History is Not Boring discussion

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Best Presidential Biographies

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message 1: by Bill (new)

Bill | 8 comments Just saw the new Andrew Jackson bio American Lion Andrew Jackson in the White House, and it got me thinking about the ton of presidential biographies out there. Anyone have favorites or recommendations?


message 2: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Ron Reagan Jr said "Dutch" was the closest book written to capture his Dad's personality.

I thought it was an interesting book, factually, however I didnt like the way the author wrote himself into the narrative, supposedly as a useful tool to explore Reagan's psyche.


message 3: by Jim (new)

Jim (jimmaclachlan) I listened to part of 'Dutch' on tape. Never could finish it either for the same reason as Manuel mentioned. A biography should be about the subject, not the author. Edmund Morris really stretched points trying to put himself into Regan's life, IMO.

Morris did a wonderful job on Theodore Roosevelt part 1 & bored me into giving up on part 2. My uncle & cousin felt the same way. Luckily, we passed around one copy of part 2, although we each have a copy of part 1.

I never looked at publishing dates. I wonder if he had some sort of life changing event that made him go from a good biographer to a boring one?


message 4: by Arminius (new)

Arminius David McCullough's "Truman" helped change historians perception of an unpopular president.


message 5: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I havent read "Truman" but I really enjoyed McCullough's "John Adams".

Usually the president everyone ignores between the giants of Washington and Jefferson. McCullough really made him come alive for me. I especially liked the relationship between Adams and his wife Abigail; the original power couple.


message 6: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan | 1 comments Joseph Ellis's American Sphinx was a great read and really showed the ups and dowsn of Jefferson's life.

American Sphinx The Character of Thomas Jefferson


message 7: by Arminius (last edited Jan 29, 2009 10:18AM) (new)

Arminius Passionate Sage by Joseph Ellis was also pretty good although I do not think he expands the story enough. It just may be my reading of Ron Chernow that gave me that opinion though.

Also I guess McCullough knows to hit the man between the greats. Adams- between War Hero Nation Creator and Saver Washington and Declaration author Jeffereson. Truman - between liberal icon Roosevelt and WWII hero Eisenhower.


message 8: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
Ones I've really enjoyed:

Mornings on Horseback The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt, by David McCullough (note: does not cover period of actual presidency)
Team of Rivals The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
John Adams, by David McCullough
Eleanor & Franklin, by Joseph P. Lash
Truman, by David McCullough


message 9: by Pat (new)

Pat | 10 comments Just finished American Lion. I highly recommend it. It was different from some of the presidential biographies I have read. It was sometimes like a novel. It showed different aspects of Jackson's personality and how complex it was. On the one hand he was absolutely resolute about the removal of American Indians to West of the Mississippi (or out right destruction of them as a people) but also he was determined to keep the Union together and viewed himself as a father figure to the American people.


message 10: by Bill (new)

Bill | 8 comments Wow. Lots of suggestions here. Will have to start growing my TBR shelf. Thanks.




message 11: by Sid (new)

Sid (sidthomson) | 2 comments Joseph Ellis' book on George Washington - "His Excellency" is also an excellent read.


message 12: by Pat (new)

Pat | 10 comments Anyone interested in Charles Lindbergh? I recommend Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg. I visited Lindbergh's gravesite in Maui after reading this book; beautiful site right on the edge of the ocean cliffs.

I would also recommend Anne Morrow Lindbergh "Her Life" by Susan Hertog. Their relationship was so complcated and Lindbergh was such a complex personality! He was a national hero; but seemed a very harsh taskmaster to his family. He comes across as almost void of being able to really express love and self absorbed in his own life. Fascinating to read both books. An intriguing couple.


message 13: by Bill (new)

Bill | 8 comments I have a hard time seeing Lindbergh as a hero. From what I can tell he was worse than a taskmaster in his family -- his attitudes towards Jews were highly questionable. Do the Lindbergh bios that you read deal with this? And with his activity in the America First movement?


message 14: by Bryan (new)

Bryan What does Lindbergh have to do with Presidential Biographies? I recommend both the TR books by Edmund Morris, although 1 was better than 2. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin is very good as well, as is her biograph on LBJ.


message 15: by Pat (new)

Pat | 10 comments Sorry, I thought I posted Lindbergh in the History is not Boring forum.


message 16: by Pat (new)

Pat | 10 comments Yes, the book does a very good job of exposing his anti semitism and his work with the America First movement. He is no hero to me and I would think to most Americans now.

He was a very harsh, self aborbed perso; but he also contributed greatly to the beginning of our commercial aviation industry. He was that times Michael Jordan if you will. His every move and word was international news.

But history isn't boring and neither was Lindbergh. His aviation acomplishments have been negated in some ways because of his shameful actions.




message 17: by Pat (last edited Feb 11, 2009 07:33PM) (new)

Pat | 10 comments Check out Lincoln's Unknown Private Life (An Oral History by His Black Housekeeper Mariah Vance 1850-1860.


message 18: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Thanks Pat,
I too really liked the Lindbergh book by A Scott Berg.
It presented a wonderful look into a really complicated and flawed American hero.
Any one who's mother shakes her son's hand instead of giving him a goodnight kiss is going to grow up with a lot of issues.

