8 Fascinating Books About Americans Who Really, Really Wanted To Be President

Posted by Hayley on February 19, 2018

Today is Presidents Day in the United States—and you know us. We love any excuse (even Groundhog Day) to dig up interesting book recommendations.

Some backstory for anyone who skipped U.S. history class: Presidents Day is celebrated on the third Monday of February. Congress established the holiday in 1879 to honor George Washington, but by the 1980s, Americans were using the day to recognize all presidents. Many businesses and schools close for the day, and if you own a television, you know your nearby car dealership is having an excessively patriotic sale.

If you want to read about the presidents, that's cool; there's a Listopia for that! However, we thought we'd turn our attention to what might have been, to the men and women who ran for president…and failed (plus Alexander Hamilton, who had his political dreams dashed by scandal and an infamous duel). We searched for the best-reviewed books, only selecting books that earned a 4.0+ average rating from your fellow Goodreads members. Take a look! Would any of these presidential hopefuls have had your vote?

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Raise a glass to our presidents and would-be presidents! And share your own favorite historical books with us in the comments.

Check out more recent blogs:
The Novelists That Made TV's The Wire a Classic
16 Author Birthdays to Celebrate in February
Here Are Books to Read for Every Groundhog Day Forecast

(Top image and GIF credit: Hamilton)


Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Wade (new)

Wade Snowden "What Happened" by Hillary Clinton


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I haven't forgotten the last President want to be in America. Usually, I don't think of the losing Presidents. This time it's different. Perhaps, because the last one who lost is a woman I think of her almost daily or weekly.

For some reason, I am interested in reading about the Presidents who have won. I'm definitely going to look at the Listopia. I wouldn't read them in order. Just start at something they accomplished or didn't accomplish while in office.

Of those eight books listed above, there are a few that interest me. Didn't know about "The Woman Who Would Be President." I looked at the title. Then, I thought of Woodrow Wilson's wife. She played such a significant role after his illness while in office.

Thank you for leading me to a new reading goal. I am becoming more interested in reading with a theme in mind. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm looking for challenges. I do very poorly at challenges. Maybe this goal is a Pre - Challenge idea.


message 3: by mina (new)

mina NEVER GONNA BE PRESIDENT NOW! (never gonna be president now.)

I read the Alexander Hamilton book, and I thought that it had a lot of interesting information on him that was not in the musical (as I listened to the musical before reading the source material.) I had always thought of Hamilton a different way before reading.


message 4: by A. J. (new)

A. J. Frances Gore Vidal's Burr is a novel, not a biography.


message 5: by Susanne (new)

Susanne Not a biography, but I would recommend Whistlestop by John Dickerson. I think it's a good starting point for anyone interested in presidential campaigns.


message 6: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale Publius wrote: "Gore Vidal's Burr is a novel, not a biography."

Did the title specifically say it was about BIOGRAPHIES? If not, don't get your knickers in a twist.


message 7: by Yaaresse (new)

Yaaresse Shirley Chisholm and Adlai Stevenson II come to mind. If there is a really good book about either of them, though, I've not found it.

Norman Thomas ran something like six times, really notable only because FDR ended up using a lot of his ideas, but if you look in the dictionary for "perennial candidate," I'm pretty sure Harold Stassen's picture is in there. He's probably running for President from the grave.

No, the list doesn't specifically claim that all the books are biographies, but the Vidal book being the ONLY fiction on the list is misleading...although Nancy Isenberg's biography of Burr certainly reads more like fiction than Vidal's novel in places. If someone wants a non-fiction on Burr, Stewart's American Emperor is a good one.


message 8: by A. J. (new)

A. J. Frances Amber wrote: "Publius wrote: "Gore Vidal's Burr is a novel, not a biography."

Did the title specifically say it was about BIOGRAPHIES? If not, don't get your knickers in a twist."


