Stuart's Reviews > Leaders We Deserved

Leaders We Deserved by Alvin S. Felzenberg
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Jul 07, 09

bookshelves: history
Read in June, 2009

As an alternative to Schlesinger's survey of historians rating US Presidents, Alvin Felzenberg proposes rating them by 6 standards: Character, Vision, Competence, Economic Policy, Preserving & Extending Liberty, and Defense, National Security & Foreign Policy. Each of his chapters he tells the story of some key presidential successes and failures on each of these points then gives them a score 1 through 5. He then averages up the score and ranks them. Since I've been reading presidential biographies and I'm a sucker for lists I played along.

Spoiler alert: here are his final rankings! (Note: those with the same rankings are ties and that GW Bush was omitted because his 2nd term wasn't finished by this writing and WH Harrison and JA Garfield were omitted because they died after only a couple months in office):

1 Lincoln, 2 Washington, 3 T. Roosevelt, 3 Reagan

5 Eisenhower, 6 FDR

7 Z. Taylor, 7 Grant, 7 McKinley, 7 Truman, 7 Kennedy, 12 Coolidge, 13 B. Harrison

14 J. Adams, 14 Jefferson, 14 Monroe, 14 J. Q. Adams, 14 Wilson, 14 GHW Bush, 20 Polk, 20 Ford

22 Taft, 22 Clinton

24 Arthur, 24 Cleveland, 26 Harding, 27 Jackson, 27 LBJ

29 Madison, 29 Hayes, 29 Carter, 32 Van Buren, 32 Fillmore

34 Tyler, 34 Hoover, 34 Nixon, 37 Pierce, 37 A. Johnson, 39 Buchanan

It's hard to determine the author's bias, except that Reagan rates very high, higher than I would rate him given that I don't agree with Reagan's Economic or Foreign Policies. Other than that I'd say Felzenberg seems to be very objective and lays out good arguments for why for example Madison's presidency was disastrous or why Jackson is overrated, that his economic stances led to the worst depression until the Great one and that his actions on human rights are abominable. I also agree with him that presidents like Grant and Eisenhower deserve more credit.

So here is my less-scientific ranking:

Greatest presidents - FDR, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Washington

2nd tier great presidents - Grant, Truman

Decent, fairly successful presidents - Eisenhower, J. Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Clinton, Taft, Kennedy, Ford

Simultaneously one of the worst and greatest of presidents: LBJ, Wilson

Successful presidents who I don't particularly like: Reagan, McKinley, Jackson, Polk

Forgettable, unremarkable: Coolidge, GHW Bush, Arthur, Cleveland

Could have beens: Z. Taylor (could have restricted slavery had he lived)

Underrated: B. Harrison (until I read this book I hadn't realized he had tried to protect freedman's rights)

Unsuccessful presidents but great ex-presidents: JQ Adams, Carter

Ineffectual or failed presidencies: Madison, Hayes, Van Buren, Tyler, Harding

Worst presidents of all time: GW Bush, Hoover, Nixon, Pierce, A. Johnson, Buchanan, Fillmore
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