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Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times

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4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,979 ratings  ·  266 reviews
From a preeminent presidential historian comes a groundbreaking and often surprising narrative of America’s wartime chief executives

It sometimes seems, in retrospect, as if America has been almost continuously at war. Ten years in the research and writing, Presidents of War is a fresh, magisterial, intimate look at a procession of American leaders as they took the nation
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Hardcover, First Edition, 752 pages
Published October 9th 2018 by Crown
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Bill Gates
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
If I had been just a year or two older, I might have been called to serve in the Vietnam War. I think that’s one reason why I’m so interested in books and movies about the war. I always come back to the same question: If I had fought in the war, would I have showed courage under fire? Like many people who have not served, I have my doubts.

In addition to thinking about those who fought and died in the war, I have also spent a lot of time learning about those who directed the war. My interest in a
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Jeffrey Keeten
”At about 4:30 on Friday morning, April 12, 1861, a single mortar shell tore a thin streak through the blue-black sky over Charleston Harbor, then dropped onto Fort Sumter, exploding into a burst of red and orange.”

 photo Fort20Sumter_zps8f8svhrg.jpg

With that one mortar shell, South Carolina touched off a conflict that would claim the lives of approximately 618,222 soldiers. The greatest toll of lives, by far, of any war fought by America. There were two very different perspectives of the prospect of this war. The South was e
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Aaron Million
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Michael Beschloss spent a decade researching and writing this absorbing portrait of American Presidents taking the country into various wars, and his commitment to the project shows in its high quality. This is a very good book, and as usual with Beschloss, combines popular readability with vigorous research and extended, informative footnotes. Beschloss shows how, over time, the war-making power of Congress has been usurped and now basically ignored by Presidents of both political parties. This ...more
Matt
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
“While donning his sack coat, [Captain Charles D.] Sigsbee had found a ten-month-old letter from one of [his wife] Eliza’s friends, which had gone unanswered. On the ship’s tricolor stationary, he started writing Eliza (‘My darling Wife’) to apologize, and heard the [USS] Maine’s Marine bugler, ‘Fifer’ Newton, the popular third baseman for the ship’s baseball team, play 'Taps.' Sigsbee put down his fountain pen to listen. Then, at 9:40, just as he slipped his completed letter (‘Lovingly, C.D.S.’ ...more
Lorna
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Presidents of War: The Epic Story, from 1807 to Modern Times is a meticulously researched book that author Michael Beschloss has spent the last ten years in preparing it for publication by reviewing correspondence, diaries and declassified documents, which is quite apparent in the historical sweep and scope of the book. This historical narrative begins in 1807 with the assault on the USS Chesapeake and the measures taken by President Thomas Jefferson to avoid war through the Bush administration ...more
Laura Noggle
Sep 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019, history, nonfiction
Excellent and especially relevant as it pertains to current international affairs.

Not surprised to learn that most of the presidents were lifelong avid readers—wish that was currently the case. As Harry S. Truman said, “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

Appreciated the different perspectives from the biographies on Grant and Roosevelt I read earlier this year.
Joseph Sciuto
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Michael Beschloss' "Presidents of War" is an extraordinary work, so extraordinary that it should be required reading for anyone seeking the Presidency, Vice Presidency, a Senate seat, a congressional seat or any cabinet positions in the United States Government. 

This amazing piece of historical record brought me to tears on many occasions just thinking about the mothers and fathers who lost their children to wars fought for the benefit to get a President re-elected, out of selfish pride, stupid
...more
Boudewijn
Intimate portraits how the 'Presidents of war' fared during the war years, their struggles, both politically and emotionally and how the original vision of the founding fathers has eroded during modern times

At the dawn of the American republic, the framers of the constitution had a dream: that war would be regarded as the last resort of their invented political system. Unlike the European powers at that time, where monarchs and dictators could declare war at will, in the American Republic it wou
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Joe
Apr 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-to
Beschloss has an ambitious goal with this book and he almost makes it: An in depth account of each time a President took us to war (and the one time a President didn't, thanks Jefferson!). I say almost because Beschloss largely focuses on the President at the time the war started, but not always. He gives short shrift to those that come later. I'm specifically thinking of Truman with World War II and Nixon and Ford with the Vietnam war. Now I know Beschloss has a whole other book on FDR and Trum ...more
Argum
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I won a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads.

An interesting thread to follow through American history, the presidents that served during wartime from the War of 1812 to Vietnam. A few chapters are devoted to each conflict with the background to the war and the man in office at the time along with politics more broadly. It is interesting how one bleeds into the next via the advisers or the young Congressman of one being President the next. But more importantly decisions made during
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Heather Reads Books
I finally finished this book! Whew. It took almost two months but I did it. It was certainly worth it, but wow, what an undertaking.

