I love reading about the Presidents of the United States of America. Some are simple biographies. Within that category are both hagiographical and critical works. Both types have their benefits and insights. In addition to biographies are works exploring their policies, their context, and books written by their contemporaries. Below are a number of books on some of the Presidents that are above the rest that I have read thus far. My ultimate goal is to read a biography on every president. So moving forward, perhaps this list will increase.
JFK, Conservative by Ira Stoll
Was John F. Kennedy, Democrat from Massachusetts, actually a conservative? Such an assertion sounds ridiculous but consider the evidence. Ira Stoll walks the reader through Kennedy’s speeches and policies and makes a compelling argument. One of the things I discovered in this volume is how easily we view JFK through the policies of RFK and Teddy. Yet JFK was his own man and his policies reflect the Democrat parties policies of his day. A fascinating read to say the least.
41: A Portrait of My Father by George W. Bush
Only twice in history have both a father and son served as President. The first were the Adams (John and John Quincy) and the second were the Bush’s (H. W. and W.). In this rare work, W. looks at the life, administration, and legacy of his father. Obviously, this is a hagiographical work, but appropriately so. What makes it so rich is to see how a former President tells the story of his father who was himself a sitting president and the lessons he learned. The highs and lows. There may be little historical value here, but it is a special volume that I love.
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James Swanson
There are more books about Abraham Lincoln than any other president and rightly so. His death set the nation back after a bloody and violent civil war. Rarely explored is the hunt for Lincoln’s killer: John Wilkes Booth. Always an idealist, Booth believed he was saving the confederacy and died a lonely, hated man. The fear in Washington at this time and the surprise swearing in of Andrew Johnson into the presidency on top of the actual hunt for Booth makes this a fascinating tale. This is one of those volumes I point to that illustrates how well-written history is better than most works of fiction.
The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
No one played a bigger roll in American religion and politics than the late Billy Graham. Graham personally ministered in some way to every president between Truman and Trump. In this volume, the authors tell that story – the highs and lows. The highs include his work with the Reagan’s and Bush’s and the lows include his time with Truman, Kennedy, and Nixon. If you love Graham and the Presidents, this is the perfect book for you.