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Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians
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Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians

3.31 of 5 stars 3.31  ·  rating details  ·  126 ratings  ·  31 reviews
The author of the acclaimed biography of President James Polk, A Country of Vast Designs, offers a fresh, playful, and challenging way of playing “Rating the Presidents,” by pitching historians’ views and subsequent experts’ polls against the judgment and votes of the presidents’ own contemporaries.

Merry posits that presidents rise and fall based on performance, as judged
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published June 26th 2012 by Simon & Schuster
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Ranking of presidents began with Arthur Schlesinger’s polling of historians in 1948. It was revived in 1996 by his son Arthur Schlesinger Jr. who commissioned a poll of 32 participants. There were many other ratings which are discussed in detail. They were all similar in that they ranked Lincoln, Washington and Roosevelt as greats.

What seems to be the best way to rank the presidents is to use The 13 Keys to the Presidency by Allen Lichtman and Ken DeCell. The author uses these keys extensively.
Ranking presidents may not be a national past time, but Robert W. Merry makes us feel that it should be. He encourages his readers to have fun as they play the "Rating Game", and provides fascinating analyses as he moves us around the game board. His thesis: by examining academic polls and the will of the electorate, as measured by results at the ballot box, we arrive at fairly consistent ratings of presidential performance.

We learn a lot about presidents while playing the Rating Game. Mr. Merry
I'm no expert on presidential politics, but I find ranking the presidents an intriguing idea. Lincoln, Washington, and FDR are kings of the domain, whereas James Buchanan, Ulysses S. Grant, and Andrew Johnson are the turds in the punch bowl (a bunch of FLOTUS in the POTUS, so to speak [wait what??]). But why is it considered a consensus that the Presidents Roosevelt and the men on our money (except Grant of course) sit atop the power rankings? Is it because all the academics involved are liberal ...more
Charles M.
For presidential history afficiondos, rating presidents is where it's at! Everybody has Washington, Lincoln and FDR in top 3; but this author gives a fascinating thought-provking system of rating the chief executives, based on voter approval, elections, etc. Soooo, Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland are considered ranked too high; while William McKinley, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan are ranked too low. Must read for anybody interested in presidential history; and it quotes most recent public ...more
Doug Vanderweide
Billed as an examination of the "parlor game" of rating the presidents, this book is instead -- at least through its first 4 1/2 chapters, which was all I could tolerate -- a pedantic, plodding treatise over seemingly everything but the merits of any president's position in history.

It reads like a political science graduate student's thesis, and is every bit as difficult to consume.

Given that its author, Robert W. Merry, cut his teeth as a longtime reporter with the Congressional Quarterly, I
This is solidly three stars. The writing is personable, which helps when your topic is every president in history, including the boring ones. However, when it comes to rating each president, there's not a whole lot to say about why they are ranked the way they are. Maybe you learn a bit more about Franklin Pierce (yes, we had a president named Franklin Pierce), but there's precious little of substance that can be said about why the electorate and historians like or don't like a president.

The thr
Because of the 2012 election, I wanted to study up on the hisorical perspective of U.S. Presidents and what rational is used to rank the greatness of these individuals. As I researched this subject, I continued to see the book "Where They Stand" by Robert W. Merry as a new and valuble source. The book is filled with charts and listings of previous polls concerning Presidental ranking. The same polls I found free on the internet. He also proposes a unique rational of evaluating the greatness of a ...more

Mr. Merry, a former journalist, takes the pastime of rating the Presidents of the United States with some seriousness. I think he does have add a nice twist to the process, by comparing historian's rankings with the electoral success of the presidents or the success of their political parties in retaining the White House upon the end of their legally required or customarily expected two terms, if they made it that far. One tricky bit, nicely dealt with, is how to judge Presidents such as Theodo

Fr. Ted
An interesting book, and easily readable. Merry takes a critical look at various polls since the 1950's which have ranked and rated U.S. Presidents. His is not another poll, though he does offer thoughts about how he would rank the presidents, but rather he looks at possible criteria for ranking presidents and looks at how the various presidents measure up. His analysis of the presidents was very close to what I read in Andrew Polsky's ELUSIVE VICTORIES. What he maybe failed to do was define "gr ...more
The author states that this book is not for political scientists, but rather political aficionados. I think that's why I had such a hard time getting through this book (TWO WEEKS and I'm a fast reader!)-- I am neither of those; just a person who likes American history and was interested in seeing what others think about our current and past presidents.

For this "record", the author looks at seven (7) historical Academic Presidential Polls: Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. in 1948, Arthur Schlesinger, Sr.
I have a weakness for presidential history. I heard about this book on Morning Joe. They said, "So readable." I don't think they actually read the book. This is not The Presidents Club. That book actually told a story.

I found the organization of the book very confusing and had to check the table of contents constantly to see where I was. The author has this thesis about rating presidents according to history's ranking and the current electorate's vote. He repeats this thesis over and over and o
Ever since I was little I've had an interest in presidents. I wanted to be president for a while. (Abandoned that when I found out what the job really entails lol.) But I remember pouring over different president books, memorizing their accomplishments, etc. So when I saw this book at the library I had to check it out.

