Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "book recommendations"
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Thanks for answering the rapper question. Now, are there any good books on Richard Nixon that aren't either a hagiography or a hatchet job? It seems as though that's all I've been getting-a blanket apologist or someone who clearly doesn't like/has an ax to grind against Nixon. As a side note, even all these years later, it's amazing how this man can mean so many different things to so many different people. Did he ever accept that he deserved to resign or feel sorry?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think Nixon always believed that he had been railroaded for things that other Presidents had done (taping conversations, dirty tricks, political strong-arming), and he had a chip on his shoulder — not just because of his political career, but because he genuinely had a difficult upbringing that took a toll on him. The fact that he actually rose to the heights that he did is remarkable — a testament to his brilliance and his capabilities, especially when you consider the fact that Nixon really disliked every aspect of politics outside of policy. That’s what made his eventual fall from power so disappointing. He will always be a polarizing figure — endlessly fascinating and eternally frustrating.

As for the best books about Nixon, there is no absence of them, even if you remove the hagiographies (such as those by Pat Buchanan or Roger Stone) and the hatchet jobs (such as those by Anthony Summers or Don Fulsom). Even though it’s obviously slanted in his favor, I’ll always recommend Nixon’s own autobiography, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (BOOK | KINDLE), because it definitely has value and it is one of the best-written Presidential autobiographies or memoirs. I’d also suggest both of Monica Crowley’s very favorable books on Nixon — Nixon Off-the-Record and Nixon In Winter — because Crowley was a research assistant and close aide to the former President in the last years of his life and both books include extraordinarily candid thoughts from Nixon about everyone and everything shortly before his death in 1994. 

Several other books about Richard Nixon that I wholeheartedly recommend include:

-The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House by H.R. Haldeman (Nixon’s loyal Chief of Staff whose diaries from the time of Nixon’s Presidency are very insightful about the inner workings of the Nixon Administration)
-President Nixon: Alone in the White House by Richard Reeves (BOOK | KINDLE)
-Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America by Rick Perlstein (BOOK | KINDLE)
-The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein (BOOK | KINDLE)
-Nixon and Kissinger: Partners In Power by Robert Dallek (BOOK | KINDLE)
-Nixon, Volume I: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 by Stephen E. Ambrose (BOOK | KINDLE)
-Nixon, Volume II: The Triumph of a Politician, 1963-1972 by Stephen E. Ambrose (BOOK | KINDLE)
-Nixon, Volume III: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990 by Stephen E. Ambrose (BOOK | KINDLE)
-Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon by Theodore H. White

And, of course, the two books by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are important and must-reads for Nixon completists: All the President’s Men (BOOK | KINDLE) and The Final Days (BOOK | KINDLE).

Asker hewest1937 Asks:
I Received the book The Invisible Bridge, the fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan. I was wondering if you have read it or if it's in your not read yet pile?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I have read Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (BOOK | KINDLE) and it is a fantastic book — one of the best books of 2014, in my opinion.

I’ve really liked all three of Perlstein’s books so far. The previous two books, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (BOOK | KINDLE), and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (BOOK | KINDLE), were damn good reads and I think The Invisible Bridge is even better. Highly recommended.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Have you read The Alienist by Caleb Carr?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

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.

David Pietrusza has written three of my favorite books focusing on specific Presidential campaigns, 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents> (BOOK | KINDLE), 1948: Harry Truman’s Improbable Victory and the Year That Transformed America, and 1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies, all of which I give my highest recommendation. So, I definitely suggest checking out this recent article by Mr. Pietrusza for the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation — The Coolidges and the Hardings: Northeast Meets Midwest — an interesting piece on the relationship between a President and the Vice President who would eventually succeed him.

I just want to say that I picked up Shooting Victoria at the library based on your review and I'm finding it to be the most interesting book! I'm only on chapter 4, but I've learned a lot already. Thanks for recommending it.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

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.

You should definitely get this book when it is released on August 5th. I was barely able to tear myself away from it to make this post.

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (BOOK | KINDLE) by Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland, and published by Simon & Schuster (@simonbooks) on August 5th.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
I'm kind of intrigued that you read Owen's No Easy Day. Any particular thoughts?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I’ve probably read at least six or seven different books about how Osama bin Laden was killed and some of them have been really good, some have been really bad, and some have seemed to be nothing more than the exact same details we learned from news reports put into the form of a book.

