Lauren H: George Washington

The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon, by John Ferling

It was clear from the beginning that Ferling was taking a different approach to his biography on George Washington than most other historians. He wanted to knock Washington off the pedestal Americans have placed him upon and attempt to humanize a man that has been made into a hero and idol in the eyes of most Americans. I understand that mindset, but there was a lot of negativity in his writing and at times, to me, it took away the objectivity in this biography. Sometimes it was as if we weren’t getting the entire picture, only pieces of the events taking place to prove a point. I don’t know if that is completely true or not, but that is what I took away from a majority of this biography.

I was disappointed at how little there was about Washington’s personal life. I know that this biography focused on the ascent of his political career, but I really enjoyed the parts about George Washington’s family and his home and really wish there would have been more of that.

All of that is not to say that there wasn’t a lot of information in this biography, because there was. I really feel like I learned a lot and that there was so much I didn’t know. Ferling clearly has a wealth of knowledge and information on Washington’s military beginnings and the lead up to and through the Revolutionary War. This biography also served as a great introduction to other founding fathers, like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. I was surprised at how interested I was in the dynamics of the founding fathers and really enjoyed seeing how they interacted as well as the different sides they supported politically.

Overall, this book was ok. There were parts I really enjoyed, parts I didn’t know if I would make it through, and a lot of negativity throughout that left me shaking my head and occasionally rolling my eyes. I do see myself picking up another biography on George Washington in the future to so I can get a more balanced picture of his life.

Original Review

 

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Jacki: William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft: In the Public Service, by David H. Burton

Some presidents have really sucky reputations and I’m not talking ol’ Mr. Impeachment Andrew Johnson. I’m talking… Chester Arthur and his whiskers, William Henry Harrison and his premature death… that kind of thing. Embarrassing stuff that really has little to do with their actual presidency… and then there’s William Howard Taft. How sad is it that all kids know one thing about WHT: he was so fat he got stuck in a bathtub. I mean, that’s it. That’s the fact that is attached to his name. Bummer.

Knowing only that one fact about WHT, I was super bummed when I started searching for a biography of him because they were all over $30. I was annoyed about having to shell out thirty bucks on a no-name, morbidly obese president. So I did some serious internet searching and found this book by David H. Burton for $5. It came in the mail looking so boring I almost fell asleep looking at the cover, but it was a short little thing so I decided to just knock it out and get it over with.

You guys? I kind of loved it.

It isn’t a super intensive, scholarly pursuit by any means (It is less than 200 pages long) but it is well researched, well written and a great overview of a pretty unknown president. I thought that there was a great balance between personal life and political life which is one of the main things that I always look for in a biography. In short, I was really pleased.

A few tidbits, so that you know more than the bathtub stuff:

-Taft & Teddy Roosevelt were buddy-buddy during TR’s administration (I love the visual of these two super intelligent, portly, excitable dudes just getting trashed and laughing these big booming laughs together. You know it happened) and then during Taft’s campaign, but after he was elected, WHT got rid of TR’s cabinet and started making some not-super-TR-approved decisions and Teddy got mad. Like… ditch your friend mad. Like… run against him during the next election mad. This messed them both up by tearing the party and, waa laa! Hello, Woodrow Wilson.

-After his administration, Taft became the first former president to be named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Before he was president, he was a judge and always aspired to this position, so really President was just a step in his career path. For some reason, this makes me happy.

-For a one term president, he got a lot done, but I can see how these would be things that are lost to history. Lots of domestic cleaning house and yadda. His international impact was pretty huge as far as trading goes, but he was mostly continuing TR’s work in this area.

So that’s that. Another Ohio president, so I was loving all the Ohio references. I think we’re getting towards the end of Ohio’s big president run, but for now I’m just basking in the glory that is the greatest state eva.

I’d way recommend this biography to anyone else doing the challenge, although you may have to do a little bit of extra digging to find it!

 

Lauren B: John Adams

First Family: John and Abigail Adams, by Joseph Ellis

Setting out to read a biography on every president, I know that I’m pretty much reading a few dozen books about old, white men. How awesome was it, only my second book in, to read one that focused so much on the woman at the old white man’s side?!? I LOVED the focus on Abigail Adams in this book. Ellis is one of my favorite historical non-fiction authors, and he did not disappoint. He was able to clearly show how dependent both John and Abigail were on each other throughout everything, and it put a personal spin on the founding of our country that I haven’t read in a lot of other non-fiction from the era.

My only complaint was the lack of detail in this book. It was very short, and while I completely understand that the focus was on the history through the lens of the couple’s relationship, I felt like I was missing things. I would have loved more detail on John’s time abroad (the second time), as well as his time during the presidency.

Also, I must confess that having seen the John Adams HBO miniseries before reading this book, I completely pictured Paul Giamatti the whole time. 🙂

Original Review