The following is the list of nine books about the Presidents that I read in 2014:
- Thomas Jefferson – From Boy to Man, by Jayne D’Alessandro-Cox, 342 pages. This book is more a personal account of Jefferson’s early years than it is a description of political issues of the times. This is a very human account of Jefferson and his family. Click here to read my complete blog review of this highly engaging and well researched book.
- Pat and Dick – The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage, by Will Swift, 386 pages. We generally think of Richard Nixon as just a politician and he certainly was that – down to his bones. But he was also a husband and a father with two daughters. This well-researched book humanizes Nixon as we gain a deeper understanding of what drove him. His personality, fears, struggles, and insecurities are all vividly painted in this portrait of our 37th President. The book helps us view Nixon not just as a politician, but as a person, and Pat not just as a silent partner in a marriage, but as a vital part of what allowed Dick to succeed. Click here to read my complete blog review of this well written book by a man trained as both a historian and psychologist.
- Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage, by Jeffrey Frank, 349 pages. Never personally close, partially due to both of their personalities, Eisenhower (standoffish) and Nixon (awkward) forged a pragmatic relationship. But Ike never really warmed to Nixon and almost dumped him from the 1952 ticket after reports of Nixon’s secret fund surfaced, leaving him on only after Nixon’s famous “Checkers” speech resonated with the public. In 1956, Ike tried to again dump Nixon from the race for a second term, offering his vice-president a cabinet position. In the 1960 campaign, Nixon was not helped by Eisenhower’s comment that he couldn’t think of any policy idea he had adopted of Nixon’s. A readable book about this strange political marriage.
- Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard, 265 pages. This is a highly readable and fascinating book about the assassination of President James A. Garfield. I came away from the book with a renewed sense of appreciation for Garfield, who could have gone down in history as a great president had not his term of office and life been cut short by an assassin’s bullet.
- The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War, by Daniel Stashower, 331 pages. This well-written book tells the story of a plot in Baltimore to assassinate Lincoln on his way to Washington for his inauguration in 1861, how the plot was uncovered by detective Alan Pinkerton, Lincoln’s agreement to change his travel plans and disguise himself, and how he was ridiculed for sneaking through Baltimore in the middle of the night. I kept thinking about how history would have played out differently if Lincoln had been assassinated as president-elect. So many “what if” questions are, of course, left unanswerable.
- Wilson, by A. Scott Berg, 743 pages. Scott Berg brings Woodrow Wilson alive with his detailed and readable narrative of our 28th President’s life – his childhood, his academic career, his short political life before being elected president in 1912, the drama of his presidency in which the President influenced by the power of the written and spoken word, and the debilitating stroke that incapacitated him physically and emotionally during the last almost year and a half of his term. Earlier strokes had also impacted Wilson’s approach to life, hardening him and affecting his judgment and vision (both literally and figuratively). Wilson is a grand historical character, and at the same time, a tragic figure.
- Case Closed, Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK, by Gerald Posner, 526 pages. More than 50 years after Kennedy’s assassination, conspiracy theories about JFK’s assassination abound as a profitable cottage industry. In this compelling 1993 book, Posner argues convincingly that Oswald acted alone. He makes the case both based on Oswald’s troubled past and by debunking the various conspiracy theories and demonstrating how they are often factually inaccurate and without any credibility, and often concocted purely for publicity or to gain financially from the tragic events in Dallas in 1963. There would not be sufficient room on the Grassy Knoll if all the theories about shooters supposedly there were true. Who killed JFK? Obviously, there are still unanswered questions, but Posner’s book is a significant contribution to solving the mystery. In 2017, additional information that has remained sealed, will be made available to the public. The debate and investigation will continue for years to come.
- The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy, by Larry J. Sabato, 427 pages. Easy to read and substantive book analyzing Kennedy’s short term of office, his assassination, and how the public continues to be fascinated with JFK more than 50 years after his death, rating him as the best President of the second half of the twentieth century.
- Jerry Ford Up Close: An Investigative Biography, by Bud Vestal, 208 pages. This book was written in 1974 when Ford was vice president and many people were asking questions about the man who had become vice president on December 6, 1973 after an overwhelmingly positive vote by Congress. The book discusses his early years and rise to power. An easy read and good basic introduction to Gerald Ford.
Mike Purdy’s Presidential History Blog
© 2015 by Michael E. Purdy