No Easy Day:The Autobiography of a Navy SEAL: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden (BOOK | KINDLE) is notable because the author Mark Owen (aka Mark Bissonnette) was involved in the mission that killed bin Laden. That is certainly a unique viewpoint, but to be honest, that’s the only reason I found No Easy Day to be interesting. I can’t say that I’d recommend purchasing the book, but since Wal-Mart always seems to have 6,000 copies, next time you’re in one of their stores, you should drop by the magazine aisle and read the 3 or 4 pages that really focus on the Abbottabad raid.

There are two books that I would recommend for those who might be interested in the reading about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden as well as putting the mission in context with either the hunt for bin Laden or bin Laden’s role in becoming leader of al-Qaeda and Public Enemy #1.

First and foremost, I would suggest Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden From 9/11 to Abbottabad (BOOK | KINDLE) by Peter Bergen, who is no relation to me, but who is the journalist who actually scored a face-to-face interview with Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. It’s extremely interesting and frightening to read Bergen (again, no relation) give his account of that interview and how bin Laden seemed soft-spoken and polite and even had a kindly nature, but when bin Laden’s words were translated he was declaring war on the United States and warning Americans that his organization would make no distinction between civilian and military targets in their jihad against U.S. interests.

The other book that I would suggest is The Finish: The Killing of Osama bin Laden (BOOK | KINDLE) by Mark Bowden. The Finish is less expansive than Manhunt, but the description of the raid in Abbottabad by the Navy SEALs is intense. Bowden is simply always terrific. I haven’t read a Mark Bowden book that I haven’t been mesmerized by. Black Hawk Down is his most famous work, of course, but I think Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War With Militant Islam is even better. And you’ll thank me if you also pick up Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw (on Pablo Escobar) and Road Work: Among Tyrants, Heroes, Rogues, and Beasts, a collection of some of the best of his narrative non-fiction which features an incredible piece on Saddam Hussein.

Asker fly-casually Asks:
So, James MacGregor Burns died. As a fellow presidential historian, do you have any thoughts on his work?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

He did?! Oh man, that’s a shame, I’m sorry to hear that. I think that Mr. Burns was probably in his 90s, so at least he had a long life, and us history-lovers are fortunate for that because of his prolific output of top-notch work, particularly on leadership and the Presidents/Presidency.

Here are three of my favorite books by James MacGregor Burns:

Leadership (BOOK | KINDLE)
Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America (BOOK | KINDLE)
Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World (BOOK | KINDLE)

Thank you for the feedback, and I’m happy to hear that you’re digging the posts so far!

@uncommonbreakdance: I definitely should have done that because I think you’re right about the data being easier to read if each of the subjects were bolded. Unfortunately, I’ve finishing writing up each of the entries and am just too damn lazy to go back and fix that part of the formatting. I’ll remember to do as you suggested in 2016, the next time I rank all of the Presidents.

@gracehasbobsdeadwifesheart: First of all, you deserve a gold star and a half-dozen smiley face stickers for the name of your account. I actually considered including a list of recommended books on each President with each entry, but getting everything together just for what you’ve seen so far was a lot more time-consuming than I thought I would be, so I scrapped the book recommendation idea. However, my “Essential Books” pages were updated just a few weeks ago, so that’s a great place to find suggested books on each President. The “Essential Books” lists are on the right side of my Tumblr’s front page. I’ve tried to break those lists up a little and spread them over a few pages so that they are easier to scan through, but here are quick links to the pages featuring my book suggestions on individual Presidents and the Presidency itself:

Essential Books, Part I: General books about the Presidents or Presidency; Books that I use most frequently for my work; Books about Presidents from George Washington to Franklin Pierce (Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, J.Q. Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, W.H. Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce.
Essential Books, Part II: Books about Presidents from James Buchanan to Woodrow Wilson (Buchanan, Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, A. Johnson, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, B. Harrison, McKinley, T. Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson.)
Essential Books, Part III: Books about Presidents from Warren G. Harding to Barack Obama (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, F. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, L. Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, G.W. Bush, Obama.)
Essential Books, Part IV: A collection of some of my favorite books not related to Presidents or the Presidency; Books about the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers; Civil War and Slavery; World War I and World War II; Civil Rights Movement; General U.S. History; General World History; Books on the Popes and Papal History; Miscellaneous Literature (John Steinbeck and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example); and books featuring the short stories, poetry, and plays by my favorite author of fiction and America’s greatest living playwright, Sam Shepard.