Fascinating!!!!

Nothing to do with Presidential bios, but what the hell!!!! its a great read!!!


message 19: by Pat (last edited Feb 11, 2009 07:32PM) (new)

Pat | 10 comments Manuel,

I was thinking the same thing while reading the book! His childhood and relationship with his Mother is a pschyologist dream!

I found myself wondering about the relationship with Anne Morrow. I have now read several of her books to try to get a handle on how she let him basically "own" her feelings; her relationship with her children; her very essence as a woman. How could she have let Lindbergh treat the children like soliders? How could she have allowed him to insist they leave their first born son outside (in some rather cold temps) in the baby carriage for hours to instill toughness?!

What do you think of the Lindbergh kidnapping case? Was Bruno guilty? Not so sure myself.




message 20: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments It was incredibly shocking to read how "the trial of the century" turned into an orgy of misinformation, anti-German hysteria and media speculation. It was virtually impossible for anyone to have gotten a fair trial under such circumstances.

I suspect this whole subject could use its own thread.





message 21: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Lopez | 31 comments I think you're right, Manuel. I'm going to start a new thread on Lindbergh. This is fascinating stuff.


message 22: by Pat (new)

Pat | 10 comments Sorry, but I am new to Goodreads. What is a thread? I assume a separate "room" to discuss Lindbergh and the Trial of the Century?


message 23: by James (new)

James Yes, Pat, you could call it a room - a thread is an ongoing conversation on a particular topic, with any number of participants contributing comments and questions. This string is about presidential biographies, so the readers who plan to have a discussion on Lindbergh are starting a new string for that subject. You can browse existing strings (they are listed within groups from the menus at the top of the screen) or, within a suitable group, start your own strings.


message 24: by Pat (new)

Pat | 10 comments Thank you James.


message 25: by James (new)

James Any time! One of the things I like about Goodreads is the sense of community among most people. I took a look, and there are nine categories with somewhere around 10,000 groups, and each group can have multiple strings on specific subjects like this one, so you could probably spend the rest of your life exploring and not have seen a lot of it.


message 26: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 14 comments I grew up reading With Malice Toward None by Oates (?) [hmm, how do you link titles in here?:] about Abraham Lincoln which I enjoyed. I also remember reading the entire several volume work on Washington by Flexner. I also enjoyed Elswyth Thane's semi-novelizied biography of Martha Washington, Washington's Lady. I also enjoyed the two newer biograhers on her that have just come out in the past few years, too.

Pat, I'll have to check out the oral history which you mentioned.


message 27: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
There's an "add book/author" button at the top of the comment space, Jenna.

I love Elswyth Thane, but have never read Washington's Lady.


message 28: by Jenna (new)

Jenna | 14 comments Duh! I'm so oblivious, thanks! (As to add/author).
If you like Elswyth Thane, i'd definitely recommend it. It seems to be well-researched, if a trifle romanticized, compared to the newer biography , but still very enjoyable.Martha Washington First Lady of Liberty(I think it was that one anyway...).


message 29: by Janet (new)

Janet Can anyone recommend a biography of Lincoln that doesn't gloss over his negatives, especially his rationale for suspending habeas corpus (and the individuals who suffered as a result)?


message 30: by Mike (new)

Mike Carey | 8 comments Bill wrote: "Just saw the new Andrew Jackson bio American Lion Andrew Jackson in the White House, and it got me thinking about the ton of presidential biographies out there. Anyone have favorite..."


message 31: by Mike (new)

Mike Carey | 8 comments I'm new to this site and love the fact that I can get/share info with others that love history. Regarding presidential biographies, I have 2 that I'd like to mention: "The privileged life and radical presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt" by H.W. Brands is a wonderful biography that brings to life the characters surrounding FDR - reads like a novel.

The second really isn't a presidential biography but perhaps one of my favorites - The 3 part series by Robert Caro "The years of Lyndon Johnson", "The path to Power", "Means of Ascent" and "Master of the Senate". It is an incredible detailed look at the man prior to his presidency, that helps explain his drive, manipulation & personality with incredible detail. Caro writes a narrative that kept me "hooked" through 3 long books that I didn't want to end.
As a matter of fact, I was just on his website and have decided to buy his other great biography, "The Power Broker" about Robert Moses, the master building of NYC.


message 32: by Marian (last edited Jul 23, 2010 07:35AM) (new)

Marian (gramma) | 98 comments Sometimes, in studying presidents, we come across a person who wields as much or perhaps more power than the president himself. Think of the years 1960-1980 without knowing anything about Henry Kissinger. Or the presidency of McKinley without Mark Hanna "The power behind the throne."
For someone not familiar with the history of the US, a biography of Lincoln would not be comeplete without references to the issue of slavery - how it was "tucked under the rug" at the convention of 1787 and the long, painful debates when each new state asked to enter the Union and how another state had to be found to also join so as the keep the balance of slave states equal to the balance of free states. Henry Clay and Daniel Webster and John C, Calhoon were some influencial men we need to be aware of in the years leading to the Civil War.


message 33: by Arminius (last edited Aug 12, 2010 01:04PM) (new)

Arminius I have not checked in here in a while. After just reading through the posts I noticed that I have read three of the recommendations since I lasted posted in Jan 2009- Mornings on Horseback, Team of Rivals and Lindbergh( I wrote reviews on all of them and gave each one 5 stars). I also have The Power Broker lined up for future reading.


message 34: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
I also gave Mornings on Horseback and Team of Rivals five stars - haven't read Lindbergh, but it sounds interesting.


message 35: by Arminius (new)

Arminius Lindbergh is very good. He was very interesting and so was his wife.

