Also being a lover of biographies I thought it would be a cool idea to read a biography of every president in order. What better way to understand the men who have led this country and at the same time get a great picture of our history as a whole. On top of all of that, biographies written about many of our presidents can range from 500-1000 pages and most are written above the typical 7th/8th grade reading level. I would have to think and at the same time enjoy the process.
That brings us up to Sunday. I started A. Lincoln back in August when we were away on our 25th anniversary trip to Door County. This book sucked me in right away but as you can see, I don't buzz through any of these books quickly. I read many times on my Nook when I get into bed so a 1/2 chapter here and there. I also read other things at the same time. I know, but that is just how I roll.
I spent a wonderful afternoon on Sunday sitting in my chair reading the last few chapters. Reaching the beginning of the last chapter, I put it down. I know what happens to my beloved 16th president. But yet...I read on. I had been excited to get to Abraham Lincoln and there are a couple other Lincoln books I need to read before I move on. I also have biographies on my list of Lee, Sherman and Jefferson Davis. So it may be a bit before I move on and that is okay. I am still grieving with my country that has just lost its 16th president.
You see, by reading presidents (many who only served one term to this point), so much overlaps. I have really gotten a unique feel for how the country survived and how these men who led us worked together, or against one another. If you haven't read much between the founding and the Civil War, I HIGHLY recommend reading a few of the presidents in between. I would recommend John Tyler, James Polk or William Henry Harrison, or just start at the beginning and get the whole picture.
Some have asked me the books that I chose. Thankfully, about the time I started with Washington (which I could have still been there this day there is SO much out there to read about Washington), there was a series being written called "The American Presidents" not found in the juvenile section of the library but run 250-300 pages and they are good overviews if the 500-1000 page books are not sounding exciting to you. I pepper those in as I go too.
I will list the books I have read that have brought me to this great book that I enjoyed thoroughly. Any book that includes a lot of his words or quotes from correspondence and speeches are my favorite. This book did not disappoint. I really feel like I know this man and feel the burden that he bore as much as I possibly can living over a century later.
- Washington: Indispensable Man by Flexner (this book was very heavy with Revolutionary War which was great but I didn't feel it gave the best overall picture, so I tried: The Real George Washington put out by the National Center for Constitutional Studies
- John Adams by David McCullough...duh best by far and yes, watch the HBO miniseries too, if you want to borrow mine, I would gladly let you! This book is chock full of Adams' own words and writing. The relationships these men had in the beginning to disagree so fully with one another yet still be able to put together what it takes to make a nation. (can you tell, I love John Adams? Well, I read this book TWICE before I went on!) During this time, I also got side tracked with Sam Adams A Life by Ira Stoll, Benjamin Rush by David Barton, Founding Brothers by Ellis, and a book of letters between John and Abigail Adams. I left behind a biography of Alexander Hamilton and glad I did because Chernow has since written his book and yes, I have read the intro and one day will go back and read it. I also left behind McCullough's 1776 which is another on my shelf that will get read when I feel like taking a break and revisiting the revolution. Yes...it took me awhile to move on!
- American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson by Ellis. This was a very different handling of Thomas Jefferson and I enjoyed it a lot. I had already read so much about Jefferson up to this point that I felt like I knew him and much of his story. Ellis got me thinking and rounded out my thoughts on Jefferson. I can't say that I understand him and for all of his own writings that I have read, I still am not sure where he was coming from. I think he liked to be mysterious that way.
- James Madison by Richard Brookhiser
- James Monroe by Gary Hart was the first book I read in the American Presidents series. They are more concise and shorter. It wasn't until I was almost finished when I ran across the book The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call toe Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger. I enjoyed the story of James Monroe and sensed the end of the "beginning" as he left office.
- John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger. Yes, I liked the author from the book on James Monroe so read this one. I actually think that it was about half way through John Quincy when I found the James Monroe book. I am not sure exactly. They were both good. There has since been another John Quincy Adams book that has come out and since I enjoy his life and the service he gave to his country both as a boy and after he was president, I may find a little time to read that one too. So many books, so little time!
- American Lion: Andrew Jackson In the White House byJon Meacham I liked this one but the focus was as president. I also read Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands and liked that one about his whole life.
- Martin Van Buren by Ted Widmer and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. This was another from the American Presidents series.
- William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins another American Presidents series book but I got sucked into Harrison's involvement in Indiana with the indians. Which was much more time spent than in the actual office of president. He was not a good man but I found a book Gods of Prophetstown: The Battle of Tippecanoe and the Holy War for the American Frontier by Adam Jortner that was very interesting. As you can see, I get sidetracked easily.
- John Tyler: The Accidental President by Edward P. Crapol I loved this book. It gave me a perspective on the country that I didn't have before. As I read I found slave owner presidents, anti-slavery presidents. John Tyler was a citizen of the Confederate States of America when he died.
- Polk: The Man Who Transformed the American Presidency by Walter R. Borneman Again with this one, the politics and process of dealing with an ever dividing nation. I enjoyed this book as well.
- Zachary Taylor by John S. D. Eisenhower This was a short and sweet book from the American President series.
- Millard Fillmore by Paul Finkelman I seemed at this time to be entering the part of our timeline where there isn't much interest in writing biographies of these men. Great again, short but informative book from the American Presidents series.
- Franklin Pierce by Michael F Holt which was also from the American Presidents series. Before I read this book I had run into a digital copy of a biography of Franklin Pierce by none other than Nathaniel Hawthorne. I read this one before I got a copy of the "official" biography. I found out that Nathaniel Hawthorne and Franklin Pierce were good friends. Lets just say that his version of the life and presidency of Franklin Pierce was obviously rosey, as any biography one writes for a friend should be.
- The Worst President by Garry Boulard Obviously a little harsh but before you think I was being bias by choosing this book, you must know that every other book I found about James Buchanan and read samples were in total agreement. After reading it I am too. I kept finding myself shouting in my head "DO SOMETHING!!!!" He would not address the important issues or take a stand one way or another to move the country through the growing pains leading up to war. But God has a plan and he left the office in very capable hand as we all know.
- A. Lincoln by Ronald C. White was very readable and full of Lincoln's own words which I love! If you want a comprehensive book about Lincoln's life this is it. It was a wonderful glimpse into his life and it is easy to see he was given to our country for "such a time as this". There was much emotion that I felt through his life. I was able to read of a man who knew of his melancholy and learned how to handle pain and grief in a way that helped him keep on going. That spoke to me volumes because I relate to that fully. He was willing to learn the art of war in order to be a qualified Commander in Chief. I have pondered often what our country would be like today if Lincoln had been able to serve his second term and been actively involved in reconstruction. It wasn't to be though as you all know how his story ends. John Wilkes Booth snuck into the president's box at the theater and I am yelling "STOP! Everyone just STOP!" in my head. No one heard me though so I wasn't able to change history. This is not my only book before I go on to president 17 Andrew Johnson. I have already started Team of Rivals and am enjoying it in the first chapters. I love how I know all the names already of the people Lincoln so wisely surrounded himself with. I will also read Killing Lincoln too before I go on. Like I said, I have the other extras that I am interested in too before I go on.
So that is my list so far. I highly recommend it if you are one who enjoys biographies and history. I do so it is fun. I am amazed at the things that I learn and have been pleasantly surprised at the faith that some had as they led our country. So now you know. I am thankful for digital books as I have spent a lot of time in the last few years sitting in doctor's offices and it is amazing how much I can learn and enjoy as I wait.