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Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series: The 17th President, 1865-1869 Hardcover – January 18, 2011


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Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (January 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069488
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth man to ascend to the highest office in the land, is generally regarded by historians as among the weakest presidents. Gordon-Reed has no intention of moving Johnson up in rank (“America went from the best to the worst in one presidential term,” she corroborates). So this is no reputation rescue. Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (2008), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, takes as her task explaining why we should look anew at such a disastrous chief executive. She reasons he is worth looking at, though her reasoning yields a far from sympathetic look. In a short biography, all bases can be covered, but the author is still left to exercise the tone of a personal essay, which this author accomplishes brilliantly. Her personal take on Johnson is that his inability to remake the country after it was torn apart rested on his deplorable view of black Americans. In practical terms, his failure derived from his stubborn refusal to compromise with Congress in the abiding post-Lincoln controversy over who was to supervise the Reconstruction, the executive or the legislative branch. A failure, yes, but more than that, a failure at an extremely critical time in American history. --Brad Hooper

Review

"In this short and brilliantly written book, award-winning author Gordon-Reed … argues that the nation went from the best President to the worst during this most crucial period of its history."—Library Journal

"In a short biography, all bases can be covered, but the author is still left to exercise the tone of a personal essay, which this author accomplishes brilliantly."--Booklist (starred review)

"A fair-minded, toned-down portrait of a deeply problematic president who could not rise to the country’s challenge after the Civil War."--Kirkus Reviews

Customer Reviews

Johnson was the first U.S. president to be impeached, and Gordon-Reed spends a good amount of time on the subject.
Glenn R. Springstead
Any biography will have the author's bias to it, but this was clearly a hammering of one point of view and I was extremely disappointed in this book.
A&P
If the southern states did not want to grant political rights to blacks, it was not the place of the federal government to make them do so.
Sagar Jethani

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 33 people found the following review helpful By R. B. Bernstein on February 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Andrew Johnson's historical fortunes have risen and fallen by reference to two currents of thought in American political culture -- one having to do with issues of slavery and race, and the other having to do with our assessment of the Presidenty, its independence, and its powers. When people pay no attention to issues of slavery and race, and when people generally favor the Presidency, then Johnson becomes a tough, brave, defiant defender of the American Presidency from a hostile, ideologically-warped Congress. When we do pay attention to the critical issues of race and the legacy of slavery, and we have doubts about the Presidency in light of the adventures of imperial Presidents, Johnson takes a beating.

As well he should.

Annette Gordon-Reed's fine, concise book is a strong contribution to an uneven series. She seeks not to trash Johnson but to understand him, and she does so not by applying a warped twenty-first-century ethical/moral measure to him but by assessing him by reference to his era. The resulting assessment of Johnson and the damage that his Presidency did to posterity is devastating. In particular, she does something in this book that is truly remarkable, and that I have not previously seen in any assessment of Johnson to date -- she recognizes that Johnson and the man whom he succeeded as President, Abraham Lincoln, had many things in common as well as many differences. She draws out this comparison with care and thoughtfulness, showing that two men born in southern/border states in straitened circumstances, with meager education, rising through their own unaided efforts, and living in regions characterized by white hostility to blacks, somehow turned out miles, even light-years apart.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By William J. Shepherd on May 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author is a prize winning Harvard professor who has presented a well written account of yet another very bad nineteenth century president. Unfortunately, she makes no attempt to be objective, judging Johnson through the single prism of racism. Also, the fact that the book was dedicated to Democratic Party hack Vernon Jordan did not endear me. In any event, I ranked Johnson as one of the five worst presidents before I read this book and have not changed my mind. However, I would have liked the change to at least consider it, and this book did not provide that opportunity.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Glenn R. Springstead on February 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this biography, which is another entry in the presidential biography series started by Arthur Schlesinger and now edited by Sean Wilentz. Gordon-Reed weaves a highly readable narrative from Johnson's improbable rise in local Tennessee politics to his emergence on the national stage as a vocal and courageous opponent of secession, Tennessee war governor, Lincoln's Vice President running mate in 1864, and president in his own right after Lincoln's assassination. Johnson was the first U.S. president to be impeached, and Gordon-Reed spends a good amount of time on the subject.

The book does start abruptly and subjectively, with Gordon-Reed casting Johnson in a negative light. Despite his opposition to secession and initially harsh criticism of Southern planters and rebels in his first days as President, Johnson soon quarreled with "radical Republicans" over Reconstruction in the South and began first to welcome southerners of all persuasions, including those formerly active in the Confederate forces and government, back into the good races of Congress and State offices, and then to oppose attempts by Congress to expand democratic rights to the new freedmen. While Johnson stated most of his objections to Congressional Reconstruction on state's rights, Gordon-Reed points out he also vetoed congressional legislation to award voting rights to African Americans in the District of Columbia, which Congress had Constitutional authority over.

But through much of the book Gordon-Reed handles her subject with more even-handedness. One of the regrettable aspects of Johnson's life is he apparently did not write much and appeared to have few confidants.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chris on July 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was looking forward to the release of this book because, while I knew a bit about Johnson's presidency, I wanted a nice, concise biography that covered the important points of his life, pre- and post-presidency. I wasn't looking for a full-length biography and I didn't want excessive analysis; just the basics. I had read a few other books from this series, and those had met that criteria.

Sadly, that's not what Gordon-Reed provided. This book is pretty much a nightmare. Her thesis is that Johnson was racist and stubborn, and no matter what he did or said as the sectional conflict intensified, when push came to shove, his racism and stubbornness would prevail. I agree with this line of thinking. However, the author spent so much time making this point that she eschewed the important details of his life. She referenced the Reconstruction Acts and the fact that Johnson vetoed them, only to see Congress override his vetoes. But what was in those Acts? If these books are supposed to be introductory biographies, the writers can't assume that the readers know the specifics of major legislation. She admits that an assessment of Johnson necessarily must focus on Reconstruction, yet she really didn't get into the specifics about Reconstruction.

A typical page in this book would include a sentence vaguely mentioning something Johnson did, followed by two paragraphs explaining why this action was racist, complete with some attempt at using a modern example as a basis for comparison. After 140-some pages, I don't feel like I know much more about Johnson; I only feel like Gordon-Reed considered Johnson a racist. Well, so do I, but I wish she had taken up much less of the precious few pages in this book telling us her opinion.
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