Happy Presidents Day everyone!
For a history nerd who especially loves studying up on the presidents, it’s a rather fun day. The web is full of presidential goodies today and I certainly couldn’t sit this one out. So, I have a few things to share with you, including a great interview with presidential historian and author Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky.
Let’s jump right in!
My 10 Favorite Presidential Biographies
While I’m working on a big list covering all of the presidential bios I’ve read, for now, I wrote up a long essay on my 10 favorites for the Art of Manliness. It’s more than just a review of the books, so give it a read:
My Latest Podcast Appearance
My History Can Beat Up Your Politics is a long-running podcast (15 years!) that I’ve discovered in the last few years. Bruce is a smart, conversational host and it was a lot of fun being a guest on his show to talk about obscure and forgotten facts about our presidents (plus some other POTUS-related stuff).
A Few Bookish Questions (Mostly About Presidents) With Dr. Lindsay Chervinsky
I first discovered Chervinsky’s work through Twitter and came to quickly appreciate both her historical insights and her perspective in putting modern political events into the larger narrative of America’s story. I’m part of the way through her fantastic book, The Cabinet, and will be sharing a review of that in a few weeks. Until then, enjoy these recommendations for POTUS books (and more!).
1. What are your favorite and/or essential POTUS books?
Oh my gosh, there are so many, where to start? Here are a few favorites that never fail to please: The Return of George Washington by Edward Larson, The Age of Eisenhower by William Hitchcock, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris, Winter War by Eric Rauchway, The Accidental President by A.J. Baime. I also can’t read enough about Ulysses S. Grant, because he is super fascinating. American Ulysses by Ronald White is excellent.
2. What about books on the cabinet or cabinet members, specifically?
Honestly, there aren’t that many! The cabinet is really underappreciated. Camelot’s Court by Robert Dallek, The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer, and The Black Cabinet by Jill Watts are fantastic. Jefferson and Hamilton by John Ferling is great for understanding Jefferson and Hamilton’s relationships.
3. Are there any unheralded POTUS or POTUS-adjacent books you recommend?
It’s old, but The Washington Community by James Young is fantastic. The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed is Jefferson adjacent, but essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the third president. I also love The Problem of Democracy by Isenberg and Burstein, which is about both Adams presidents and their lives together. It’s really amazing and funny too!
4. Your first book delves into early American political history. What do you recommend for the average reader to learn more about that time period and political situation (besides yours, of course!)?
You can’t understand early political history and culture without reading Joanne Freeman, both Affairs of Honor and The Field of Blood. Recently, Michael Hattem published Past and Prologue: Politics and Memory in the American Revolution, which does a great job analyzing how political memory and our understanding of the Revolution began to evolve and was shaped from day one.
5. I'd love to read more political novels. Is that a genre you've read much of? Any recs there?
I don’t! I either read about the real thing or I go very far away .
6. I imagine most of your reading is non-fiction, primary sources, research, etc. What do you read for fun and entertainment in your off hours?
I do love reading fiction. It’s the only way I can fully turn off my brain. I really enjoy TV and movies, but my brain keeps working away, so fiction is the best way to fully shut off. One of my favorite recent reads was The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (based on a true story!) and The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish. I also adored The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and I’ve been working my way through that series, because Sherlock Holmes novels are so fun and such a great escape.
When I’m not working, reading, etc., I love to hike with my husband and my dog, John Quincy Dog Adams (Quincy for short).
7. Any all-time favorite books, regardless of subject matter, that you find yourself recommending a lot or generally just thinking/talking about a lot?
The Giver of Stars is one of my all-time favorite fiction reads and I always recommend it. Affairs of Honor (also mentioned above). But I’m also a big fan of some old-school books and read Pride and Prejudice every year, especially when I need a break.
When I started reading for work, to understand the big broad brushstrokes, I loved The Federalists and The Jeffersonians by Leonard White, to give me a sense of the time period. Along those same lines, What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe is the best book for the lead up to the Civil War. The two books I remember the most clearly from graduate school and that most changed my thinking are Cold War Civil Rights by Mary Dudziak and When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson.
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