Theodore Rex is very good too.


message 36: by Martha (new)

Martha (marthas48) I don't know if you would consider this a biography, but I found it a fascinating look at the Roosevelts - No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin


message 37: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments Loved No Ordinary Time:Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt:The Home Front in WWII. I have enjoyed every book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.


message 38: by Martha (new)

Martha (marthas48) I hope to read Team of Rivals soon. I've heard it is excellent!


message 39: by Manuel (new)

Manuel | 1439 comments I read Team of Rivals when Obama was elected. He had said it was a favorite book of his. Interesting to see how much both administrations seem to parallel each other.


message 40: by Adriano (new)

Adriano Godinho (adrianogodinho) | 4 comments If you people want to learn more about portuguese dictactor Salazar, there's a new interesting book by Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses. the original book was written in english and is now translated in portuguese. I think the book and the subject deserves the attention.


message 41: by Martha (new)

Martha (marthas48) Manuel wrote: "I read Team of Rivals when Obama was elected. He had said it was a favorite book of his. Interesting to see how much both administrations seem to parallel each other."

That's interesting, Manuel. I'll keep that in mind as I read it.


message 42: by Marian (new)

Marian (gramma) | 98 comments On today's Powells.com there is a really interesting review of the book "Woodrow Wilson, a Biography" by by John Morton Cooper Jr. The review is by David Greenberg. It goes into a lot of detail about Wilson's views & beliefs. Just reading the review is an education. It is fron the "New Republic"


message 43: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm going to be reading a biography of Richard Nixon by Conrad Black soon.I chose Black because of his own history, and the fact that he was for most of his life a Canadian. Hopefully it will be a more balanced picture now that it has been awhile. Have read some of Truman, Ike, and Kennedy. Look forward to LBJ.

I read a great number of biographies of Canadian Prime Ministers and have only started on American Presidents.Like yourselve we mostly read about our best but I find that the minor ones are often more interesting and sometimes had as great sn influence in our affairs for better and sometimes worse.

In a Canadian context Henry Clay's encouragement of the war of 1812 did more to split the continent in half than practically any other event. U. Grant's role in enabling Canada to develop on it's own is one of my new interests. If anyone can recomend a good biography of U. Grant it would be appreciated.

Mike, do you have a favourite biography of LBJ?


message 44: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads, Crazy Cat Lady (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 1011 comments Mod
You could start with Grant's own memoirs, which are very interesting.


message 45: by Jeweleye (new)

Jeweleye Glen wrote: "I'm going to be reading a biography of Richard Nixon by Conrad Black soon.I chose Black because of his own history, and the fact that he was for most of his life a Canadian. Hopefully it will be a..."

Doris Kearns Goodwin has an LBJ biography: Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin Although I haven't read this particular biography, I've read enough of her work to know she's an excellent historian and biographer.


message 46: by Ray (new)

Ray (mangoray) Charles B. Flood wrote a very good book "Grant and Sherman" on the relationship between Grant and Gen. Sherman which would provide great insight into both Grants' life and their joint efforts during the civil war. Highly recommended.


message 47: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for the recommendations.

I understand Grant's memoirs are great but emphasize the civil war rather than his presidency. I'm more interested in the political, economic , and social outcomes of war more than the war itself. I've read a fair bit on WWI and WWII because they were so international in scope but not too much otherwise. And of course wars involving Canada.

I usually read at least three biographies of a leader and hopefully one of them is an autobiography. Sometimes you learn quite a bit about the leader by reading biographies of people very close to the him/her. I'm a little concerned if I'm always agreeing with the author. When my perspective gets challenged it encourages me to read more rather than become complacent. Historians have a personal perspective themselves and it is very difficult to keep their objectivity. I find journalist are very interesting to read but I'm on guard when they write books. Unfortunately an objective history book is often dry as there is little interpretation. Taking on American presidents is mind boggling. There is so much information out there .

I will look for it Jeweleye. Thanks.


message 48: by Martha (new)

Martha (marthas48) I read No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II by Goodwin & was very impressed with the amount of research. I really enjoyed her writing & will be reading Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in next year. I'd like to read the LBJ bio as well. I had forgotten about it.


message 49: by Ushistorysite (new)

Ushistorysite | 1 comments Team of Rivals and McCullough's John Adams were pretty good. I also liked Wilderness Warrior about Teddy Roosevelt


message 50: by Gary (new)

Gary R. | 8 comments "Team of Rivals," by Doris Kearns Goodwin is brilliant.

McCullough's book on John Adams was very good; many people think his book on Truman was his best; I agree.


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