Good Minds Suggest: Ron Chernow's Favorite Presidential Biographies

Posted by Goodreads on October 2, 2017

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Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. He has been dismissed as a philistine, a boor, a drunk, and an incompetent businessman. All too often he is caricatured as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War or the inept politician whose presidency came to symbolize the worst excesses of the Gilded Age.

Now historian Ron Chernow, whose earlier work inspired the hit musical Hamilton, turns his talents toward Grant, revealing a nuanced portrait of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.

Chernow's first book, The House of Morgan, won a National Book Award. His Washington: A Life won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and then Alexander Hamilton—the inspiration for the Broadway musical—won the American History Book Prize.

"It's often said that Americans get the presidents they deserve, which can be either a comforting or horrifying thought, depending upon the president in question," says Chernow. These five presidential biographies provide a touch of political inspiration.

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"In this forthcoming chronicle of the friendship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Wood presents two presidential biographies for the price of one. And what a contrast between these two remarkable characters—Adams vain, cranky, and ultimately backward-looking, while Jefferson was sunny and forward-looking, albeit cursed with baffling flaws. Joseph Ellis has also delivered superlative biographies of both presidents."


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"There are mountains of books about Abraham Lincoln, but if one is looking for a single, lucid, elegant life of him, this is probably the best contender. Donald has a sure feel for the complex politics of the era, wears his immense scholarship lightly, and allows Lincoln to speak in his own words. I can't resist touting as well Doris Kearns Goodwin's superb Team of Rivals, about Lincoln's deft handling of his warring cabinet members."


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"Schlesinger's masterly trilogy of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal stimulated my own early desire to write presidential biographies. He shows how one can blend the most profound intellectual analysis with vivid passages that bring his subject to sudden, startling life."


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"Of late there has been a lot of loose talk about invoking the 25th Amendment, which enables the vice president and cabinet to declare a president unfit for office. Berg provides the most searching and dramatic treatment to date of the stroke that felled Wilson, leading his wife, Edith, to sequester him from outside scrutiny in the White House. A frightening tale, expertly told."


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"In the long, rich canon of McCullough books, this volume stands out as my clear favorite. He presents Truman as a straight-talking, no-nonsense decision maker who brought integrity and a healthy dose of common sense to the White House. I especially treasured Truman's modesty and the simplicity of the presidency in those days before the office became so regal and remote."


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Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Diana (new)

Diana I'll be adding the last three to my want-to-read list. But I'm wondering if the Roosevelt book may be a little ponderous.


message 2: by Monty (new)

Monty Diana wrote: "I'll be adding the last three to my want-to-read list. But I'm wondering if the Roosevelt book may be a little ponderous."

I enjoyed Conrad Black's book on Roosevelt, but it was ponderous at times.


message 3: by Kate (new)

Kate Diana wrote: "I'll be adding the last three to my want-to-read list. But I'm wondering if the Roosevelt book may be a little ponderous."

Wondered the same thing when I realized Schlesinger is the author. Nonetheless, I'm going to give it a try because the period of time is so critical as a turning point in our history. Will let you know ...


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