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Andrew Johnson (The American Presidents #17)

3.44 of 5 stars 3.44  ·  rating details  ·  162 ratings  ·  40 reviews
brPBA Pulitzer Prize-winning historian recounts the tale of the unwanted president who ran afoul of Congress over Reconstruction and was nearly removed from office /BpPAndrew Johnson never expected to be president. But just six weeks after becoming Abraham Lincoln's vice president, the events at Ford's Theatre thrust him into the nation's highest office. pPJohnson faced a ...more
ebook, 192 pages
Published January 18th 2011 by Times Books (first published December 30th 2008)
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This review has to be taken in two parts: the first the subject, and the second the author, because each were evidently profoundly affected by the other, which is apparent throughout the book.

Firstly, Andrew Johnson is consistently rated in the worst presidents rakings and knowing that at the start of a biography made me want to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially after reading (and wholeheartedly disliking) the pre-Civil War corps. I mean, how much worse could Johnson be? What I gath
Jul 02, 2011 Yasmin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Buffs, Those Who Enjoy books by Annette Gordon-Reed
Recommended to Yasmin by: Phyllis Rhodes
So far I've only read about 50 pages of Andrew Johnson and I have two things to say:
Annette Gordon-Reed's storytelling is superb.
Andrew Johnson was a mean SOB; he makes me want to open up a can of whup arze on the ilks of his kind. :(
Book Thirty-Eight of my Presidential Challenge.

"He may not have been the right man at the right time, but he was there at a time so critical to the American story that we simply cannot turn our eyes from him, no matter how painful the view. History is not just about the things we like or the people we want to love and admire - a fantasy date with our favorite dead person. It is about the events in the past that have mattered greatly to a given society and its culture. At the core of Johnson's li
Donny Hilgeman
I enjoyed this book. It was a quick read and from an author I highly respect - Annette Gordon-Reed (Hemingses of Monticello). I did end up with a sour taste for this President as I had with Andrew Jackson (a surprise for me, as I thought I would really like him. His treatment of the American Indians and "monarchial" style of Presidency disgusted me) and John Tyler(the only President who has ever committed treason against the United States- he joined the Confederacy against the United States) . W ...more
Shawn Thrasher
The Andrew Johnson portrayed by Annette Gordon-Reed is a racist pig-headed son of a bitch, and who I am to question her theory? I hardly knew anything about the man coming into this book, other than he followed Lincoln at the beginning of the Civil War, and that he was impeached - and I kind of forgot that until I was half way through the book. Thaddeus Stevens, the Radical Republican from Pennsylvania, called him a "damned scoundrel" and he pretty much was. Gordon-Reed convincingly makes the ca ...more
Kevin Kizer
Wow, this guy was kind of a dick. Although he came from a hardscrabble background, he had zero sympathy for other groups. He wanted to give poor whites free land, but thought giving it to blacks would make them lazy. And he didn't want the government investing in infrastructure, e.g. he was against the government building railroads. He didn't want the government buying anything. Oh yeah, and he HATED blacks. Frederick Douglas related a story about Lincoln's inauguration and how he saw Lincoln po ...more
Because my family lived for over thirty years in Greeneville, Tenn. I am intrigued by Andrew Johnson. This book is some biography but usually the author likes the character they are studying. Annette Gordon-Reed fills the biography with her opinions and really tries to take Johnson on because of his racism. Yes, he was a racist as were most people during that time period. But a more even handed portrait would have made a much better book. I'm surprised a historian of her caliber would create suc ...more
Jeff Crosby
Andrew Johnson is typically listed at or near the bottom of lists of American presidents, with good reason. Historican Annette Gordon-Reed (author of an award-winning book on Thomas Jefferson) sheds light (and more than a bit of heat) on the reasons for that infamy, while also empathizing with Johnson's "rags-to-the-presidency" story that began in North Carolina, moved to Tennessee and then on the White House. She shows the complex set of issues the 17th president inherited upon Abraham Lincoln' ...more
David Bales
Gordon-Reed makes the case for Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth U.S. president, to be one of the worst in history, crippled as he was by racism and the iron will to ensure that white supremacy be the order of the day during the Reconstruction Era; followed the most able president in history. Johnson was probably the most humbly born and least educated of American presidents and was more or less psychologically unfit for the office; spent his entire adult life in politics and was amazingly success ...more
Christopher Litsinger
This book takes an unabashedly negative view of Johnson, and covers his presidency far more completely than it covers his life. And the coverage is at such a high level that I walked away with very little understanding of the nature of the man. This is the 6th paragraph of the book, and it pretty much sets the tone:
Were it not so thoroughly steeped in mindless tragedy — the first assassination of an American president, the destruction of the hopes of a people long treated as property who thought
Korry Thorpe
What an interesting irony that the presidents before and after Lincoln (arguably one of the best presidents in our history) Buchanan and Johnson are just as arguably two of the worst presidents in our history. He was an inept racist who fought hard to block anything that might make african americans the equal of whites. It makes one wonder just how different things might have been had Lincoln not been assasinated...
Annette Gordon-Reed is a master storyteller.
This is a well-researched read where the facts are presented in a very readable fashion.
Besides capturing the essence of Andrew Johnson, the reader is given a clear understanding on how his actions are in many ways still affecting the country today.
It was a pivotal point in our history and he failed the American people miserably.
I recommend to all history readers.
It was purely coincidental that I was reading this during the Civil War and Lincoln assassination anniversaries. The book did a great job of giving a high level overview of the life and politics of arguably the worst president in U.S. history. Johnson comes across as inflexible (at best) and tyrannical (at worst) in his complete disregard of Congress' efforts during reconstruction. He's clearly a virulent racist to boot. I was never 100% clear as to why Lincoln picked him as VP to begin with and ...more
This was probably the worst of the American Presidents books I have read. Trying to read a book on every President sometimes leaves you with slim pickins for the obscure Presidents. Here the author starts with a premise Andrew Johnson was a racist, and precedes to tell you why rather than telling the story of Johnson’s life and letting the reader draw their own conclusions. Johnson led a very hard life like his predecessor Abraham Lincoln. He held all manner of public office, State Senator, Gove ...more
Sagar Jethani
Ishmael Reed recently recommended I look to Andrew Johnson if I wanted to learn the true origins of the Republican party's Southern strategy. At the time, I had little idea what he meant-- wasn't the GOP's courting of Southern racists a recent phenomenon dating back to the 1960s? After reading Gordon-Reed's superb account of the disastrous presidency of Andrew Johnson, I understand what he meant.

