Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama.