Jennie: Barack Obama

Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward

Confession time: I cheated slightly and started reading this one in November, but I technically finished it on December 1st, so it still counts. I just couldn’t wait to officially finish this challenge.

This biography was interesting, focusing mainly on the war(s) Obama inherited when he became president. I had already ready two of Obama’s autobiographies (unrelated to this challenge), so I wanted something written by someone else and specifically about his time in the White House. It turns out that there are A LOT of books written about Obama and his presidency, which surprised me since it hasn’t actually ended yet.

I picked this biography because Bob Woodward has always interested me as a journalist. It was written pretty well, though there were a few pages when I wanted the loop of “we have to make a decision on what path to take” to be cut by a few hundred words. I did like how Bob Woodward included so much about how the VP was involved with the discussions about what to do.

This book was good, but like most books about the Obama presidency, it was quickly outdated not long after it was published due to changing events/times. That said, it was a decent read.

And with this, I finished the challenge! I started July 2011 and finished December 2015! I’ve learned a great deal about the country, the presidents, and politics in general. It was well worth the time I put into it!

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Jennie: George W. Bush

George W. Bush (The American Presidents #43) by James Mann

I believe it’s probably pretty hard to summarize most presidencies into a very short book, and even harder to summarize a presidency with as much drama and war as George W Bush’s time in the White House. But, I just could not do another long book. Especially a long book on a very recent president. There isn’t the distance that decades and generations of time passing that gives an author a bigger perspective on the issues and decisions made.

That said, this book was very good, especially in covering such a presidency in under two hundred pages. I learned a great deal about the inside of Bush’s WH years and about his life pre-presidency. The writing wasn’t dry or boring.

This was probably the first presidency that I experienced as an adult. I remember the Clinton allegations and such, but that was before I was able to vote, before I was in college…but Bush’s era was my era. And so, I felt a deeper interest in reading the inside scoop on his years and opinions in the WH. And someday, in the future, when years and years have passed, I want to read another biography (a long one) to see how time has changed (or not changed) our view (or, at least MY view) of Bush and his presidency.

Jennie: Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton: Mastering the Presidency by Nigel Hamilton

I wasn’t sure what biography to read for Clinton, especially because I had already read his autobiography a number of years ago. Reading it for a second time (even though most of the details have probably fled my mind) seemed almost cheating on the challenge. When I found this one at Half Price Books, I snatched it up and hoped it would be good.

Well, it was only so-so. It was dry, very, very dry. And the author used a lot (A LOT) of metaphors in these pages, and after a few hundred pages it became comical to me, which was probably not the author’s intent.

I did enjoy the inside view to Clinton’s early days in the White House, and his struggles with his cabinet and staff members. The author seemed pretty heavy handed against Hillary, which made me wonder what he’d think with her running for president for 2016.

I would probably search out for a different book for Clinton if I had the chance. This one was long and only somewhat informative.

Jennie: George H. W. Bush

George H. W. Bush (The American Presidents #41) by Timothy Naftali

I picked this biography because it was short. After months of LONG reads, I picked on size alone. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I’m not a huge fan of the Bush Presidential Dynasty. It was an emotional read. At times, I found myself agreeing and/or liking HW…and then he would do something and I was appalled yet again. I feel I have a bigger understanding of his years in the White House now, but my opinion on him remains largely the same. However, I do have a special admiration for how HW, Jimmy Carter, and Clinton have gotten together as Post-Presidents in humanitarian and other endeavors.

Jennie: Ronald Reagan

The Reagan Diaries by Ronald Reagan

When I purchased this on clearance or at a book sale, I didn’t realize it would become a second month of diaries in this challenge. I liked Jimmy Carter’s diaries as the biography for last month, but this one was a bit more tedious. Possibly, that’s because RR and I disagree on more aspects of politics than JC. Possibly, it’s because the RR diaries were a bit dryer. And JC had added more recent commentary/notes to his, whereas RR (obviously) wasn’t alive to do so.

All that said, there was still a lot of information to glean from the (many, many) pages. I found the notes about his family life and relationships to be fascinating and, at times, odd. His descriptions of Camp David and his ranch were descriptive…they made me want to buy my own ranch. The portions surrounding when he was shot in the attempted assassination made me tense and sad. Politically, I wanted more out of the book. There was some insight into his thoughts and experiences, but not as much as I’d hoped for such a huge book.

Jennie: Jimmy Carter

White House Diary by Jimmy Carter

I admit, I didn’t know much about Jimmy Carter before I read this book. When I cracked it open, the first thing I thought was how our lives would’ve been impacted if we were peanut farmers like Jimmy Carter when we discovered our daughter had a peanut allergy. And, after a bit on pondering and such, I started reading, and then I discovered I kind of really liked Carter.

The format of this one was interesting, but overall I really liked it. Each chapter was a year, with (mostly) daily entries. Some of the entries were small, some were pages long. I wasn’t a fan of the chapters lasting an entire year though, because that made putting it down awkward. I like ending on a chapter, or at least at the end of a page with a complete sentence.

Seeing the names of recent/current White House administrations appear in this and the last few biographies, is eery and cool. I plan on reading some of Carter’s more recent books once I’m done with the challenge, because he seems like a genuine guy looking to make the world better, especially post-Presidency.

Jennie: Gerald R. Ford

Gerald R. Ford (The American Presidents #38) by Douglas G. Brinkley

I’ll be honest, I picked the shortest book because as I come into the last presidents, I’ve got a fair amount of long biographies to read. And last month’s Nixon book was thick. I think this Ford biography gave me the best of both worlds: new information and short enough that I didn’t strain my wrist while holding it.

I found the portions regarding Nixon’s pardon to be especially insightful. I have come to feel like while Ford was a good president, I think he might’ve been even better in Congress. At least, in the aspect that it felt like Ford enjoyed (if that’s a word to be used in government, ha!) being a Congressman more than President.

That said, this biography was pretty decent. Nothing blow you out of the water, but not horribly mundane or dry either.

Jennie: Richard Nixon

President Nixon: Alone in the White House by Richard Reeves

I bought this at a library used book sale because it was like $2. And even though I wasn’t super thrilled with it after I finished, I think it was worth the money spent. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, but I wouldn’t say it’s not worth reading either.

There is A LOT of content in this chunk of a biography. Some of it was too detailed and repetitive and some of it was gasp-out-loud interesting. The excerpts of Nixon’s own notes and random scribbles were fascinating, and at times, appalling. I learned more about the man Nixon from this biography, but since it only focused on the White House years, I didn’t get a good appreciation of his full life. However, I think in this case I’m okay with that.

Jennie: Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson (The American Presidents #36) by Charles Peters

So, I had no idea that Johnson was such a fighter for Civil Rights. I feel slightly ashamed that I was unaware of this fact, but now that I’ve read this biography I feel that I’ve rectified my lack of knowledge. I knew Johnson and Vietnam, but reading about his presidency related to this provided a deeper look into such a tragic event/experience/war.

As with each President that has picked up the reins after mid-presidency death, I find the transition so interesting and fascinating. Johnson wasn’t just coming into the Oval Office from death, but from the assassination of one of the more beloved presidents…that’s a heavy weight to carry. I was pleasantly surprised by how much this biography went into that transition.

This book crammed in a lot of information in a short amount of pages, but I never felt rushed, or bored for that matter. Though, knowing what I know now about LBJ, I think I’d pick a longer biography to get an even deeper insight into this complex and woman-obsessed man.

Jennie: JFK

An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek

This book was interesting, but a few hundred pages too long. The information about Kennedy’s health problems was news to me, and very fascinating in both his personal life and how they deceived the American public. It got me thinking about how hard it would be to hide and destroy childhood records nowadays.

The detailed day to day about his campaigns lead me to skimming some sections, but the Cuban missile crisis information had me riveted. I was disappointed that so little was dedicated to his assassination and subsequent hunt for his murderer, but I’m sure there are many other books out there that cover that well enough.

I think the thing I felt most when finishing this gigantic book was that JFK lead a very different life than I did. Money and fancy doctors and trips abroad and elite colleges he slacked off at…very different life than mine!