Jennie: James Garfield

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

I might not have mentioned it here, but my husband is a firefighter / paramedic. So, the medical field has been a big part of my life since I helped him study for medic school tests years ago. Our dinner table conversations aren’t for the faint of heart. We both love reading books about the sordid beginnings of the medical field, which basically means that I read half of this book out loud to him as I was reading it.

This is a presidential biography mixed with a window into early scientific inventions and the medical world, with true-crime. So…there was pretty much no doubt that I was going to love it…and I did! The multiple parts and stories were woven so delicately and beautifully that I just flipped page after page in a race to find out more. Clearly, I knew Garfield would die, but that didn’t slow down my intensity as I read.

Seriously, this has been one of my favorite biographies that I’ve read as part of the Presidential Challenge, but for slightly different reasons than the others in the past. My other faves were due to the depth of information and the fascinating storytelling, this book made that list because of the many ways the President might have lived. If Garfield’s main doctor hadn’t been so hardheaded, if Bell’s invention had worked just a few days earlier, if his murderer hadn’t been so crazy pants.

Fascinating stuff, for sure. I highly recommend this book, even if you don’t traditionally enjoy non-fiction!

Jacki: Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford, by Douglas G. Brinkley

So I’ve been looking forward to the modern presidents since I started this challenge, but for whatever reason had in my head that Gerald Ford hardly counted. He was only president for a bit over 2 years, he wasn’t even elected as vice president and blah blah blah. After such major talked about presidents like JFK, LBJ and Nixon, I was totally prepared for Ford to easily fade into the background.

And I’m so happy to say that I was wrong. I ended up enjoying this throughly and since I read a short book on him, I found myself wanting to know more.

I was a little bit right though. Because he was a little bit boring, but you guys, after this crooked, mean, narcissistic guys it kind of felt nice. He was a football player, from Michigan, a military vet, just this true blue American. It renewed a bit of my faith in America and our government. He was just this honest, straightforward, midwestern guy and it was a breath of fresh air.

Ford obviously got a ton of flack for pardoning Nixon and I always wondered why he did that and assumed that he was in cahoots with Nixon, but that’s just not right. By accepting the pardon, Nixon was admitting that he was guilty and then it was just… over. Ford said that had he decided to not pardon, Watergate just would have kept going and going and it had the potential to tear our country apart. The trials and the fallout were a scary prospect and Ford decided to forgo it all so that he could get on to serious biz, like getting out of Vietnam.

At the time, people got really wound up about it, but later in his life he finally received a lot of good attention for it as people started to realize that what he did was save the country from a lot of craziness.

The biography itself was concise. It was less than 200 pages so for a major history buff it would just be this throw away, but it was well done nonetheless. While there was little focus on Ford’s personal life, the attention to detail and balance of it was just right- enough of an overview to get a good idea about what went on but not enough to bog the casual historian down. On of the better books from the American Presidents Series that I’ve read.

(Oh! And fun fact: yet another president that didn’t go by his given name… his was Leslie Lynch King Jr…. weird, right?)

Kristen: John Adams

John Adams, by David McCullough

Before I read this biography, most of my knowledge about John and Abigail Adams came from the movie 1776 because my mom made my brother and me watch it every 4th of July.  She raised nerds, for sure and if she did nothing else for us, I thank her for that because I love being a nerd.  Anyway, once I was able to stop singing show tunes every time I picked up this book, I felt like a got not only an education in the life of John Adams but also of the history and political climate of the times in which he lived.

John Adams has always been one of my favorite Founding Fathers (probably partly because I imagine John to look something like Mr. Feeney from Boy Meets World).  But this biography cemented my love and awe for the Adamses.  The author did a fantastic job of making the reader feel like she truly knew our second president and what his motivations were.

There’s so much to admire about Adams.  He was one of the most well-read men of his time and was a great writer and orator.  He worked persistently in the face of vicious attacks from friends and enemies.  I mean, basically his entire cabinet was secretly out to get him.  I can’t even imagine how he got anything accomplished!  He truly was brilliant.

He had so much integrity.  He was an independent thinker and wasn’t interested in getting involved in bashing his opponents or becoming involved in party politics.  He was his own man and he wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was or make unpopular decisions.  He didn’t shy away from confrontation, but met it head on.  He kept America from becoming involved in a pointless war even though at the time it would have been a popular decision.

He loved his family–especially his wife–and their relationship was one of love and mutual respect.  They wouldn’t see each other for years on end, but they kept it together which just amazes me.  He truly trusted her and valued her opinion.

He wasn’t afraid to forgive and forget and he rekindled his friendship with Jefferson who at one time was basically his archrival.  I mean, Jefferson was a huge backstabber.  He actually PAID people to write lies and slanderous crap about Adams in the papers.  But Adams was able to be the bigger man and let bygones be bygones.  I can’t imagine a politician from today doing that, but Adams was able to.

He was by no means a perfect person, but it is just completely awe-inspiring to learn about all of the things he did that had such a major impact on the founding of America and continue to have an influence on America today.

I’d recommend this book to anyone.  The subject matter and the writing are just THAT good.  It read more like a novel than a biography.  I can only hope to find more biographies that are this well done as I continue this Presidential Challenge.