Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne met when they were about 17 years old, long before Pierce was President of the United States or Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, at Bowdoin College in Maine. They formed a friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives, and their devotion to each other caused controversy, especially in later years after President Pierce, a Northerner, supported Southern interests and remained close to Jefferson Davis. Many of Pierce’s friends, neighbors, and supporters deserted him, but Hawthorne never did. Hawthorne had written a campaign biography of Pierce in 1852 and Pierce appointed Hawthorne as the U.S. Consul in Liverpool — a position which required few duties from Hawthorne but provided him with a steady income to continue his writing.
In 1863, the Civil War was raging and former President Pierce was as unpopular as any ex-President in American history, with some even accusing him of treason and alleging that his longtime friendship with the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, suggested Pierce’s collusion with Davis’s cause. Despite that storm, Nathaniel Hawthorne had told some friends that he was planning on dedicating his latest book, Our Old Home, to Franklin Pierce. They were outraged. Hawthorne’s friends, neighbors, and publisher strongly urged him to reconsider, with many telling the author that the American people would soon turn against him, too, if he remained so publicly supportive of the unpopular former President who was seen by many as a traitor.
In the face of such backlash, it didn’t take Hawthorne long to decide on what to do. On July 2, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was entering its second day and Nathaniel Hawthorne sat down in his home, The Wayside, in Concord, Massachusetts and wrote:
TO FRANKLIN PIERCE,
AS A SLIGHT MEMORIAL OF A COLLEGE FRIENDSHIP, PROLONGED THROUGH MANHOOD, AND RETAINING ALL ITS VITALITY IN OUR AUTUMNAL YEARS,
THIS VOLUME IS INSCRIBED BY NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE.
TO A FRIEND:
I HAVE not asked your consent, my dear General, to the foregoing inscription, because it would have been no inconsiderable disappointment to me had you withheld it; for I have long desired to connect your name with some book of mine, in commemoration of an early friendship that has grown old between two individuals of widely dissimilar pursuits and fortunes. I only wish that the offering were a worthier one than this volume of sketches, which certainly are not of a kind likely to prove interesting to a statesman in retirement, inasmuch as they meddle with no matters of policy or government, and have very little to say about the deeper traits of national character. In their humble way, they belong entirely to aesthetic literature, and can achieve no higher success than to represent to the American reader a few of the external aspects of English scenery and life, especially those that are touched with the antique charm to which our countrymen are more susceptible than are the people among whom it is of native growth.
And now farewell, my dear friend; and excuse (if you think it needs any excuse) the freedom with which I thus publicly assert a personal friendship between a private individual and a statesman who has filled what was then the most august position in the world. But I dedicate my book to the Friend, and shall defer a colloquy with the Statesman till some calmer and sunnier hour. Only this let me say, that, with the record of your life in my memory, and with a sense of your character in my deeper consciousness as among the few things that times has left as it found them, I need no assurance that you continue faithful forever to that grand idea of an irrevocable Union, which, as you once told me, was the earliest that your brave father taught you. For other men there may be a choice of paths, — for you, but one; and it rests among my certainties that no man’s loyalty is more steadfast, no man’s hopes or apprehensions on behalf of our national existence more deeply heartfelt, or more closely intertwined with his possibilities of personal happiness, than those of FRANKLIN PIERCE
Passing from his room to my own, leaving to door open and so placing the lamp that its direct rays would not fall upon him and yet enable me to see distinctly from my bed, I betook myself to rest too, a little after ten o’clock. But I awoke before twelve, and noticed that he was lying in a perfectly natural position, like a child, with his right hand under his cheek. That noble brow and face struck me as more grand serenely calm then than ever before. With new hope that such undisturbed repose might bring back fresh vigor, I fell asleep again; but he was so very restless the night previous that I was surprised and startled when I noticed, at three o’clock, that his position was identically the same as when I observed him between eleven and twelve. Hastening softly to his bedside, I could not perceive that he breathed, although no change had come over his features. I seized his wrist, but found no pulse; ran my hands down upon his bare side, but the great, generous, brave heart beat no more.
No, I haven’t read The Alienist (BOOK | KINDLE). I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, but that’s solely because I simply don’t have enough time to read all of the non-fiction books that I want and need to read, so it’s hard to squeeze in a genre that isn’t at the top of my list. The premise of the book sounds interesting, though, set during Theodore Roosevelt’s time as Police Commissioner in New York City.
There is a great non-fiction book on that subject and era, however, that I would highly recommend: Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks (BOOK | KINDLE). Anyone interested on TR’s time as NYC’s Police Commissioner (or those of you who might have read the The Alienist and found the idea to be fascinating) should check out Island of Vice.
First and foremost, I’d have to say the books that Edmund Morris has written — his trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt and his unique biography of Ronald Reagan:
•The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Theodore Rex (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Colonel Roosevelt (BOOK | KINDLE)
•Edmund Morris’s Theodore Roosevelt trilogy bundle
•Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan (BOOK | KINDLE)
I don’t want to make this list too long, so I’ll just leave it with Morris, who I think writes the best prose of any Presidential biographer. Of course, I love the work of Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert Caro, and David McCullough, but I think that every sentence Morris writes is a thing of beauty.
