Biographies of the U.S. Presidents

I’m participating in only a couple of reading challenges this year, and the one I’m most enjoying so far is the U.S. Presidents Reading Project. I have a goal of reading one biography of a president per month, and I’m on target, having finished a biography of Washington and having read about halfway through John Adams by David McCullough. Here’s a list of some of the biographies I 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. Semicolon review here.

2. John Adams, 1797-1801 (Federalist) John Adams by David McCullough. I also plan to watch 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 (not too much Jefferson in the John Adams book yet, but Jefferson probably won’t be a hero in that one either). 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. 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.

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.

7. Andrew Jackson, 1829-37 (Democrat) American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham. This one is displayed prominently in the bookstores, and it looks interesting.
Also, there’s Old Hickory: Andrew Jackson and the American People by Albert Marrin.

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

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, Commander and Chief: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War by Albert Marrin. I like Mr. Marrin’s books.

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.
Or, Unconditional Surrender: U. S. Grant and the Civil War by Albert Marrin.

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, 2014.

20. James Abram Garfield, 1881 (Republican) Dark Horse : The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield by Kenneth D. Ackerman

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) 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
Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of Modern America by Albert Marrin.

27. William Howard Taft, 1909-13 (Republican)

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 (Read, January, 2105). Wow, Harding was a cad and a person of low character. I didn’t finish or review this bio because it was so depressing.
The Strange Death of President Harding by Gaston B. Means and May Dixon Thacker.

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.

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 actually read and enjoyed FDR and the American Crisis by Albert Marrin in October, 2015.

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.

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

41. George Herbert Walker Bush, 1989-1993 (Republican)

42. William Jefferson Clinton, 1993-2001 (Democrat)

43. George W. Bush, 2001-2009 (Republican)

44. Barack Hussein Obama, 2009- (Democrat)

I guess for most of the presidents I haven’t decided on a biography or related book. I’m taking suggestions, folks.

15 thoughts on “Biographies of the U.S. Presidents

  1. I am also taking the US Presidents Reading Project challenge. I plan on reading several that you have listed. Will you post the suggestions for president books to read if others make them?
    Good Luck on the Reading Project. I am finding that, at the moment, I am having a hard time reading a biography – my mind wants to read a fiction story.

  2. OHHH, I like this. I had never heard of this. I am going to have to do this. Thanks for the great idea! I am headed for my library’s online catalog to request some books!

    PS.I have a lot of FREE Predent’s Day resources listed on my site at http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/coffeewithmrsdani/658682/ including a link to pics of the presidents in case you are doing a lapbook or notebooking.

  3. SFP

    I’ve gotten a negative view of Jefferson over the last few years myself and that view may be intensified by reading Joseph Ellis’ American Sphinx, which I’ll probably start before the week’s up. My son ADORES Jefferson and recommends that I read Merrill Peterson’s Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation. I promised to read that one last, so the pro-Jefferson view would be the one more likely to stick in my mind.

    Sherry, have you read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton bio? I know he isn’t a president, but oh my, is it ever a wonderful reading experience (very anti-Jefferson, though).

  4. Right now I’m reading Carl Sandburg’s Abe Lincoln Grows Up to my kids, and we are all loving it. With Sandburg’s wonderful poetic prose and his storytelling, this reads like fiction. I love it, although I’m not sure it’s what you might chose for a grown-up reading challenge!

  5. For Theodore Roosevelt I would strongly recommend that you read “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris. He became President at age 42 but had done so much before that time that it fills a whole book. I had no idea just how much until I read this book. It’s all about his life up until the time he became president. I loved this book and so did my husband. I liked this one much better than Morris’ follow up, “Theodore Rex” which was about his presidential years.

  6. Please read Obama’s Dreams from my Father. It doesn’t cover his later years – I think it ends before he meets his wife even – but is a fascinating and astonishingly honest look inside his early years. It’s also a very well-written and engaging book. And I’m not saying that as an Obama fan, but as a fan of good writing.

  7. Tone

    Check out 1920: The Year of Six Presidents by David Pietrusza. A very informative and unbiased book that gives a great deal of insight for #’s 26-32.

  8. SactoReader

    For Andrew Jackson, I would HIGHLY recommend the bio by H.W. Brands. Brands is a superb narrative historian. Whereas Meachem’s book focuses on Jackson as president, Brands’ book focuses on Jackson’s whole life. Jackson’s life is too fascinating to just read about his years as president.

  9. Judy Dudley

    I have heard a lot of good recommendations for “Team of Rivals” (Abraham Lincoln). Perhaps you could give that one a try?

  10. Judy Dudley

    Also, I have just finished watching “John Adams” and found it to be extremely fascinating. It has made me try the book, even though I was intimidated by the size of it at first!

    Adams’ life was quite interesting. And I would also like to know more about his wife Abigail as a result of watching this miniseries.

  11. ace

    I highly recommend In Search of Bill Clinton
    It is a psychologist’s view of the president. I would also recommend skimming the chapter on Ireland. Not because it was not a significant period in history, but because the author’s personal admiration for Clinton is (IMHO) a little too apparent.

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