When Lincoln contemplated a second term, he realized that the focus would no longer be on winning the
Steven Peterson
Andrew Johnson, with considerable justice, is rated among the worst of American presidents. Succeeding Abraham Lincoln after the assassination, he generated continual turmoil and disagreement between Congress and the executive.

This book tells the tale of Johnson's life. He was a self-made man, coming from a very modest background. He was sent out as an apprentice (close to indentured in status), since the family needed his departure. He worked hard. Over time, he gained skills and set out on his
Jerry Landry
Though not as bad as the Millard Fillmore book in this series, it is clear from the very beginning that Annette Gordon-Reed's focus in this biography is not to present the story of Andrew Johnson's life but rather to paint him as a racist based on 21st century ideals of morality and concepts. While not the most enlightened person of his time, based on my prior readings, it can be argued that Andrew Johnson's ideas of race were not far off from the standard concepts of the time, something which A ...more
Andy Miller
This biography of Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed challenges many commonly held assumptions about the Reconstruction period. One such assumption was that even if Andrew Johnson was wrong in his Reconstruction policies following Lincoln's death, impeachment was not the proper vehicle, was an over reach by the Radicals in the Senate that went against the the separation of powers of our constitution. Of course some carry this assumption even further, that Johnson was simply carrying out Linco ...more
A very brief, but concise, biography of Andrew Johnson, one of the American Presidents series, this is a refreshingly frank analysis of the man and of the tragic consequences his character has had on the course of American history. Is completely free of the usual biographer's sympathy for his subject, is free of any attempt to provide extenuating circumstances, excuses for the subject's failings.

