Man, there are so many great examples of Presidents talking about each other — both positively and negatively — that the quotes could easily fill a book…
Oh, wait a second…there IS such a book available and I actually wrote it!
Get your copy of TRIBUTES AND TRASH TALK: WHAT OUR PRESIDENTS SAID ABOUT EACH OTHER for just $4.99. You’ll have over 300 pages of Presidents saying what they really felt about their fellow colleagues in the POTUS Club.
In my book, you’ll find a huge collection of quotes by our Presidents and about our Presidents. Quotes that include Presidential-style disses like:
•”He is a filthy, lying son-of-a-bitch, and a very dangerous man.” — John F. Kennedy, on Richard Nixon, 1960
•”A fathead…with the brains of a guinea pig.” — Theodore Roosevelt, on William Howard Taft, 1912
•”I would not be present to see my darling Harvard disgrace herself by conferring a Doctor’s degree upon a barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name…” — John Quincy Adams, in a letter to Harvard President Josiah Quincy, protesting the University’s decision to confer an honorary doctorate on President Andrew Jackson, June 1833
•”Information received…indicates the election of Gen’l Taylor as President of the U.S. Should this be so, it is deeply to be regretted. Without political information and without experience in civilian life, he is wholly unqualified for the station.” — James K. Polk, personal diary entry upon learning that Zachary Taylor was elected to succeed him, November 8, 1848
"If Lincoln had lived, he would have done no better than [Andrew] Johnson." — Harry Truman, on Abraham Lincoln and Reconstruction
•”In two hundred years of history, he’s the most dishonest President we’ve ever had. I think he’s disgraced the Presidency. I’m a long-time Nixon hater from way back…” — Jimmy Carter, on Richard Nixon, 1974
Want more? Get TRIBUTES AND TRASH TALK instantly for quotes about every American Presidents from their fellow Presidents!
The book about FDR’s health isn’t by his doctor, but is a relatively recent book that I reviewed and have mentioned a few times: “FDR’s Deadly Secret” by Dr. Steven Lomazow and Eric Fettman. It’s a revealing look inside the health crises that took place during Roosevelt’s Administration and eventually killed him early in his fourth term.
Most astonishing is the possibility that FDR’s doctors and President Roosevelt himself covered up how seriously ill he was at times, particularly in 1944, in the midst of World War II, as he sought his unprecedented fourth term in the White House. Dr. Lomazow and Fettman make a convincing case that FDR had terminal brain cancer and abdominal cancer towards the end of his Presidency, knew about it, covered it up and ran for another term, and that his existing illnesses contributed to the cerebral hemorrhage which killed him on April 12, 1945.
I highly recommend “FDR’s Deadly Secret”. And for those who think it is crazy to believe that President Roosevelt would cover up or lie about his health, let’s not forget that FDR was somehow successful at hiding the fact that HE COULDN’T WALK from most Americans despite the fact that he was President longer than anyone in history ever was or ever will be. Keeping an illness hush-hush wasn’t a stretch for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
(By the way, I’m totally fine with FDR lying about his health and staying in office to try to finish the job. We were in the middle of the biggest, most dangerous war in the history of human existence. We needed leaders like FDR and Winston Churchill as bad as guns needed bullets. A dying FDR and drunk Churchill were worth more than any other two leaders at their very best.)
While it requires a bit of a commitment in time, I’d have to suggest Taylor Branch’s America In The King Years trilogy. Those three volumes are about as good as it gets when it comes to Dr. King and the history of his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. The books that make up Branch’s trilogy are Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63; Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65; and, At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68.
Like I said, Branch’s work is a commitment in time — each of the books are very long and detailed — so if you want definitive, go with those three volumes. If you’re looking for something that is a little less of an investment in your time (and money), I’d suggest The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Clayborne Carson. It’s not a traditional autobiography, but Carson, one of the foremost experts on the life and work of Dr. King, took MLK’s writings, speeches, sermons, and letters and painstakingly pieced them together in a way where the book tells the story of Dr. King’s life through Dr. King’s own words. Carson’s patchwork is seamless, so it reads exactly like a regular autobiography would. Carson’s book is a really good one to go with if you’re looking for a single-volume work on Dr. King instead of an in-depth three-volume masterpiece like Branch’s America in the King Years
And I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest Nick Kotz’s Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Laws That Changed America. Kotz focuses on the political teamwork (and, sometimes, political tension) between LBJ and MLK to finally pass significant Civil Rights legislation that actually made a difference to individual Americans who had long been victims of injustice.
First of all, it’s not the Cold War, but Kurt Eichenwald’s 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars is one of the best books — maybe THE best book — that I’ve read on the wars following the September 11th attacks.
•Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman — From World War to Cold War by Michael Dobbs (Might be more political than military history, but it’s a damn good primer on the beginning of the Cold War)
•The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War: South Africa vs. Cuba in the Angolan Civil War by Peter Polack (One of the more highly-overlooked and important proxy wars of the era)
•Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean by Alex Von Tunzelmann (A fast-paced history of covert U.S. operations in Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, particularly during the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Administrations)
•The Commanders by Bob Woodward (An older book focusing on the military operations in Panama and Iraq during the first Bush Administration which is really interesting in hindsight because of what happened during the second Bush Administration)
•From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War by Robert M. Gates (The first book by the man who would later become Secretary of Defense under Bush 43 and Obama. From the Shadows is both political and military history from the viewpoint of Gates during his time as a CIA operative, member of the National Security Staff, and CIA Director. Of course, for a look at our recent wars, Gates’s second book, Duty, is also well worth a read)
•The Cold War: A Military History edited by Robert Cowley (A collection of pieces on the military history of the Cold War, obviously, by top-notch historians such as Stephen Ambrose, Thomas Fleming, David McCullough, Simon Winchester, and others)
•Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden (One of the best books that I’ve ever read — focuses on the Iranian hostage crisis and the disastrous Operation Eagle Claw rescue attempt)
These are just a start, of course — a few of the best of the bunch that I can think of off the top of my head. Two more that I would recommend, although they aren’t centered around American military history, are Abraham Rabinovich’s The Yom Kippur War and Martin Middlebrook’s The Falklands War. Both of those wars are frequently overlooked, especially by Americans, but I find both to be incredibly interesting.
No, of course not. I enjoy recommending books for people.
Listen, I read a lot of books and I don’t have time to get around to reviewing even a quarter of them. Sure, many of the books that I read help with what I write about, but there are also many books that I just read because they interest me. I’m happy to put the time invested in reading to use by having people who are actually interested in my thoughts about those books ask me about them. I mean, I don’t have anybody that I just sit around and talk about books with. I’d love to be able to do that, or even just chat with folks in real-time about books, but no one is interested! So, being able to give out book suggestions or answer questions about specific books makes it feel like those hours spent reading were truly put to good use.
I love talking about books. Not just books about Presidents or the Presidency, either. My life basically revolves around books, so I’m more than happy to make suggestions, answer questions, or just chat about them anytime.
A pretty wide variety of things, actually. I’ve been on a T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) kick lately. Lawrence was just an endlessly fascinating character. I’ve read a few new books on Churchill, or events that Churchill played an influential role in. In fact, I’ll just list some of the recent books that I’ve read and found interesting:
•Destiny in the Desert: The Road to El Alamein — the Battle That Turned the Tide of World War II by Jonathan Dimbleby
•Churchill and the Mad Mullah of Somaliland: Betrayal and Redemption, 1899-1921 by Roy Irons
•Dinner With Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table by Cita Stelzer
•Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI by Kenneth Weisbrode
•1808: The Flight of the Emperor: How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the New World by Laurentino Gomes
•The British Invasion of the River Plate, 1806-1807: How the Redcoats Were Humbled and a Nation Was Born by Ben Hughes
•Fatal Rivalry: Flodden 1513: Henry VIII, James IV, and the Battle for Renaissance Britain by George Goodwin
•Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath edited by Andrew L. Slap
•The Kennan Diaries by George F. Kennan/Edited by Frank Costigliola (REALLY remarkable — Kennan kept a diary for 88 — that’s EIGHTY-EIGHT — years)
•Down To The Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time by Tim Wendel (I’m not a baseball fan, but this was an interesting read. It’ll be released in April for you who are baseball fans. And for the six people in the world who like the Minnesota Twins.)
•Inside the Hotel Rwanda: The Surprising True Story…and Why It Matters Today by Edouard Kayihura and Kerry Zukus
I don’t read a lot of fiction, unfortunately. As you mentioned, my time is usually occupied by non-fiction, but I really should read more fiction because it does help me grow as a writer. I actually probably read more fiction books last year than I have in any other year over the last decade, though. I tend to stick with specific writers and classics. I also read a lot of poetry. I do have some favorites that I can recommend:
•Anything by Sam Shepard — I’ve written many times that Sam Shepard is an American treasure. He is our greatest living playwright, a brilliant actor, and the author of vivid, haunting, beautiful short stories and poems that can be found in fantastic collections like Day Out of Days, Great Dream of Heaven, Cruising Paradise, Hawk Moon, and other books. I get every single book that Sam Shepard releases and I have never been disappointed.
•The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell — I was sent this book by the author of Winter’s Bone by his publisher and just happened to start reading it even though I rarely, if ever, review fiction. I didn’t stop reading it until I was finished a couple of others later and was blown away as I explained in my review of The Outlaw Album for AND Magazine.
•Anything by John Steinbeck — Like Sam Shepard, Steinbeck (a buddy of LBJ, by the way!) was an American treasure. I never tire of reading his words. He was one of the greatest of all-time.