Presidents of War is Michael Beschloss's decade plus-long project, telling the story of every American presidential administration that waged war on a foreign entity. To say this book is exhaustively researched is an understatement. In it, Beschloss goes through, in sometimes excruciating detail, the lead up to, the waging of, and the political consequences for the
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Krisette Spangler
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This novel was a page turner for me. It chronicles the wars of the United States from the War of 1812 to the Vietnam War. The author explores the reasons for the wars and often what the President of the United States did to circumvent Congress to enter the war without congressional approval. I loved the author's approach as he offered equal amounts criticism and praise for these early leaders of our nation. I learned so much, and I hope he does a follow up at some point that includes the War on ...more
Peter
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, military
Michael Beschloss's Presidents of War addresses the exercise of presidential power in U. S. wars from 1812 to the present, underlining the way that presidents have left their personal morals aside and extended the war powers of the executive branch. It is a deeply researched and very readable report of the American experience with that aspect of international politics we call "War." The book is long—about 600 pages of text—and most readers will be familiar with recent wars, perhaps even as parti ...more
Bruce Katz
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
A well written, thorough, and insightful history. I learned a lot of things I hadn’t known, had several misconceptions rectified, saw evidence that many of the things in politics that infuriate me now have been with us for a long, long time.
Charles
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Erosion of Constitutional Checks on Commitment to War

Much has been written about how America’s wars have been conducted. Michael Beschloss has written a book about how America’s wars have started.

When a king was unpopular, the framers of the Constitution observed, he would often contrive a war to gain popular support. Thus, in order to make it difficult for a President to take the nation into conflict unilaterally, Congress was given the power to declare war. Beschloss argues that over time
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Clay Davis
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Liked the earlier wars that were researched than the later ones. The book needs a better cover.
Ted Hunt
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very well researched and well written book that examines the conduct of war of most, but not all, of the nations "war presidents." It looks at Madison, Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson, analyzing how each of these men brought the nation into war and how they interpreted and used their status as "commander in chief" to attempt to bring each conflict to a successful conclusion. As one would imagine, given the length of the book (586 pages) and its relatively narro ...more
Roger DeBlanck
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Starting with Madison’s decisions to pursue war with the British after their attack on the Chesapeake in 1807, Beschloss offers a sweeping, yet intimate, study of how the presidents handled taking America into war. He investigates the politics and powers that they utilized and manipulated and the pressures they endured while they managed conflicts against foreign and enemy states. He employs rich details, overlooked sources, and the remarkable written and spoken words of the presidents themselve ...more
Anna Hanson
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
With carefully accurate, clear-eyed attention to detail, Mr. Beschloss leads the reader in a journey through time, recounting the wars, declared or not, in which the United States has engaged. No simple listing of dates and decisions, each president’s thought process is examined and explained, giving the reader a glimpse into the human behind the office of President. Excellent for serious history scholars or casual readers who simply want a better handle on the path the U.S. has taken.
Donald Owens II
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A thoughtful and sobering chronicle of the gradual increase of presidential power to unilaterally wage war and ignore the constitutional limits on authority.
Dave Schoettinger
Nov 03, 2018 rated it liked it
The author considers this book as being the history of American presidents using war to secure more power and independence of action at the expense of Congressional oversight; and it is that. However, as something of a history geek, I thought the best part of the book was the inclusion of some of the obscure details of the periods covered, such as the route James K. Polk took from Nashville to Washington for his inauguration, or the surprise connection between the Gulf of Tonkin attack and rock ...more
Stan  Prager
Jan 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Review of: Presidents of War, by Michael Beschloss
by Stan Prager (1-30-19)

The Founders sought a separation of powers in war-making, as in so much else of consequence to the new Republic, so the Constitution mandated that only Congress may declare war, while assigning to the President of the United States authority as commander in chief of the armed forces. A history of European monarchs engaging in war by fiat informed this caution in limiting the ability of the executive branch to act without
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Porter Broyles
I listened to about 25% of this book before I quit. It's not necessarily a bad book, but:

1. The coverage of the events is a little light, I'm familiar with many of the stories told.

2. The book felt like it was a subtle advocacy piece.

The bias in the book made it hard for me to accept.
Tim
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an insightful and engaging history of the the men who have led the US into and through the major wars of our country. For each of the major wars (1812, Mexican-American, American Civil, Spanish-American, WW1, WW2, Korea, and Vietnam), Beschloss begins with an anecdote about the opening events of the conflict and then focuses of the character and decisions of the president at the time. Finally, for each conflict and president, he offers a succinct summary of the decisions and an assessme ...more
G33z3r
An interesting outline of how American Presidents got into wars (1812-Vietnam) and waged them, well written with lots of interesting anecdotes. Reads well. Lots of footnotes, most well worth reading.