It wasn't very long, which was nice, though I kind of would have preferred a chronological history of where the author believed the presidents stood in history. I suppose though th
I found it interesting to learn how historians and politicos view the presidency as a whole and the individuals who occupied the position. Taking into consideration society, economics and politics, each president was evaluated by various people and placed in a particular category. While I agreed with the placement of most of the presidents, I disagreed with a few. There are a few presidents who actually did more harm than good politically and economically yet the historians placed them in ...more
The American Conservative
'Merry displays an admirable instinct toward crowdsourcing in his exploration of presidential greatness and failure. “I place stock in collective assessments—the rankings of hundreds of historians through multiple surveys over several decades; and the collective judgment of the electorate as it hired and fired presidents through the course of American history,” he writes.

Of course, there are some problems with holding historians’ assessments in contrast with contemporaneous voters’. One small on
Although I sometimes disagreed with Merry's assessments of American presidents, he provides a lot of good points. Presidential election results are often a matter of timing or good fortune, and I wouldn't put as much stock into those results as Merry has in his book. However, that's the joy in following the various rankings. He raises good questions about why certain presidents get away with problems (corruption, abuse of power) and others are heavily penalized. Overall, I started to see how pre ...more
Merry takes a look at the several rankings of US Presidents and adds his own innovation to the mix: that of considering how the people of the time felt about the President and not just at how historians consider things. The innovation doesn't change much for the best and worst Presidents but it does bring up a few interesting inconsistencies: Grant - loved by the people, not by historians; Wilson - not so loved by the people, highly esteemed by historians. Merry discusses Clinton (good), Bush (p ...more
Enjoyed Merry's book about Polk so much, that I was looking for more from him.
Interesting topic, with enjoyable reading and illuminating observations.
I liked it, but not sure whether the material was expanded upon as much as it could have been.
The first section on the academics and their polls of successful presidents is incredibly dry. I was tempted more than once to give up, but I'm glad I didn't. The meat of the book is about the presidents, their successes and their failures. This was the part I found interesting. I knew much of the historical detail, but it was good to put it into the perspective of how the people voted at the following election. How did the populace feel about the War of 1812, for example? Is a president who doe ...more
Robert Merry takes a look at the rating of U.S. presidents. He briefly discusses the rating lists, noting the ascension and descension of the Presidents and possible reasons for their fluctuations. He then reviews the Presidents' terms in office and explains how the greats and not so greats got to be rated as such, something I've always wondered. He adds his opinion to the rating of others and based on his own rating system, adjusts the list. Merry even takes a stab at the most recent Presidents ...more
Very interesting new viewpoint on the presidential rating game. From the noting of differences between the judgement of voters and the judgement of history to describing what he terms the "five men of destiny", Merry gave a summary of the various ratings of the Presidents that have been given over the years, and then offers one of his own.

Although I don't agree with all his presidential ratings (ex: I think Millard was a failure, and I think John Adams was a better president than he's given cred
Jan 26, 2014 Don rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
This isn't really a book about who was the best president, but it's a history and analysis of the various compilations of presidential lists over the last 50 years or so, which is more interesting than it sounds.
Justin Greenman
May not interest many but I liked it
The book posed well thought out constructs on what can make or break a presidency. We have of course experienced it first had with the recent election. It is another thing to go back into history and look at what issues defined the historic presidencies. I was kind of expecting more of a trivia pursuits presentation but got from Merry a serious look at what defines greatest and failure in the eyes of historical perspective and how this changes over time and reevaluation.
Tim Smith
Insightful review of president's place in history and how they hold it. Book stresses the wisdom of voters, even though it may not appear so at the time. Most interesting (especially now) is the hypothesis (Lichtman & DeCell) that reelection is due, not to effective campaigning, or debate flubs, or whatever, but by how successful a president met the expectations of voters - 13 keys.
Tries to marry the verdict of historians and voters - and comes up with a really interesting book. If we have faith in democracy, then the verdict of voters matters. RW Merry does need to address, in all of this, the 'tyranny of the majority' problem, compounded by large segments of the populations being able to vote prior to civil rights legislation.
Shawn Thrasher
No big surprises here, particularly if you like reading presidential history. The tops and bottoms in the presidential popularity contest are the usual suspects, but it's interesting finding out reasons why that may be so. Intellectually nourishing, but not awe-inspiring.
Greg Miller
Interesting reading, but slow at times and strangely organized. The categories and topics made sense but cause the narrative to jump around a lot. I like his idea that Presidents can be rated by their electoral results - a different "take."
A very interesting book that explores all the presidents' ratings both by historian over time and by the electorate of the time. Some surprises came up for me. It was enlightening to look at the qualities that go into a great president.
As a fan of several presidents, you might find food for thought and some fun reading hours in Where They Stand. The author examines the American presidency and the American voter, then takes a stand on who our best presidents were.
This close to election season, Where They Stand is a very refreshing book. Merry maintains a very positive view of the American electorate which is
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