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Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

Old 01-16-09, 09:27 PM
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Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

I've decided to catch up on my Presidents. All of them. Mostly in order.

Which are the best biographies? I'm especially looking for recommendations for the lesser-known ones or the ones who have millions of books written about them (Fillmore and Washington, respectively). And something preferably in one or two volumes, i.e., not Sandburg's Lincoln. And including both personal and political life.

I have all the McCulloughs (Adams, T. Roosevelt, Truman), but that's about it.

Thanks all.
Old 01-16-09, 11:21 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

I liked American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Ellis, but it's been a while.

Donald's Lincoln was pretty good too, but again, I don't remember much about it, except that it was an enjoyable read.
Old 01-17-09, 01:46 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

Joseph Ellis' American Sphinx is good for Jefferson. (He also has a volume on Washington, which I haven't read.)

David Herbert Donald's Lincoln is excellent.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Age of Jackson has long been considered a stand-out. His Age of Roosevelt (FDR) is likewise very good, but it's in 3 volumes.

Edmund Morris is generally considered the go-to guy on TR, although his Reagan book is loopy.

You've got a lot of choices for JFK, but I'm fond of Richard Reeves' book. (He's also got volumes on Nixon and Reagan, which I haven't read.)

Nixon also has a lot to choose from. I liked the 3-volume bio from Stephen Ambrose. If you want a single-volume bio, you might try Herbert Parmet. (Parmet also has a book on the senior Bush.)

Robert Caro can't be beat on LBJ -- 3 volumes with another to come.

For Eisenhower your best bet is probably Ambrose. His two-volume bio was condensed into Eisenhower: Soldier and President.

For Reagan I liked Lou Cannon's book, but that was an early one and there have probably been some good ones published since.

Garry Wills has several books that, while not strictly biographies, would make provocative reading, including books on the Kennedys, Nixon, Reagan, etc.

All of my history books are boxed up, so I'm drawing a blank on the lesser-known presidents, most of whom don't have comprehensive bios. But this should help get you started.
Old 01-26-09, 08:39 AM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

I second the Robert Caro series on LBJ - had to read the first volume for a university class years ago and have kept up ever since - really good stuff - also check out some of Doris Kearns Goodwin's work - Lyndon Johnson & the American Dream, No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The American Homefront During World War II, and most recently Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln - not definitive biographies of their subjects, but closer to snapshots of aspects of their time in office.
Old 01-29-09, 11:19 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

I'm just about finished with Ronald Reagan's An American Life: The Autobiography. I'm a lifelong liberal (in the classic sense) and found his arguments very persuasive. Regardless of the disagreements I have with several of his policies, I have come away from reading this book feeling like I have a better sense of why he and I disagreed. I won't get into it, but suffice it to say that I took issue with some of the consequences of his policies. I once feared they were deliberate, but I have come to believe they were sincerely unintended. If nothing else, it's good to be forced to re-examine your own beliefs and reading the transition of a lifelong Democrat into the modern-era Republican standard bearer has been healthy for me. Plus, no matter how you cut it, the man was a natural storyteller.
Old 01-30-09, 04:26 AM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

How did I miss this thread???

Cut from the other Presidents thread:

His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis

John Adams by David McCullough

American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

James Madison: (The American Presidents Series) by Garry Wills

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Sadly these are all the books I have read about presidents.

I am working though Thomas Jefferson and his time which is a six volume set and also I have Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman sitting on my mantel at home ready to be read.
Old 01-31-09, 11:06 AM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

Originally Posted by Lateralus
I thought this thread seemed familiar, but missing things I could have sworn were already covered. I would also add:

Eyewitness to Power - David Gergen
Thank You, Mr. President - A. Merriman Smith
Old 02-02-09, 03:09 AM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

Originally Posted by starman9000
I liked American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Ellis, but it's been a while.

Donald's Lincoln was pretty good too, but again, I don't remember much about it, except that it was an enjoyable read.
I too liked Donald's Lincoln the most.
Old 02-11-09, 02:32 AM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

I liked American Sphinx The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Ellis.
Old 07-07-10, 10:37 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

Old 07-07-10, 10:57 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

The only thing worse than a spammer is a lazy spammer.
Old 08-19-10, 06:19 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

Originally Posted by Joe Camel
Someone recommend some good bios on George Washington please.

I see His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis as one of the titles listed above.

Is that the best one? Any others?
The Presidency of George Washington by Jack Warren, though short, is much better than Ellis's take. And for a somewhat different point of view, but still focusing on his actual presidency, George Washington by Burns and Dunn, and part of Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s American President's Series, is well worth a look. This might be the better of the two, even if I don't agree with all of it.

Of course for a long time the classic work was Forrest McDonald's, but I think his view at the time of Washington being somewhat of a place holder has been refuted. One other book of interest, except it deals with much more and earlier time periods, is the new book by Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington. But then I like most of Professor Ferling's work.

A great many more broader subject books cover his presidency as well.
Old 03-22-12, 10:34 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

Any other good presidential bios that have come out since?

I have my sights on Ron Chernow's bio on George Washington, which recently won the Pulitzer.

Eric Foner's latest on Lincoln "The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery" is also on my wishlist.

Same with David Hackett Fischer's "Washington Crossing" and Mary Chesnut's Civil War....

Anyone read Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln"? I'm not expecting it to be a scholarly work. What is the main idea of the book. I know I can do a simple google search or read amazon reviews or even crack open the book at the bookstore, but I don't feel like it. I mention it only to get some feedback.
Old 04-12-12, 09:36 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

I haven't read Killing Lincoln, but Manhunt by James Swanson is fantastic. There's also a "sequel" called Bloody Crimes, which takes on the Lincoln funeral and the hunt for Jeff Davis.
Old 10-07-12, 04:35 PM
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Re: Best Presidential biographies? (For each and every President.)

David McCullough's biography of Harry Truman might be even better than his John Adams.

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