Truman gets a lot of coverage for the Korean War, but his role at the end of WW2 gets summarized in one paragraph at the end of Roosevelt's tenure, and Ike's role in Korea is likewise wrapped up in a few paragraphs. Whis is to say this is more about Presidents getting US into wars. (President Jeffers
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Joshua
Oct 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Ranging from the days of Thomas Jefferson to the modern era, this piece of presidential history explores the evolution of the chief executive's role in wartime. There are lessons to be learned from this book about Congress' failure to hold on to its war declaration powers, the difficulty in restraining presidential power in the modern era, and varying approaches to wartime control from the executive branch. Overall, this is an excellent book and a must-read for American and presidential history ...more
Lynn
This is a long book covering important times in American history. It contained some very small but important information that I never learned before when taking history survey classes but it too was very sweeping in the content. I found myself thinking some small stuff was interesting but the book too sweeping to do its wider topic justice. T wasn’t a fun read but a bit laborious. I read a lot of nonfiction history books so that wasn’t necessarily the issue.
Daniel Saab
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I think this is an important read for anyone looking for an anchored perspective on our history with war and insight on the decisions made (in both good and bad faith). It's fascinating to put all the pieces together; I feel like a got a focused realignment of information I learned and probably let get muddy throughout my life.
Jarred Goodall
Dec 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book represents one of the best history/presidential political science books I have read. The research, along with the storytelling and footnotes in history (see Jim Morrison of the Doors, and his ties to Pearl Harbor and Gulf of Tonkin) stood out to me the most, along with his transitions tying each president and his conflicts together as one. I recommend this book without reservation.
Phil
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beginning with Thomas Jefferson and the Chesapeake Incident of 1807, Beschloss takes his readers through a series of fascinating chapters on the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam.

The Persian Gulf War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are relegated to a brief Epilogue, still too recent for fully considered historical judgement. Each war is vividly described from the point of view of the Presidents, their supporters and op
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Michael Beschloss is the author of nine books on presidential history, including, most recently, the New York Times bestsellers Presidential Courage and The Conquerors, as well as two volumes on Lyndon Johnson’s White House tapes. He was also editor of the number-one global bestseller Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. He is the NBC News Presidential Historian ...more

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Tech pioneer, co-founder of Microsoft, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and author Bill Gates is an avid reader who...
157 likes · 62 comments
“not all readers become leaders, but all leaders must be readers” 6 likes
“As Allied forces moved into Hitler’s Fortress Europe, Roosevelt and his circle were confronted with new evidence of the Holocaust. In early 1942, he had been given information that Adolf Hitler was quietly fulfilling his threat to “annihilate the Jewish race.” Rabbi Stephen Wise asked the President that December 1942 to inform the world about “the most overwhelming disaster of Jewish history” and “try to stop it.” Although he was willing to warn the world about the impending catastrophe and insisted that there be war crimes commissions when the conflict was over, Roosevelt told Wise that punishment for such crimes would probably have to await the end of the fighting, so his own solution was to “win the war.” The problem with this approach was that by the time of an Allied victory, much of world Jewry might have been annihilated. By June 1944, the Germans had removed more than half of Hungary’s 750,000 Jews, and some Jewish leaders were asking the Allies to bomb railways from Hungary to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. In response, Churchill told his Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, that the murder of the Jews was “probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world,” and ordered him to get “everything” he could out of the British Air Force. But the Prime Minister was told that American bombers were better positioned to do the job. At the Pentagon, Stimson consulted John McCloy, who later insisted, for decades, that he had “never talked” with Roosevelt about the option of bombing the railroad lines or death camps. But in 1986, McCloy changed his story during a taped conversation with Henry Morgenthau’s son, Henry III, who was researching a family history. The ninety-one-year-old McCloy insisted that he had indeed raised the idea with the President, and that Roosevelt became “irate” and “made it very clear” that bombing Auschwitz “wouldn’t have done any good.” By McCloy’s new account, Roosevelt “took it out of my hands” and warned that “if it’s successful, it’ll be more provocative” and “we’ll be accused of participating in this horrible business,” as well as “bombing innocent people.” McCloy went on, “I didn’t want to bomb Auschwitz,” adding that “it seemed to be a bunch of fanatic Jews who seemed to think that if you didn’t bomb, it was an indication of lack of venom against Hitler.” If McCloy’s memory was reliable, then, just as with the Japanese internment, Roosevelt had used the discreet younger man to discuss a decision for which he knew he might be criticized by history, and which might conceivably have become an issue in the 1944 campaign. This approach to the possible bombing of the camps would allow the President to explain, if it became necessary, that the issue had been resolved at a lower level by the military. In retrospect, the President should have considered the bombing proposal more seriously. Approving it might have required him to slightly revise his insistence that the Allies’ sole aim should be winning the war, as he did on at least a few other occasions. But such a decision might have saved lives and shown future generations that, like Churchill, he understood the importance of the Holocaust as a crime unparalleled in world history.*” 2 likes
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