Thanks again for the feedback, and I hope to hear more thoughts and suggestions about my 2014 Presidential Rankings as the countdown continues.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What was the last book you finished and what are you currently reading?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

The last book that I finished reading was Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy (BOOK | KINDLE), which explores Queen Victoria’s lengthy reign in England through the eight unsuccessful assassination attempts against her.  Most of the attempts were actually pretty pathetic and can barely be considered attempts at assassinating the Queen, but Murphy uses the attacks as the vehicle for a history of VIctoria’s reign and her relationship with the British people.  Victoria became Queen after the unpopular Regency Era and the British monarchy was in a troublesome position at the time following the illnesses and unpredictability of King George III, the extravagance and excesses of King George IV, and King William IV’s unremarkable and relatively brief reign.

Queen Victoria’s early reign seemed to suggest that the troubles might continue and her popularity began to wear off after the excitement of Victoria’s coronation.  Victoria had been notoriously sheltered while growing up, so her political understanding and practice of politics were far below par when she began Queen.  As she learned her role (and, just as important, what she shouldn’t be doing), Victoria took to her job well.  When she married Prince Albert, he became a true partner and did wonders with helping Victoria reign, even though he remained a prince consort rather than a King and assumed no official powers.  Prince Albert and a house full of children did help change the perception of the British monarchy from a stuffy, ancient, aristocratic lineage of Kings and Queens and Princes and Princesses (which it still was) to a group of human beings.  Albert was a public relations wizard and he basically rebranded the British monarchy into the “royal family”, and personalizing the monarchy — giving it faces and hearts and names — did wonders for the popularity of the institution itself, as well as the Queen.  The assassination attempts written about in Shooting Victoria didn’t come too close to actually wounding Victoria or endangering the Queen’s life, but they augmented her popularity, especially when the Queen’s subjects saw how she handled the threats.  Instead of letting the assassination attempts interrupt her routine or change the way she interacted with the public, the Queen projected a sense of strength and an absence of fear or apprehension; in some cases, Victoria even seemed defiant — an attitude that the British, especially the working-class Londoners, couldn’t help but appreciate. 

Eventually, the tragic death of Prince Albert devastated Queen Victoria and changed Victoria’s outlook on life and changed the perception that the British people had of her, but using the assassination attempts as a way to view the ups-and-downs of Victoria’s life and legacy is a very fascinating and original way to tell her story.  Plus, the assassination attempts themselves range from ballsy to interesting to just plain laughable, and getting to know a few of the wacky would-be assassins is alone worth the price of Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy (BOOK | KINDLE).

Wow, I wasn’t planning on turning that into a little book review, but there you go, free of charge!

As for what I am currently reading, I just started Thunder at Twilight: Vienna, 1913-1914 by Frederic Morton (BOOK | KINDLE), which was originally published in 1989 and recently re-released as a 25th anniversary edition by Da Capo Press.  I’ve never read the book, but I’ve always heard amazing things about it, so I’m looking forward to getting into it.  The story focuses on Vienna (obviously) in the two years leading into World War I.  Of course, Austria was a major hot spot for tensions as the world headed to war and this book apparently touches on the incredibly fascinating cast of characters that one would have found in Vienna in 1913 and 1914 — Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Fraz Ferdinand (whose assassination in Sarajevo in June 1914 triggered the outbreak of the war), a young and volatile Austrian artist named Adolf Hitler, a group of Communist agitators who would later be recognizable by the names of Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin,  Marshal Tito, Sigmund Freud, and others.  I’ll give a complete account of my thoughts when I’m finished reading Thunder at Twilight, but I’m already captivated by the remarkable thought that all of these people who had such an influence on history were bouncing around Vienna at one point or another right around the same time (1913-1914).  I mean, imagine a young Hitler sketching ideas in a VIennese coffee shop while a young Lenin and Stalin debated with each other at the next table!  We don’t know if that ever happened (probably not), but it’s crazy to realize that it could have.  

I did it! Folks have been asking me to update my “Essential Books” pages for a very long time and I simply couldn’t find the time (or patience) to do it, but I’ve finally updated my lists of Essential Books about Presidents and have included live Amazon links to every single book that I have suggested.