Gordon-Reed gives Johnson's private life only cursory consideration. This may have been unavoidable.
Nanette Bulebosh
One of my weekend passions is watching BookTV on C-Span. Maybe because I've been away from journalism and education for so long, I often find myself entranced by the authors I see during these weekend escapist adventures. Just within the last few weeks I've learned about Eleanor Roosevelt, underground newspapers in the 1960s, George Washington, Julia Child's fascinating youth in espionage work, what it was like to be a British loyalist in the U.S. during and after the Revolutionary War, and the ...more
This portrait of perhaps the worst president in U.S. history is painted with such broad brushstrokes that I paused several times to wonder if it was a young adult book. Gordon-Reed won the Pulitzer for The Hemingses of Monticello, so I can't question her breadth of knowledge. Perhaps she was constrained to such a short book (144 pages) because this bio is one in a series on presidents and they are all relatively short; I don't know. At any rate, 144 pages isn't enough room to recount and analyze ...more
John Venable
A decent book about a horrible president and man.

This book was light on detail and heavy on editorial, but it was still pretty readable.

The brevity of the book is pretty much par for the course for this series, as it's meant to be a survey of each president. I don't want to complain too hard because in my project to read a bio of each president, this series has sometimes been the only option in e-book format. Nonetheless, I'm torn between reading the book about the impeachment proceedings agai
Michael Camire
The Times American Presidents series offer reliably good short biographies, and this one is a good (although not great) example. The book is excellent through the beginning and middle. In the early chapters Gordon-Reed gave a good analysis of strange and virulent nature of Johnson's racism and motivations. And although in the end I found I hadn't been entirely won over from my own position, in one of the middle chapters she provided an excellent argument for a broad interpretation of the impeach ...more
Gary Schantz
While I heard many times that Andrew Johnson was the 1st president to be impeached, I had been under the impression it was because he was a good president up against a bad congress. However that turned out to be exactly the opposite.

The reason I had previously thought him to be a good president who got a bad deal was because he was Lincoln's successor who I believed tried to enforce Lincoln's reconstruction plans. That it was almost the exact opposite of this makes me wonder that Lincoln was not
Pat Carson
Andrew Johnson is another president who was in my "unknown" pile. Gordon-Reed introduces us to a man who worked his way up from the bottom of society. Johnson is, however, a man of his race and time - he takes a turn in the American road that help send us back, not forward to a better future for all. Worth the read.
Brief bio of successor to Abraham Lincoln from a hard scrabble background with little formal education he became a Congressman, Governor and then Senator from Tenn. A Unionist from a Southern state he was selected as VP, with little of what we now call 'vetting', and became the 17th President after the assassination of Lincoln.
The author contends that he set back civil rights for the recently emancipated blacks by a century. He appointed mostly pre-war southern leaders to positions of authority
Colleen Browne
This book is short and designed to be that way because of the series of books that it belongs to. That said, it was long enough. It is depressing to think that anyone actually thought it was a good idea to have him on the ticket in 1864. Gordon-Reed takes no prisoners in her evaluation of the Johnson presidency- and rightfully so. He is a man for whom it is difficult to have empathy for. The author seems to try to find something about the man to like but it isn't an easy chore. At the end of the ...more
Great introduction to Andrew Johnson but far too short to get into any detail which is a shame, given the paucity of scholarly works about him. That's not a complaint as the book is exactly what it intends to be. It is well written, reasonably balanced and hits all the high (or low) points.

Recommended for a more comprehensive history is Andrew Johnson: A Biography by Hans L. Trefousse.
Burt Schoeppe
Inconsequential book about an inconsequential president.

The vice presidency is always a bit of a joke.
William  Shep
The author is a prize winning Harvard professor who has presented a well written account of yet another very bad nineteenth century president. Unfortunately, she makes no attempt to be objective, judging Johnson through the single prism of racism. I guess the fact that the book was dedicated to Democratic Party hack Vernon Jordan did not endear me. In any event, I ranked Johnson as one of the five worst presidents before I read this book and have not changed my mind. However, I would have liked ...more
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Annette Gordon-Reed is a professor of law at New York Law School and a professor of history at Rutgers University. She is the author of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. She lives in New York City."
More about Annette Gordon-Reed...

Other Books in the Series

The American Presidents (1 - 10 of 41 books)
  • George Washington (The American Presidents, #1)
  • John Adams (The American Presidents, #2)
  • Thomas Jefferson (The American Presidents, #3)
  • James Madison (American Presidents, #4)
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“History is not just about the things we like or the people we want to love and admire—a fantasy date with our favorite dead person.” 0 likes
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