However, I do want to mention one campaign book that stands out, even in a field containing Theodore White’s The Making of the President books and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72, and that is Richard Ben Cramer’s classic, exhaustive take on the 1988 campaign, What It Takes: The Way to the White House (BOOK | KINDLE) which delves into the campaigns of George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, Richard Gephardt, and a guy you might have heard of named Joe Biden.
Advanced copies almost always come from the publisher. Every once in a while an author or an outside marketing company will send me an advanced reading copy, but that’s very rare. Most of the time that I’ve been sent books directly from the authors, it’ll be a PDF copy of their manuscript that they are putting the finishing touches on and sending around to certain people before making a final submission to see if anyone notices any errors or glaring issues that the author didn’t catch. On two or three occasions, I’ve had an author ask if I’d mind taking a look at their manuscript and then they’ve sent an unbound manuscript — basically just their book as if they had printed it straight off of their computer at home, but that’s even more rare. Like I said, in almost every case, an advanced reading copy will come from the publisher and it will be bound — not the final product that you would buy from the bookstore, but something that normally looks like this:
As for the second part of the question, how far in advance that I receive books all depends on the book, the author, the subject matter, and the publishing company. Some companies place embargoes on books that prohibit releasing certain information or even whole reviews on specific books until an exact date (sometimes shortly before the date of release, sometimes not until the actual release date). So, at times, I receive advanced copies of books with a one-sheet from the publicist that specifies an embargo date. Sometimes, publishers control certain books so tightly in order to keep them from leaking that I don’t receive review copies until the Friday or Monday before the release date (they are usually released on Tuesdays) or even the release dates itself. I always marvel at how well publicists are able to time the arrival of those type of review copies (even with Next-Day Air it would seem like they’d make some mistakes!).
But there is no uniform way that I can decipher when it comes to when review copies arrive. There have been big-name authors or highly-anticipated books that I’ve been shocked to receive copies of way ahead of time, and some other books that I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to buy that are strictly embargoed. I don’t know if the power lies with the author, the publicist, or the editors; I’m just always happy when UPS, FedEx, or the USPS drops a package (or ten) at my door. Right now, I have an ARC of a book with a January 2015 release date, but they usually don’t come that far ahead of time. Plus, it’s important to remember that many of the release dates, even a lot of release dates for upcoming books on Amazon, are tentative and tend to shift quite a bit. Again, it all depends on the book, the author, the subject matter, and the publishing company — certain companies are a sure bet for the book hitting stores on the tentative publication date, but if books leak or if deadlines get pushed back that release date can often shift, sometimes dramatically.
This is the first I’m hearing about it, but that will be very, very interesting. Bush 41 has never written a true autobiography, so it’ll be nice to have such a unique perspective from one President about another.
However, it won’t be the first time that a President has written about another President. We even nearly had another instance of a President whose father was also President writing a biography about his father — John Quincy Adams had worked off-and-on at trying to get together his father’s papers and either edit them into the autobiography that John Adams wanted to write but never finished, or write his own book about his father. Unfortunately, he never got that completed. John Quincy Adams did write a joint biography of his two immediate predecessors — The Lives of James Madison and James Monroe (BOOK | KINDLE). JQA also had book-length eulogies (which is largely what the joint biography was drawn from) on those two Presidents: An Eulogy on the Life and Character of James Monroe, published after Monroe died in 1831, and An Eulogy on the Life and Character of James Madison, published after Madison’s death in 1836.
Woodrow Wilson wrote a biography of George Washington with the snazzy title of George Washington (BOOK | KINDLE) in 1896, long before he began his own political career. And in 1958, Wilson was the subject of a biography from 84-year-old former President Herbert Hoover, The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson. What makes Hoover’s book about Wilson especially fascinating was that he served on behalf of President Wilson during the war effort of World War I and wrote about the toll that the Presidency, particularly the battle to win ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and American entry into the League of Nations, exacted on Wilson.
To me, the book by George W. Bush about his father is by far the most intriguing of any book by a President about a President. Bush 43 also didn’t write a traditional post-Presidential autobiography; his 2010 book, Decision Points (BOOK | KINDLE), was more of a memoir on specific events of his Presidency. But I found it to be a lot more candid than I expected. Any Presidential autobiography of memoir is going to contain some revisionist history because it’s often their last chance to personally shape their legacy, and Decision Points certainly contains a lot of that, but it was also far more personal than I imaged it would be. I’m excited about the prospect of the book you mentioned.
I was browsing upcoming book releases on Amazon and had a pretty exciting moment when I came across this:
Cool, I’m happy to hear that you checked it out! That book, Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE), is really interesting, especially for people like me who spend most of their time reading about American history rather than British history (or the history of other foreign leaders). It also made me understand Queen Victoria in a very different light, especially after reading somewhat similar books like Helen Rappaport’s A Magnificent Obsession: Victoria, Albert, and the Death That Changed the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE) and Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince (BOOK | KINDLE) — both of which are also excellent.
I would also recommend checking out another book on a similar subject and from pretty much the same era — Why Spencer Perceval Had To Die, (BOOK | KINDLE) Andro Linklater’s book about the only assassination of a British Prime Minister, which took place in the lobby of Parliament in 1812.