That’s a start. Some other writers whose fiction I love are Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Umberto Eco, Tennessee Williams, José Martí, Jorge Luis Borges, Gore Vidal’s historical fiction, and Ambrose Bierce among others. And while I’m not going out on a limb or making some radically original suggestion, I have to say Shakespeare. I have my Complete Works of William Shakespeare nearby at all times because I can open the book up to any of the 1400+ pages, randomly find a line, and be amazed every single at the beauty and creativity of every single word that Shakespeare strung together — writing that is over 400 years old still constantly amazes me. Not familiarizing yourself with Shakespeare because everyone focuses on his work is like not breathing because everybody else is doing it.
I have this awesome set of Steinbeck’s work from the Library of America that I genuinely treasure:
The Library of America set is definitely a bit of an investment for all four books in the collection (thankfully, the amazing folks at LOA sent the set to me gratis), but it has just about everything a John Steinbeck could need — all of his most famous works and some of his more obscure novels. And not only is it a definitive collection of Steinbeck’s writing but, as with all Library of America publications, the books are absolutely gorgeous with beautiful cloth binding, razor thin paper that is acid-free, and contain built-in book markers made out of ribbon. I love Library of America books, so having a nearly complete collection of Steinbeck’s works from LOA is fantastic.
Of course, if dropping $150 on the collection from the Library of America is, understandably, not feasible, you can find Steinbeck’s books pretty cheaply in paperback. Steinbeck’s work is not hard to find. If you want a suggestion for which book to start with, I’d suggest Travels With Charley In Search of America, The Moon Is Down, or The Long Valley (a collection of short stories).
There is also America and Americans and Selected Nonfiction (which isn’t included in the LOA collection) which is a brilliant collection of essays, letters, and observations on the United States, its people, its politics, and his personal experiences. I’ve frequently quoted a piece about the Presidency and Americans perception of our Presidents here on Dead Presidents.
To answer your last question first, yes, I definitely get bummed to realize that I’ll never get to read everything I want to read. Hell, I go crazy looking around my apartment at my piles of books and trying to find enough hours that I can put into reading so I can get through the books I already have!
As for the first question, wow, that’s really tough to figure out. I’m just going to try to estimate the number of books that I’ve read since I was 18 (I’m 34 now). The number of books that I’ve been able to read each year has increased since I was 18, particularly in the past four years because reading and reviewing books is part of my job, so I can justify doing nothing but reading for most of the day. I’d say that I’ve read an average of 250 books over the past four years, so that’s 1,000. From 25-30, I probably read 175 books a year on average, so that’s 875, From 18-25, I probably read about 150 books a year, so that’s 1,050. So, adding it up — and again, this is a total guesstimate, some years were probably quite a bit more or less — that’s 2,925 books since I was 18.
I have no idea how accurate that might be, but around 3,000 books does sound about right if I were to estimate how many books I actually have and how many of those I have read. In totally unrelated news, I have not had very many successful personal relationships between the ages of 18-34.
Ummm…yeah…there’s a REALLY good resource that I can’t recommend enough — my book, Tributes and Trash Talk: What Our Presidents Said About Each Other, which is available for both the Kindle and the Nook and is a straight-up bargain at just $4.95. Thanks for giving me a perfectly good reason to plug it. Now, go buy a copy for you, your family, your friends, and at least a dozen complete strangers, please.
If nothing else, get a copy because of the awesome cover art designed by the lovely and talented Betsy:
I have read Cawthorne’s book and it is entertaining, but quite a bit of it should be read with suspicion as many of the stories are either exaggerated, unsupported by credible sources, and/or completely apocryphal. There is a newer book that isn’t quite a salacious as Cawthorne’s but which deals with much of the same subject matter, is better researched, and stands on far more solid historical grounds — Affairs of State: The Untold History of Presidential Love, Sex, and Scandal, 1789-1900 by Robert P. Watson (Rowman & Littlefield, 2012).
Chernow always publishes great work — his biography of Alexander Hamilton (not a President, of course, but a very important figure in the early years of the nation) is a classic. I’m not sure which book about Martha Jefferson Randolph you’re referencing, but if it is Cynthia A. Kierner’s Martha Jefferson Randolph, Daughter of Monticello: Her Life and Times, you can’t go wrong. There’s also a really interesting book edited by Ann Lucas Birle and Lisa A. Francavilla called Thomas Jefferson’s Daughter in Queen Victoria’s England: The Travel Diary of Ellen Wayles Coolidge, 1838-1839. I usually breeze through the published private diaries or journals of historic figures and that book was no different.
As for Madison, three books immediately come to mind: James Madison and the Making of America by Kevin R. C. Gutzman; James Madison: A Son of Virginia & a Founder of the Nation by Jeff Broadwater; and Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe: The Bill of Rights and the Election That Saved a Nation by Chris DeRose. All of those books are relatively new and highly suggested reads. For a look at Madison and his role in the War of 1812, check out Hugh Howard’s Mr. and Mrs. Madison’s War: America’s First Couple and the Second War of Independence.