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President’s Day Books

Posted on February 18, 2013
presidents-day

When I was a kid, we got both Washington’s Birthday and Lincoln’s Birthday off of school.  That made February a fun month for kids.  Not so much for parents.

These days, we celebrate their birthday on the same day.  It’s kind of like when my wife decided to combine our son’s birthday party with the birthday party of one of his classmates.   Saved time and money, and hey, it was fun for the whole family.

So, now we have President’s Day, which give us a good excuse to read books on all of the Presidents. I am currently reading a biography of George Washington by Joseph Ellis.   I haven’t read the whole book so far, (His Excellency, George Washington), but in the part I have read, Ellis has done a good job a separating fact from fiction.  It’s a good read.

Another essential read when it comes to the Presidency is “The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia.”  This is an easy read, and fun for amateur historians like me.  Divided into 11 chapters, The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia looks at every aspect of our heads of state and presidential history: Citizens, Officers, Heroes, and Saviors; Stumping: From Front Porch to Facebook; The Pledge and the Parties; Inside the Oval Office; The Perpetual Podium; Home, Hotel, Parlor, Playground; First Families; Impeachment, Controversy, Shame; Assassination; Death, and National Mourning; Presidents in the Popular Imagination; and The Quotable President.  A perfect resource for speechwriters and high school seniors crashing on their history term-papers.

Another great book for understanding the Presidents and their place in history is Al Felzenberg’s “The Leaders We Deserved (and a few we didn’t)."  Felzenberg offers a refreshing counter-opinion to typical liberal establishments view of our Chief Executive.  In the Felzenberg model, he actually give the Presidents grades based on performance in 6 distinct categories:  character; vision; competence; management of the economy; handling of national security, defense, and foreign policy; and whether they extended or restricted liberty, especially at home.   In Felzenberg’s view, Presidents like Ronald Reagan perform much better while Jack Kennedy doesn’t measure up as well.  It is a good read and an important contribution to the national discussion.

Two books are on my list but haven’t been purchased yet.  Evan Thomas just wrote a biography on Dwight Eisenhower.  Ike is a favorite of mine because he kept us out of war, got us out of war, balanced the budget while building the highway system.  He also resisted extremism and found a way to govern that actually made the country.  He was our last Adult President.  Thomas, the former Newsweek editor, has written a new book that puts Ike in a modern perspective, and hopefully more people will be introduced to his leadership style.

Yesterday, on CBS Sunday Morning show, I saw a story about Ulysses S. Grant’s last days as he hurriedly wrote his memoirs while suffering from throat cancer.  I didn’t know anything about Grant or his memoirs.  The book was a huge hit in its day, and I want to read it before the end of the year.

Presidents come and go.  Some are great and some not so great.  On President’s Day, we should all learn more about the office and its inhabitants.  These guys (and so far, they have all been guys) have a lot of power, and the more we learn about them, the better off we will all be.