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!

Jennie: Eisenhower

Eisenhower: The White House Years by Jim Newton

Okay, I’ll admit that Eisenhower isn’t my favorite president. Not for anything he did specifically politically, but because upon winning the election, when Truman offered Ike the globe that Ike had given him as a gift during wartime, Ike refused it. That globe had brought Truman a lot of comfort during the War and he was doing it as a symbolical gesture of somewhat friendliness. But Ike refused. That gave me a sour taste. Yes, I’m certain it has a lot to do with my Missouri-girl-Truman-bias, but whatever.

I selected this book because it was a bargain book at B&N or HPB in the past year, so I snatched it up even though I was a ways off from needing it. I’m glad I read a smaller book for this president, because after the huge FDR and Truman biographies, I was needing a month with a slightly lighter reading challenge!

This biography had a few chapters of Ike’s early life and years climbing the military ladder, which was fascinating and heartbreaking. The sections of him losing his son made me cry, not only was the text written emotionally, but Ike’s response was a tear-jerker too. His time in the White House was fascinating, highlighting many situations I didn’t know had occurred.

I finished this one with a slightly better opinion of Ike than when I started. However, his legacy to me is still tainted by the globe incident. As far as writing, this book wasn’t dry or boring or even slanted. I felt it was a well-rounded look at Eisenhower’s presidency. I recommend it!

Jennie: Truman

Truman by David McCullough

NINE HUNDRED NINETY TWO pages of pure AWESOMENESS. (Yes, even after reading that many pages of eloquent and informational prose, I still use the word awesomeness.) This might be my favorite biography outside of John Adams (also written by McCullough)…on second thought, I think it’s a tie between them.

I was born, raised, and still live in/near Kansas City, so reading this was fascinating on two fronts. The expected presidential front and the learning about my city’s past and growth. McCullough writes non-fiction stories like they are fiction, taking the reader on a trip through the past with interesting tidbits and factual information woven together. I will read anything he writes. I have many of his other books on my shelves waiting to be read. His grocery list, sign me up.

Truman himself was a fascinating character, and yes I’m probably totally biased when I say that. (What can I say, it’s the Missouri girl in me.) I loved reading about his time growing up in Missouri and his relationship with his wife. But also, coming off the huge FDR biography I finished last month, reading about the days in which Truman took over in such chaos was literally heart pounding reading. Not to mention the war times Truman say, as a soldier and a President. I mean, talks with Churchill and Stalin?! Korean skirmishes? The atomic bomb?

I’ve been to Truman’s Presidential library as an adult, but didn’t get to see most of it because I was there to hear Clinton and Carter speak about volunteerism (of which, made me almost sign up for Greenpeace, but that’s a whole other story). It’s on my short bucket list to have one of our next dates (romantic, isn’t it?!) to be visiting it properly.

In short, read this book. Yes it’s gigantic but it ABSOLUTELY worth the time. Just get the e-book maybe, the hardback almost broke my wrists.

Jennie: FDR

FDR by Jean Edward Smith

I had somehow bought two FDR biographies, and REALLY wanted to pick the other one because it was about 400 pages shorter, but Jacki pretty much insisted that I read this one, so I did. (I’m pretty sure she might have threatened our friendship if I picked the other one…)

I owe Jacki a lot for forcing me to read this one. The other biography might have been swell for all I know, but this one is FANTASTIC. I read SO many parts out loud to Brett (sometimes interrupting his own reading, whoops!) because I was truly fascinated. The aspects of polio and his marriage to Eleanor and his relationship with Churchill. I was engrossed THE ENTIRE 600+ pages.

I found the Churchill and Stalin conversations and photos included to be just…amazingly informative and awesome. I reread sections to myself multiple times, just in awe at how these three men, all with their own goals and countries and personalities, trying to bring peace back to the World. Just awesome stuff right there.

I feel like this biography ranks up there with John Adams by David McCullough and Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. These are the type of biographies that should be widely read, not just by historical fans and those of us doing the challenge.

Jennie: Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover (The American Presidents #31) by William E. Leuchtenburg

This was a really short biography, and it left me wanting to know more about Herbert Hoover, but it also felt like it gave me a good overview into the 31st President. The facts included in this biography about the Great Depression were mind boggling. I kept interrupting my husband to keep reading little tidbits to him. It was appalling, and yet fascinating. I kept reading on almost begging Hoover to step in, to open his eyes to the disaster and the famine. To see that his idea of society stepping in to help wasn’t going to happen; this situation had grown far too big for that.

I find Herbert Hoover an interesting person, if only because he was so much an interior person. He wasn’t overtly emotional or even personable, which makes me want to know more about his inner workings. I think once this challenge is over, Hoover is one of the handful of presidents I plan to read more on.

This was a well-written biography, and if you’re looking to get an intro into the Great Depression and/or Hoover’s time in the White House, I highly recommend starting with this one.

Jennie: Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding (The American Presidents #29) by John W. Dean

I squeaked this one in last month, literally finishing just before bed on the last day of September. I was a slacker in ordering it and then it took forever to get delivered, but I was on a mission and complete it I did!

I really didn’t know much about Harding going into this book. I had never heard about the drama of his presidency, but when I realized there was an extramarital affair, I was intrigued. But, most of what I found interesting in this book was how Harding got started, not really driving into politics but casually entering the stage. I loved the pieces about his pre-president job in the newspaper business.

His death was handled surprisingly different than Wilson’s stroke in the previous presidency, and this I found fascinating. The world before media alerts on our phones and emails and rapid-fire text messages.

Ultimately, I finished this short book feeling much more informed about Harding, which was exactly what I’d hoped for!