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Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series: The 17th President, 1865-1869 Hardcover – January 18, 2011
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“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
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Johnson deserves a nomination as one of our worst presidents. This biography has a refreshingly clear point of view: Johnson played a key foundational role in delaying... Read morePublished 1 month ago by quatorze
I felt the author's apparent dislike for Johnson even if it wasn't intentional.Published 2 months ago by Judith Feneley
Well written. Book reflect the historical period through the very angry eyes of the author.Published 5 months ago by john mcknight
I am reading the presidential biographies in order. I thought that I had seen the worst in Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan. Oh, how wrong I was!! Read morePublished 6 months ago by Grushinka
This is an extremely well written and informative book. To be sure, the author is no fan of Andrew Johnson. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Michael Lapelosa
Calhoun's quest for a place in history, led him to support the current ideas that were popular. No matter which party was furthering the idea. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Harriette M. Anderson
A concise review of the man's life, during a difficult time in history. A good addition to the presidential series.Published 9 months ago by ruth a. thomas