The links below will take you to the pages of books that I would highly recommend if you’re interested in or studying individual Presidents or Presidential history in general. So, if you’re curious about the best books about each President, be sure to browse the Essential Books pages and use the Amazon links provided to buy whatever you’re interested in because it kicks back a little cash to yours truly!

Essential Books I (General Presidential history/Washington-to-Pierce)

Essential Books II (Buchanan-to-Wilson)

Essential Books III (Harding-to-Obama)

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Are there any good books out there on America's Isolationism?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Two good ones about FDR’s battle to overcome American isolationism in the lead-up to World War II are Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson and Cautious Crusade: Franklin D. Roosevelt, American Public Opinion, and the War against Nazi Germany by Steven Casey.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
have you read anything lately you would recommend
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes, I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently and I keep saying that I’ll list a bunch of my recommendations and then promptly forget about it, so I might as well do it now.  

I’d really recommend Peter Baker’s Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (Doubleday/Oct. 22nd), which comes out next Tuesday.  I was a big fan of Baker’s insider account of President Clinton’s impeachment, The Breach: Inside the Impeachment Trial of William Jefferson Clinton, and Days of Fire is another fantastic, insider account.  The Bush/Cheney relationship is incredibly fascinating.

There have also been some really good books released recently about JFK as we approach next month’s 50th anniversary of his assassination. I’ve received a bunch of JFK books over the past few months.  These were the ones that really stood out:

JFK in the Senate: Pathway to the Presidency by John T. Shaw (Palgrave Macmillan/Oct. 15th)
Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House by Robert Dallek (Harper/Oct. 9th)
JFK’s Last Hundred Days: The Transformation of a Man and the Emergence of a Great President by Thurston Clarke (The Penguin Press/July 16th)
If Kennedy Had Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History by Jeff Greenfield (Putnam/Oct. 22nd)
The Fourteenth Day: JFK and the Aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis by David G. Coleman (W.W. Norton/Oct. 21st)
The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy by Larry J. Sabato (Bloomsbury/Oct. 15th)
We Were There: Revelations from the Dallas Doctors Who Attended to JFK on November 22, 1963 by Allen Childs, MD (Skyhorse/Nov. 6th)

A few more books that I’ve read and really enjoyed over the past two months or so:

Wilson by A. Scott Berg (Putnam/Sept. 10th)
Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown by Chuck McFadden (University of California Press/May 6th)
The Light of Faith (Lumen Fidei) by Pope Francis (Ignatius Press/Aug. 31st) 
Birth School Metallica Death: The Biography, Volume 1 by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood (Da Capo Press/Nov. 15th)
Young Mr. Roosevelt: FDR’s Introduction to War, Politics, and Life by Stanley Weintraub (Da Capo Press/Oct. 15th) 
Theodore Roosevelt and the Assassin: Madness, Vengeance, and the Campaign of 1912 by Gerard Helferich (Lyons Press/Oct. 8th)
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 (Lyons Press/Sept. 3rd)
The Dark Side of the Enlightenment: Wizards, Alchemists, and Spiritual Seekers in the Age of Reason by John V. Fleming (W.W. Norton/July 22nd)
Lincoln’s Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, D.C. by Kenneth J. Winkle (W.W. Norton/Aug. 19th)
The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War by Stephen Puleo (Westholme/Sept. 19th)
To Raise Up a Nation: John Brown, Frederick Douglass, and the Making of a Free Country by William S. King (Westholme/Oct. 18th)
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown/Oct. 1st)
Jefferson and Hamilton: The Rivalry That Forged a Nation by John Ferling (Bloomsbury/Oct. 10th)
Coup: The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal by Keel Hunt (Vanderbilt University Press/Aug. 2nd)
Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy (Pegasus/Nov. 14, 2013)
The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency by James Tobin (Simon & Schuster/Nov. 12, 2013)
Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster/Oct. 1st)
We Are What We Pretend To Be: The First and Last Works by Kurt Vonnegut (Da Capo Press/Oct. 15th)
Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend: Personal Recollections About the Man Who Became Pope edited by Alejandro Bermúdez (Ignatius Press/Sept. 16th)
Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Protégés edited by Robert M. S. McDonald (University of Virginia Press/Sept. 24th)
A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of An Eccentric In An Age of Change by John Glassie (Riverhead Trade/Nov. 5, 2013)
Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta (Knopf/Oct. 29, 2013)

Like I said, I’ve been doing a lot of reading recently.