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From the beginning, Americans have loved and hated their presidents, and memorialized them both for their achievements and their foibles. In this collection of essays, written by members of the prestigious Society of American Historians, we're gifted with a lively interpretive history of the 41 presidents to date with an emphasis on their dominant themes and achievements as influenced by their personalities and ideologies.

With the focus on presidential style, Joseph J. Ellis examines the ironies in Thomas Jefferson's ideals and actions, as well as his inveterate shyness (imagine a modern-day president who only spoke at his inauguration and presented all legislative proposals in writing). Robert Dallek discusses Lyndon B. Johnson's contradictions as evidenced in his significant domestic achievements and the terrible failure of the Vietnam War. And in the pieces on also-rans like Grant and Coolidge and the disgraced such as Nixon, these historians often use the benefit of hindsight and scholarship to focus on the more redeeming features of each man. The most recent president covered does not get off so lightly, however, as Evan Thomas devotes an inordinate amount of space to Bill Clinton's philandering and slams him with such adjectives as "calculating, shrewd and slovenly."

The book is packed with photographs, illustrations, inaugural addresses, and memorable quotes ("When Theodore attends a wedding, he wants to be the bride, and when he attends a funeral, he wants to be the corpse"). A light sense of humor is even displayed, as in a photograph of William Howard Taft's mammoth bathtub, specially built after the 355-pound man got stuck in an ordinary tub, and the story of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign captured in two campaign photos--one of a sexy, bare-chested JFK in his PT-109 and the other of a stiff Nixon in his Navy dress blues. It's also a treasure trove of presidential trivia--which presidents proposed to their wives on the first date? Who were the only three vice presidents to be successfully promoted by election? This is a terrific reference book--an informative, revealing, and fun way to learn about America's chosen few. --Lesley Reed

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ISBN-10:  0789450739
ISBN-13:  978-0789450739
Author:  James M. McPherson
Publisher:  Dorling Kindersley
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review by . November 03, 2010
One of the more insidious ways to fritter away your life on the internet is to play Jeopardy online, competing against random strangers for (relatively) small amounts of money. There are few things more satisfying than starting out your day by shutting out perky cincinnatipatti, even though you immediately plow your winnings back into playing more online games.      Of course, if you want to stand a fighting chance in the whole online Jeopardy caper, you'll need to buckle …
review by . June 04, 2001
I join with countless others in praise of this magnificent collection of essays which discuss all but one of the Presidents of the United States. The author of each essay is a distinguished historian who is especially well-qualified to comment on the given subject. James M. McPherson serves as general editor and provides an Introduction which, by itself, is worth the price of the book. He also provides the analysis of Abraham Lincoln. David Rubel assists McPherson in the capacity of editor. Each …
review by . January 01, 2001
This is a great reference book for those who want to check on the highlights of each President's term, but I found it somewhat lacking in details. I guess I was looking for a history of America from the President's desk, and I didn't get it.However it is entertaining enough, and would be a good addition to any library.
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To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents
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