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February 19, 2017 7:00 PM   Subscribe

17 Great Books About American Presidents for Presidents’ Day Weekend [The New York Times] “There’s nothing like a big juicy presidential biography when you’re looking for guidance about history’s long and hard lessons. We’ve selected some of our favorites by and about presidents from the past few decades — and including one that reaches back into the 19th century. Here’s to an inspiring Presidents’ Day weekend.”

• 10 Books About U.S. History To Make You Laugh, Cry, And Think This Presidents Day Weekend [Bustle]
“So, Presidents Day is kind of a vague celebration. The federal holiday is officially called "Washington's Birthday," so... are we just celebrating George Washington? Washington and Lincoln? All of the presidents we've ever had, or just the ones we like (how are they all going to agree on a cake)? A lot of us probably feel like screaming into the void or spontaneously bursting into flames at the thought of having to celebrate our current president. So, rather than worshiping our elected officials, let's spend Presidents' Day doing what appears to be our current president's least favorite activity: reading. Here are a few books on U.S. history to read this Presidents' Day weekend.”
• The Fix’s List of Best Presidential Biographies [The Washington Post]
“Last week, we renewed our call out to Fix readers to help us identify the best presidential biographies for each of the nation's 43 presidents. Fix readers delivered, helping us compile a comprehensive list, with plenty of time left in the holiday shopping season! Below is our complete list, culled from reader input via Twitter and the comments section on The Fix. We've included more choices for some presidents than others, because in some cases, there are just too many good reads to chose from.”
• 44 Presidents, 43 Biographies, One Surprising Take-Away [The Washington Post]
“It started innocently: I saw a TV show, then read the book it was based on. The book, David McCullough’s “John Adams,” wasn’t exactly a page turner. But to understand John Adams, it seemed I would have to read a book about George Washington. So I did. And, to understand the first two presidents, it seemed I would also have to read a book about the third: Thomas Jefferson. So I did. After that, it seemed I’d developed a new habit. I blew through biographies on the big names — James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson — then plunged into a presidential dead zone. I’m talking about the forgotten occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. who crowd dusty histories of America before the Civil War. No one makes Oscar-winning movies starring Daniel Day-Lewis about Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor or Millard Fillmore. Few know what they look like — even when they have cool sideburns. After reaching the president everybody loves to love — Abraham Lincoln — I kept going.”
• Every Book Barack Obama Has Recommended During His Presidency [Entertainment Weekly]
“Whether he’s reading to kids at the White House, hitting up local bookstores on Black Friday, or giving recommendations to his daughters, President Barack Obama may as well be known as the Commander in Books. POTUS is an avid reader and recently spoke to the New York Times about the significant, informative and inspirational role literature has played in his presidency, crediting books for allowing him to “slow down and get perspective.” With his presidency coming to an end this Friday, EW looked back at Obama’s lit picks over the years — because it can’t hurt to read like a great leader. #ObamaForBookClubPresident2017, anyone?”
• Recommended Reading for President Trump [The Guardian]
“There are many things to be said about Donald Trump, who is sworn in as US president on Friday. But none of them have much to do with books. In fact, one suspects, he has no appetite for books – apart from his own biography, The Art of the Deal, which he frequently plugs as his favourite reading, alongside the Bible. It is one of many ways in which he contrasts with his predecessor Barack Obama, who this week gave an interview to the New York Times in which he revealed the debt he owes to reading. Not only had it helped him “slow down and get perspective”, he said, it also helped him “get inside somebody else’s shoes”. Obama cites literary influences that range from Shakespeare to Nelson Mandela through to Chinese author Liu Cixin’s post-apocalyptic The Three-Body Problem. “My day-to-day problems with Congress seem fairly petty,” he said, in comparison with invasion by aliens. Perspective is everything.”
• Books for Future Presidents [UC Berkeley]
“Welcome to Berkeley. We’re sending you something that you don’t need to figure out, fill out, or even respond to. Every summer, we send new UC Berkeley freshmen a list of books suggested by various people on campus. This is not an “official” list, or even a list of required reading. It’s just for you to enjoy as you wish. Borrowing from Professor Richard Muller’s popular course, “Physics for Future Presidents,” this year we have chosen the topic “Books for Future Presidents.” We have asked faculty from all over campus to recommend books that future leaders of any group—countries, cities, companies, organizations, community groups—should be sure to read. You’ll see that the suggestions range widely: history, poetry, fiction, hints for travelers, to name a few.”
• The Favorite Books of All 44 Presidents of the United States [Buzzfeed]
• What three books would you make required reading for US Presidents, if you could? Why? [Reddit]
posted by Fizz (11 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I listened to two episodes of the podcast "Presidents are People Too!" after reading Alexis Coe's wonderful op-ed piece. Delightful show! Like her, I am finding delving into American history very soothing these days.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:38 PM on February 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

I quite liked McCullough's "Truman."
posted by Chrysostom at 8:53 PM on February 19, 2017

Chernow's "Washington: A Life" is better and more lyrical than his Hamilton; if you've read his Hamilton b/c of the show, check out his Washington.

