Jennie: Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald

Honest Abe probably has about 5,000 or more books written about him which left me more than slightly overwhelmed at which one to pick. I looked to see if any of my author/biographer favorites had written biographies about Lincoln, but no such luck. I reviewed what the other ladies participating in the Presidential Challenge and did a little random research, finally narrowing my choices down to three or so. One day I was at Barnes & Noble completely overwhelmed at all the books I wanted to buy and read but needed to limit myself to just one book, so it ultimately came down to the only one of those three that my local store had on the shelf. I’m satisfied with my selection, however, I will admit that Lincoln is one of the Presidents I want to read more on once I’ve completed the challenge.

This book focused a lot on his life, which I loved because it gave me a new understanding of Lincoln as a person, not just a politician. Although, it did have a drawback – he was out of public office for about 10 years doing his lawyer thing and helping move his political party to new heights from outside. The section of the book that dealt with this time was a little dry, mainly because it included summaries and high level views of the political landscape at the time, plus there wasn’t a lot about his family so it was just page after page of party drama and move making.

Speaking of his life, Lincoln lost two kids – one while living in the White House – and I just felt broken on his behalf while reading this. Thinking of how much support staff and household staff presidents have now that he didn’t have, it must have been so very hard for him to keep being President while lost in that grief, nursing his other son from his sickbed, and dealing with a wife that went into a deep depression. Sometimes it is easy to forget that president’s have families and lives of their own, full of normal drama, teen drama, and homework too.

The portion of the text that covered the assassination was short, almost too short for me, but I knowing that his death wasn’t the focus of this book, I understand why. This is one section of his presidency I want to explore further in the future. I realize how morbid that sounds – I want to read more about his tragic and brutal murder – but oh well, that’s how my brain works. 🙂

I highly recommend this biography for anyone looking for more about Lincoln – but you might want to consider reading it in ebook format if you have that option – at over 700+ pages with all the references it was very hard on the wrists.

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Lauren B: George Washington

His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph Ellis

Joseph Ellis is a genious – he knows how to tell stories that keep your interest and give great insight into the parts of history you never learn about in school. This book spans from the very beginning of Washington’s military career to his death in 276 pages, and it was a great way to see how different events in his life impacted the “big” things we all know about. I don’t know how Ellis manages to write about exactly the right things to paint the detailed picture that he does – it was an easy read that kept my turning pages and actually imparted tons of information at the same time.

To anyone who thinks they don’t like nonfiction – read something by Joseph Ellis! It’s sad how glossed-over text book versions of history are, I know my kids are going to hate me for all the extra reading I’m going to make them do 😉

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Jacki: William McKinley

The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century, by Scott Miller

You guys!! I made it to the 1900’s! I’m not going to lie, the mid-1800’s about did me in, but I kept my eye on the prize and WAAA LAAA!!!

Also, Ohio straight ruled this book. McKinley was from Ohio (Canton, represent!) and his assassin wasn’t from Ohio but spent tons of his time in Cleveland. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again: I love nothing more than a book that mentions Ohio. I love it, presidents (and anarchists, apparently) love it, and you should love it.

And, down to business. This book. I wanted to LOVE it. I super loved Destiny of the Republic, which was written much in the same way. Both books followed the life of the president and the life of their assassin back and forth until their paths, unfortunately cross.

The thing is, the author didn’t do this well. The timelines don’t match up at all so we were hopping all over time and it just got kind of confusing and I never really saw how the two related or lined up.

Also, the whole middle was dominated by America taking over Cuba which was interesting at first but eventually I was just wading through. I understand that that was a major thing during McKinley’s administration but oh my lands. It was just too much.

I really liked the history of the anarchist movement at the turn of the century, but I think maybe the focus of this book kind of got misplaced. Between this and the Cuba bit, McKinley kind of got lost. The first couple of chapters were totally McKinley but after that I almost felt like he was just a bit player.

He came back in force at the end, which I really enjoyed but that middle, oh my gosh that middle.

My favorite part of the whole book was seeing how McKinley related to his wife, Ida. She kind of had this nervous disorder and was pretty much a spazz, but the president was straight up crazy about her and loved on her and protected her and it was just sweet and wonderful. After he was shot, the first thing out of his mouth was to tell someone to break it to Ida very gently. Their relationship was just sweet and good and I loved it.