When I first got to this post, it said "the best-rated biographies" and now it says books. So, good on them. And my knickers are fine.


message 9: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale LOL


message 10: by Mark (last edited Feb 19, 2018 12:01PM) (new)

Mark Seriously? Goodreads is going to come up a list of eight books about people who "really really" wanted to be president, and one of them is a biographical memoir of an entertainer? If you're going to include a book about someone who made a farcical run for president Pat Paulsen would be a MUCH better choice!


message 11: by Mark (new)

Mark Yaaresse wrote: "Shirley Chisholm and Adlai Stevenson II come to mind. If there is a really good book about either of them, though, I've not found it.

There;s plenty of biographies of Stevenson but which one is the best one depends on your definition of "good." As for Chisholm you could try her autobiography, Unbought and Unbossed.


message 12: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Browne Amber wrote: "Publius wrote: "Gore Vidal's Burr is a novel, not a biography."

Did the title specifically say it was about BIOGRAPHIES? If not, don't get your knickers in a twist."

It is a novel but there are several good biographies on Burr-the man who would be dictator.


message 13: by Colleen (new)

Colleen Browne Interesting topic and a few of the recommendations might be worth reading but including fiction seems a bit silly. How about Seward, Salmon P. Chase, or Calhoun? There are many more who might have been better choices.


message 14: by JDR (new)

JDR I AM NOT THROWING AWAY MY SHOT


message 15: by Joan (new)

Joan Mark wrote: "Seriously? Goodreads is going to come up a list of eight books about people who "really really" wanted to be president, and one of them is a biographical memoir of an entertainer? If you're going t..."
Or Dick Gregory.


message 16: by Yaaresse (new)

Yaaresse Mark wrote: There;s plenty of biographies of Stevenson but which one is the best one depends on your definition of "good." As for Chisholm you could try her autobiography, Unbought and Unbossed. ."

Good for me would be accurate/well-researched, not having an personal or political agenda by the author except to inform/report, and not too dry. I realize those are subjective. :)

Thanks for the Chisholm suggestion. I'll look for it.


message 17: by Mark (new)

Mark Yaaresse wrote: "Good for me would be accurate/well-researched, not having an personal or political agenda by the author except to inform/report, and not too dry."

Wow, you're not asking for much, are you? ;-)

The problem with Stevenson biographies is that just all of them were written by people who worked for him, so the "no agenda" criteria will be difficult to meet. Try Porter McKeever's Adlai Stevenson: His Life and Legacy, which is well-written and balanced despite the author's association with his subject.


AelinAshryverGalathynius Just the Hamilton meme though... I love it!!


message 19: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Saunders Lots of great books on this list! Robert Remini's book on Clay is one of my favorite biographies. The Rockefeller book is phenomenal. And Ron Chernow's Hamilton book needs no introduction from me.


message 20: by AHHHHHH (new)

AHHHHHH I really want to read Hamilton’s biography by Ron Chernow but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I have so many books to read, and then there’s also other responsibilities. I guess I’ll just have to wait for it.
Also, of course Henry Clay would be included here. He ran for prez like 5 times and he basically lived forever (don’t question this. It’s 100% true. All great compromises are made with his spirit in the room).


message 21: by Eule (new)

Eule Luftschloss > Some backstory for anyone who skipped U.S. history class:
This made me giggle quite a lot.


message 22: by Sarah (new)

Sarah What about something on Victoria Woodhull?


message 23: by Mark (new)

Mark Sarah wrote: "What about something on Victoria Woodhull?"

Try Lois Beachy Underhill's The Woman Who Ran for President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull.


message 24: by Visco (new)

Visco Skittle AHHHHHH wrote: "I really want to read Hamilton’s biography by Ron Chernow but haven’t gotten around to it yet. I have so many books to read, and then there’s also other responsibilities. I guess I’ll just have to ..."

"I guess I'll just have to wait for it"

You don't get a win unless you play in the game. You get love for it, you get hate for it, you get NoThInG if you wait for it wait for it wait

GoD hElP aNd FoRgIvE mE i WaNnA bUiLd SoMeThInG tHaT's GoNnA oUtLiVe Me


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