Carl Sandberg's Lincoln is dated but gorgeous. One that doesn't appear on these lists is "The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage" which is profoundly fascinating as a portrait of Abe and Mary Todd and their life together. FUN FACT, Abe and Mary Todd were forbidden from dating because Abe belonged to the opposing party to Mary Todd's brother-in-law, who was her guardian. They dated and broke up a few times (the most serious breakup apparently because he had syphilis from hookers maybe in Beardstown and was taking mercury pills that may have contributed to his melancholy) before he offended the BIL enough to break them up permanently. Nevertheless, she persisted, and they wrote letters while he rode circuit, and met in secret. One of his visits home she apparently went out to meet him as soon as he arrived; a couple weeks later, she went to her sister and brother-in-law and demanded an audience in their parlor from which all the servants were banished. Mary and her sister emerged both with eyes red from crying, but Mary was triumphant; not only had they given permission for her to marry Abe in their parlor (which was the fancy way) but it would happen THAT NIGHT. Allegedly Mary told them she had missed her period and was presumably knocked up, and she would go get married to Abe in the church (like a slut with no family; good girls got married at home) if they didn't give their blessing. Anyway literally all of Springfield spent the next nine months counting, and Robert Todd Lincoln was born juuuuuuuust long enough after the wedding that it's not clear if he was conceived after it and arrived a bit early, or before it and arrived a bit late.

Because Mary Todd Lincoln is bad. ass.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:30 PM on February 19, 2017 [13 favorites]

I have a bunch of the Teddy Roosevelt bios mentioned here in my reading queue. He's going to be my next obsessions.

I also particularly liked "First Mothers" about the women who raised the presidents, including some Gerald Ford feels about his mother's complete badassery in fleeing her monstrously abusive husband with her 2 week old baby. Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., but when he was three his mother's second husband adopted him, and changed him name to Gerry Ford, Jr., and he never knew another father than his adoptive one, and they gave him three younger brothers. Leslie King tried to return to Ford's life when Ford won a football scholarship to Michigan and King thought his son might be a meal ticket and Ford was all "FFFFFUUUUUUUU." Ford mom's was bad-ass in how she fled her abusive husband in the middle of the night with a babe-in-arms; Ford's dad was bad-ass in how he adopted the little boy with no qualms and gave him his name in an era when that was not the done thing. It's a very bad-ass presidential story that gives way to a rollicking Mayberry-like family portrait of happy growing boys wrestling each other and eating All The Food.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:48 PM on February 19, 2017 [6 favorites]

Oh my god where is the Biographies of Our Favorite Presidents written by Eyebrows McGee because I will buy it right now
posted by not_the_water at 12:37 AM on February 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

Yeah, Sandburg was an amazing writer. He's one of those figures that makes me proud to be from Illinois. But his bio of Lincoln isn't where one goes for literal history. I mean. It has that. But he takes some poetic license that historians don't all love.

I really liked A. Lincoln.

The great thing about Lincoln is they he's the rare historical figure who gets more impressive the more closely you look. (Some others are Frederick Douglass, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Dr. King.)
posted by persona au gratin at 1:03 AM on February 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Eyebrows-- I just ordered the book on the Lincoln's marriage you referenced above! I adore books about the presidents and especially ones that go into detail about their personalities/family life. I don't know how I missed this one!
When it arrives I'll just need to figure out what priority to assign it in my never ending "to be read" pile...
(I really liked First Mothers as well)
posted by bookmammal at 5:17 AM on February 20, 2017

In DC, a few blocks north of the White House around 16th & S St NW, there's a large, imposing Masonic Temple which is sometimes open to the public. They have a vast library of books about Lincoln - thousands of books - which you can come in and read.
posted by me & my monkey at 7:51 AM on February 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Great post, thank you! I decided to read 5 Presidential biographies this year (I normally stick to fiction). I started with the John Adams bio from McCullough, and now I'm halfway through The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which is sort of a dual biography of Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. It goes deeply into the state of journalism at the time... in light of recent events, it's very interesting to see how Roosevelt masterfully manipulates the media.
posted by saturngirl at 8:24 AM on February 20, 2017

*sigh* I was really into presidential reading last year. This year, uh....

That said, I've been reading about impeachments and the Roosevelts.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:31 AM on February 20, 2017

Eyebrows McGee, of course you must begin with Edmund Morris (and, consequently, you can then skip the very lightweight David McCullough retread) when diving into TR. I will then highly recommend The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley.
It's a deep look into the conservation movement that TR championed, and paints him as exactly as he was, naturalist who happened to become president, and who used the power of is office to do monumental things to save great swathes of american wilderness for posterity.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:18 PM on February 20, 2017

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