Jacki: Richard Nixon

Nixon’s Darkest Secrets, by Don Fulsom

This was easily one of the worst non-fiction books I have ever read. Certainly the worst presidential biography I have read during this challenge. I just absolutely hated it. Allow me to count the reasons:

1. Fulsom maybe did zero original research. Almost every citation was from a secondary source, most of them not even solid secondary sources. Just any old thing he could find, apparently. At first it seemed questionable but as the book went on, it was just laughable.

2. The writing itself was choppy and atrocious. There was no sense of cohesiveness or story. Thinking about the book as a whole, I feel like there’s a good chance that he wrote the chapters totally independently of each other and never read it as a whole. I say this because there are phrases, even entire paragraphs that are repeated over and over throughout the book. Again, at first I was like, “Um, I just read that. How odd.” But by the end, I was almost keeping tally of how many times I heard the exact same lines.

3. The bias. You guys. Oh my gosh. It’s so bad. I love reading these biographies because I love getting a good, solid picture of who are presidents were as people… and that didn’t happen here even one tiny bit. According to Fulsom, Nixon was not so much a man as a walking blob of evil. There was no making Nixon into a person, this was just a total hate-fest.

4. The sexuality thing. The drinking thing. The wife-beating thing. The child-hating thing. It never ended. By the end, Fulsom had painted a picture of Nixon as a drunk, gay, homophobe (wut?) who killed JFK, beat his wife, hated his kids and was an actual sociopath. I’m sure that Nixon was into some shady business, but the “evidence” used to prove all of these things? Third hand stories. All of them. Blech. I felt almost dirty reading it. And claiming all of these things just made other parts of the books that probably were true (mob connections, BFFs in the mafia, and so on) just seem untrue.

I could go on. I hated it. Don’t read this. Ever.

Lauren H: John Adams

Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage, by Edith Gelles

I can finally say that my second president is in the books for the Presidential Challenge. This book was not easy for me to get through, but I am so glad that I did.

Before I knew much about John and Abigail Adams, I knew that they sent letters to each other throughout their marriage. I immediately loved the romanticism in writing letters to your significant other. What I didn’t realize was that the quantity of letters they wrote to one another was based on necessity. If they wanted to maintain their marriage while John traveled for decades during their relationship, letters were the only way for them to do so. I can’t imagine living without my husband or father as much as the Adamses did and then when I think about the available outlets of communication then and now it just seems impossible. The Adams made it work though and it wasn’t always easy.

I really enjoyed reading about John Adams’ time abroad in the Netherlands, London and Paris. I think of the amazing education and experiences his son was provided by accompanying him overseas. When Abigail and his daughter, Nabby, were finally able to join John and John Quincy in Paris, I thought it was fascinating to read Abigail’s letters documenting that time. She had similar fears and anxiety in being in a foreign country that I believe are still faced by people today. I was heartbroken for John and Abigail when he did not win his second term as president. I felt as if he had given up so much of his life to see the United States as a successful country and that his time as a public official was cut short.

John and Abigail Adams really have quite the history together and the thing that always held each of them together individually was each other. It was wonderful to see a couple to support each other through some of the most difficult and rewarding periods of their lives.

While I found their story to be fascinating, I wasn’t really a fan of the writing in this book. I found it to be repetitive and the flow between narrative and quotations from the letters didn’t read smoothly at times. Even though I did not particularly enjoy the writing, I feel as if there was great quality, historical information in this book and I am happy to have some insight on our second president and first lady.

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