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Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  287 ratings  ·  96 reviews
Based on a decade of research and reporting, Author in Chief tells the story of America’s presidents as authors—and offers a delightful new window into the public and private lives of our highest leaders.

Most Americans are familiar with Abraham Lincoln’s famous words in the Gettysburg Address and the Eman­cipation Proclamation. Yet few can name the work that helped him wi
Hardcover, 434 pages
Published February 11th 2020 by Avid Reader Press / Simon Schuster
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Craig Fehrman Great question! My book has thirteen chapters. Here are the presidents who star in those chapters:

1) Jefferson
2) Adams
3) Washington, plus Jefferson /…more
Great question! My book has thirteen chapters. Here are the presidents who star in those chapters:

1) Jefferson
2) Adams
3) Washington, plus Jefferson / Madison / Monroe
4) Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams
5) Lincoln
6) Grant
7) Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
8) Coolidge
9) Theodore Roosevelt / Coolidge / FDR
10) Truman
11) JFK
12) Reagan
13) Obama

There is a paragraph or two on a number of other presidents (Carter as the first to write on a personal computer, say, or Trump doing book signings at Waldenbooks). But this list shows the presidents who get extended treatment. (less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
”’A good citizen is a good reader.’ The reverse is also true, with the most bookish Americans being 31 percent more likely to vote than their peers. In other words, a good reader is also a good citizen.”

When I saw the premise of this book, I knew that it was in my wheelhouse. I love biographies of presidents and have read several of their autobiographies as well. I usually prefer the biographies because in many cases the autobiographies are politically motivated and conceived as vehicles to eith
Diane S ☔
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
An interesting look at Presidential books from the very beginning. Background on the various leaders, and their writing processes, as well as why they were writing. Andrew Jackson wrote the first book that helped him win the presidency, a campaign treatise at a time when candidates didn't campaign for themselves.

Since it is women's month, I need to mention that Abigail Adams own book sold better than her husbands. Go Abigail. Clinton actually wrote over a thousand pages by hand, trying to inclu
I know that most presidents were prolific readers and some were skilled writers. One of the presidents on top of my list of reader/writers is Theodore Roosevelt. I always felt a kindred spirit with him after reading one of his comments about reading: “Reading is living”. I have also read it as “Reading is life”. Probably the most famous president that was a reader/writer was John Adams. He was a prolific letter writer as well as an author of books. Much of what we know about those early days com ...more
Journalist Craig Fehrman spent a decade researching this first book-length treatment of the presidents as authors, choosing a baker's dozen for extensive discussion and skipping over others entirely.

He breaks presidential works into two broad categories, campaign biographies, with Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia being the first, and legacy books, originating with John Adams's bitter but personal Autobiography. This is not a scholarly analysis or deconstruction of texts, however
Julie  Durnell
Mar 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I like presidential books, and this was a great read. So many historical nuggets in each of the president's reading and writing choices makes an interesting book and a place to inspire additional reading of a particular president. I noticed a common thread through most all of the president's lives in devoting their reading time to history material. The presidents of the 18th and 19th century made it a priority to accumulate books for their own libraries. Grant and Lincoln's writings were among m ...more
Megan (readingretriever)
Author in Chief Rating: 5/5
I'm going to be honest - I did not expect a book about presidents and their books to be so damn fascinating!

