There was definitely not enough time in 2017 to read. So many books, so little time! One of my New Year’s resolutions is to read more books. The following is a list of the books about the presidents that I read in 2017 (the titles below are linked to Amazon or the publisher so you can read more about the book):
- The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World, by A.J. Baime (358 pages). This was clearly the best book I read during the year, and I highly recommend it. If you’re going to read just one book this year, this is the book. It is a compelling story that was a joy to read. Click here to see my previous blog post describing the book.
- His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt, by Joseph Lelyveld (338 pages). This is a well-written and researched story of FDR’s last year in office, and how those close to him knew he was dying. Great book and I recommend it.
- Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary, A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America, by Kevin R.C Gutzman (245 pages). The book is not a biography but an analysis of Jefferson’s political philosophy related to the major issues of his day. The book is fascinating, well-written, easy to read, well-researched, and makes effective use of Jefferson’s writings. It’s also surprisingly relevant for today. Click here to read by previous blog post describing the book.
- The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur, by Scott S. Greenberger (244 pages). Not only was Arthur an accidental president (assuming the office after the assassination of James A. Garfield), but he surprised many with his embracing of civil service reform after a career as a political machine hack. Click here to read my previous blog post describing the book.
- The Afterlife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, by Michael J. Hogan (230 pages). This is not a biography of JFK, although it includes biographical elements, but is an analysis of his afterlife in American memory. It addresses how Kennedy moved from history into memory, the ongoing battles between what history would be revealed vs. concealed, and the tensions between promoting JFK’s style that so captivated people vs. the substance of his policies. Click here to read my previous blog post describing the book.
- George Washington’s Secret Spy War, by John A. Nagg (276 pages). Washington won the Revolutionary War because he was smarter and cagier than the British generals he fought against, and had a better system of spying. Unfortunately, the writing style of the book is uneven, often becomes a victim of the details, and frequently fails to present a flowing and compelling narrative story that demonstrates why the details are important. If you’re really interested in Washington, spying, or the Revolutionary War, you might enjoy the book, but it’s not one I would recommend. Click here to read my previous blog post describing the book.
- The Mafia’s President: Nixon and the Mob, by Don Fulsom (245 pages). While certainly many of the things in the book may be true about Nixon’s involvement with the mob, the book appears to rely more on unsupported, inflammatory, and sensational language. There is certainly an audience that will resonate with this type of narrative, but people interested in serious and factual history will not. There are some end notes used, but many of the assertions in the book are not backed up. The author appears to rely heavily on secondary sources without necessarily evaluating the veracity of their statements, and little on primary sources. Just because someone has said or written something doesn’t automatically make it true. I do not recommend this book. The publisher sent me an advance review copy and I chose not to write a review of it for my blog.
- Truman’s Grandview Farm, by Jon Taylor (116 pages). I picked up this book this summer when I visited the Truman farm in Missouri, along with other Truman sites in Independence, Missouri. This is a good book that gives you a sense of what it was like for Truman to slave away on the farm for 11 years and how that ultimately shaped him. If you’re going to visit Truman sites or have a particular interest in our 33rd president, you should read this book.
- Jimmy Carter in Plains: The Presidential Hometown, by Robert Buccellato (95 pages). This short book is heavy on photos about Plains with informative captions. If you’re planning to visit Plains, this is a good book to pick up before your trip. Click here to read my blog post about my October visit to Plains and how I sat four feet from the former president in church and had my picture taken with him.
- Dealey Plaza National HIstoric Landmark, by Conover Hunt (42 pages). This short book is an important introduction to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the site of JFK’s assassination. I visited the site in 2017, and afterwards recorded a 45 minute oral history interview with The Sixth Floor Museum. Click here for my blog post that has a link to my interview.
- John F. Kennedy Sites in Dallas-Fort Worth, by Mark Doty and John H. Slate (128 pages). Published as part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series, this short book is heavy on photos with helpful descriptions of sites in the area related to the Kennedy assassination. I picked it up on my visit to Dallas and recommend it if you’re planning a trip there.
- Selecting a President, by Eleanor Clift and Matthew Spieler (177 pages). This is a good basic introduction that explains the nuts and bolts of our presidential electoral system while drawing on rich historical anecdotes from past campaigns. A quick and easy read that puts it all in context.
On My Bookshelf: I couldn’t possibly list all the books on my bookshelf that I hope to read this year, but here are just a few:
- Washington’s Farewell: The Founding Father’s Warning to Future Generations, by John Avlon. I’m actually about half-way through this well-written book that is surprisingly relevant for today.
- Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, by Gordon S. Wood. I got this book by the well-known historian Gordon Wood for Christmas and look forward to delving into it.
- The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to George W. Bush, by Fred I. Greenstein. I delivered a talk in 2017 on “Leadership Lessons from the Presidents” and hope to learn more about their styles from this book.