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February 22, 2012 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Book Recs -- Presidential Biography edition!

I wish to embark on a reading challenge to fully wrap my mind around US Presidential history and satisfy my curiosity.

I've gleaned some titles from this 2004 question, but of course I am a special snowflake. [I also found this on preview, but I'm hoping that more books have been published since.]

I'm looking for books that discuss the personal and political lives of each of the US presidents. Ideally, I'd like to read one book per president in chronological order. I'm looking specifically for books that would include the political development and intrigues surrounding whichever president. The perfect book would be scholarly and non-partisan. (It's amazing how we can still be partisan about 200 year old politics.) Examples of popular historians that I like are Simon Schama, Allison Weir and David Starkey.

I'm really geeked out about starting this. Thanks guys!!
posted by mibo to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I really like this book about Polk. A little dry, but great information about the politics and ideas at the time.
posted by SNWidget at 7:00 AM on February 22, 2012

I did this project a couple of years ago! My stand-outs:

Grant by Jean Edward Smith
Truman by David McCullough
John Adams by David McCullough
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Actually, I think you can see my ratings of each book I read here, which may help you out with ones to avoid, too. I had trouble finding a decent biography of some of the lesser known presidents.

On the partisan front, I quit after JFK because I figured after that they would become more political than historical. And, frankly, because I was sort of getting tired of the whole thing. I'm thinking of continuing at least through Nixon in the next year or so.
posted by something something at 7:04 AM on February 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis
posted by stampsgal at 7:21 AM on February 22, 2012

Before a medical emergency derailed me, I started a blog in 2009 to accompany my plan to read a biography of each president. It's a little bit dated, but I started my journey with (dated) The Essential Presidential Bookshelf. I'm sure you'll get great recommendations here, but probably fewer for "minor' presidents like Van Buren or Arthur. Also, I'd note that in some cases, you might find older books more entertaining and compelling in their own ways. Have fun with this!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 7:30 AM on February 22, 2012

I liked Bill Clinton's autobiography, especially the first volume.
posted by hick57 at 7:55 AM on February 22, 2012

It was mentioned on the 2004 list, but if you haven't read Edmund Morris' The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt yet, you're missing a real treat.
posted by up in the old hotel at 8:52 AM on February 22, 2012

Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation is a great presidential book, but it does jump around between Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley and mostly centers on their later days. Maybe it would be a good book to read at the end of this project?
posted by soelo at 9:43 AM on February 22, 2012

I make no claim as to how good these are, but a thread popped up on Reddit Books with a fair amount of recommendations a couple of months ago.
posted by RyanAdams at 11:30 AM on February 22, 2012

Response by poster: This is fantastic!! It occurred to me just now to add bonus points for great biographies of the First Ladies, too. Double the fun, right?
posted by mibo at 7:18 PM on February 22, 2012

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