Author in Chief tells the story of the American presidents as readers and authors. It was fascinating to see how books shaped the presidents as children and how a love for the written word carried over into adulthood and ultimately into their presidency. From Washington to Trump, Author in Chief dives into what motivated each president to write a book and whether
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I generally find reading history books dry or slow reading, but I found this book to be a fascinating read about the presidents and the books they have written. It really opened the window for this reader into the lives of our country's leaders. Excellent book for history lovers and book lovers, too.
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It was nice to get the flavor and explore the common themes of all the books without having to read them all. I did not realize there were so many. There will be several I WILL be reading thanks to this taste! Well researched this book looks at our presidents, their writings and the impact of those on both future presidents and society.
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Terrific. As some one interested in both American history and (more especially) in books, this work hit a real sweet spot for me. Fehrman delves into the literary outputs of presidents (and presidential hopefuls), and along the way his book becomes not only a look at history through an interesting lens, but also the story of how American publishing developed and a cultural history of reading. I was engrossed far beyond my expectations. 4.5
Andrew MacDonald
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book and found it an insightful primer for understanding not only the literary works of past presidents, but also something about the American psyche. It would be tough to pick a favorite president chapter, since Fehrman was basically my introduction to all of them, ignorant Canadian that I am, but I will say that the book is anything but dry.

AUTHOR IN CHIEF has all the things I want in non-fiction: airtight, compelling research combined with beautiful writing and A++++ story mecha
Jim McGarrah
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A review of Author in Chief by Craig Fehrman (Avid Reader Press, New York, 2019)

Scholar in Chief
By Jim McGarrah

In 1820 the population of America reached less than ten million citizens. During this period, our country was blessed with statesmen unrivaled in the world. Men like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Burr, Hamilton, Monroe, Franklin, and Madison, to name few roamed the streets of the nation’s capital and motivated the growth of a country unlike the world had ever seen through their actions
Jun 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Some books are 5 stars for everyone. This book is 5 stars for me and other people who enjoy the subject material of presidential autobiographies. The author focuses on ~13 presidents over the years whose autobiographies and other written works were particularly notable, and also discusses the way that reading and book publishing changed over the course of American history.

I think Fehrman toed a nice line of mentioning most president's writing and their relationship with books, but not over-anal
Mar 29, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: arc, history
I'm not super big into political books, but I do like well-written history books on obscure topics. While the presidents are hardly obscure, looking at them through the lens of the books they left behind really lent this book something that kept me interested. I greatly enjoyed the look at the pre-1900s presidents, as this book contained a lot of interesting factoids and amusing anecdotes from even the earliest presidencies that I hadn't heard before. I also appreciated the care the author took ...more
John Trotter
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Though I am not typically a reader of history, the book engages the human side of our presidents well. Fehrman looks in depth at how the books presidents wrote as well as books written about our presidents have molded our perception of them.As a book nerd and someone somewhat interested in history, the book kept me engaged. If you want to step away from the typical political rhetoric of most presidential books, you should pick up a copy. Our presidents are real people with real stories.
Mallory (onmalsshelf) Bartel
Thank you Avid Reader Press and NetGalley for copies in exchange for an honest review.

'"A good citizen is a good reader." The reverse is true, with the most bookish Americans being 31 percent more likely to vote than their peers. In other words, a good reader is also a good citizen.'(pg 4, Author in Chief)

This book is one for a reader which may be a lover of Presidential history, but is also looking for more information on the books written by our Presidents.

Not only did this book expand my kn
Jacob Williams
"Everyone else connected with Washington has written a book. I am certainly not going to compound the felony." - Bess Truman

"Books are good company. Nothing is more human than a book." - Marilynne Robinson

! Thanks to Jeffrey Keeten (jkeeten) for this book! You reviewed it, and it seemed interesting to me, so I checked it out from my local library and read it. People reading this, you should check out his reviews. They are great.

~ And with that aside, the review shall go on. ~

Great book. Aston
Aug 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
While this is well researched using the latest library technologies to identify books of the presidents, it is seriously biased in its reliance on contemporary scholarship to the exclusion of the modern version. This also affects the author's comments which reflect strong post modern liberalism, a.k.a. progressivism. He too greatly praises the liberal presidents while using post modern arguments (race, gender, et al) against the conservative presidents. I expect the coverage to be fair and balan ...more
Mar 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A superb literary history of the American presidency from Washington to Trump through prism of what they read and what they wrote. Fehrman places each president in to the literary context of the time, comparing them with other American authors of the period. The influence of technology from John Adams quill and hand set type through typewriters and linotype to today's word processors and electronic publishing is also considered, as is the role of "ghost writers" from Alexander Hamilton assisting ...more
Kara of BookishBytes
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a great series of mini-biographies of several US presidents, but it is also a fascinating history of books and book sales in America. I didn't realize that the Sears catalogue had a book section in it. I particularly appreciated the pattern of presidential books he identified of "campaign" books and "legacy" books. And I was fascinated to learn that, perhaps contrary to popular opinion, Ronald Reagan did a lot of his own writing and worked with ghost writers little, while JFK relied almo ...more
Apr 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: u-s-politics
This was accessible and many of the sections sparked an interest in more (which I strongly prefer to feeling in the weeds). E.g. I’m interested to learn more about Lincoln’s earlier days (how the books he read shaped him) and the strategy of publishing the Lincoln-Douglas debates (focusing on a “battle of ideas” vice personal narrative). I had a hard time focusing in the later parts of the book, which I’d like to partly blame on reading as an e-book.

I hope the book would have given some tools o
Feb 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Even as early as 1765 there was a demand for reference books in Philadelphia. Ben Franklin and others owned printing presses and sold books from their homes. There were also traveling booksellers, so early America did have access to books. Thomas Jefferson was the first President to write individual work, and it’s not surprising that he was an important author of the Declaration of Independence at the Continental Congress of 1775. There were plenty of printers ready to make copies of pamphlets w ...more
This is my kind of book. History, full of tidbits I can file away. Alexander Hamilton actually wrote George Washington's farewell address. Abraham Lincoln insisted on control of his book. For many years the "presidential" books were written before the election as a way to let the population know the person to be voted on, it's only in the recent history that former presidents wrote "legacy" books - U.S. Grant's being the standard.
Not only is this a history of the presidential books, it supplies
Ryan Boomershine
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
“A great citizen is a great reader.”

Interesting accumulation of the reading habits and writing habits of our commanders in chief. Particular interest should be taken in Coolidge and JFK for different reasons.

I still want to read a biography or autobiography of every President. This book pushes me to probably making a plan for it.
A fascinating look at the books written by American Presidents and the insights into them that they reveal. Also, incidentally, a good description of the evolution of the printing industry in America.
Ryan Vaughan
More than just a history of the books presidents have written. It offers a glimpse into the evolution of the modern political campaign. We have come to take for granted that every aspect of our perception of a candidate is managed and spun to within and inch of it's life , but there was time when these things were new. Bismarck observed that laws were like sausages in that you are better not knowing how either are made. Having read this I think the same might be said of political campaigns.

The b
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Not just a history of Presidents and the books they wrote, but also a history of publishing alongside that, and how publishing evolved along with the history of the United States. A great read or anyone interested in presidential history, memoirs, and books.
Mark Mears
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. While I would have liked to have seen more focus on some of the Presidential work, the detail provided was fascinating.

Mr. Fehrman’s documentation in his indexes was as interesting as any of the chapters. And that says a lot.

I did not agree with all of the analysis; however recognize the author certainly did his homework. I learned a great deal, which always makes me appreciate a book more.
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is as much about the history of the book in America as it is about presidents. The author writes beautifully and so each chapter is a treasure.
Jun 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
I finished this book, then immediately started re-reading it because I didn't want it to end. The author provides such a fresh perspective, and it's built on years of great research. It's about Presidents, and readers, and writers, and the many ways the literary industry has shaped our access to the thoughts and motivations of our leaders. It's brilliant and enjoyable; it will continue to shape how I analyze political candidates for the rest of my life.

P.S. If you loved this one as much as I did
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Craig Fehrman is a journalist and historian who has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. He lives in Indiana with his wife and children. Author in Chief is his first book.

Articles featuring this book

Journalist and historian Craig Fehrman's new book, Author in Chief, tells the story of America’s presidents as authors—and offers a new window...
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