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Failures of the Presidents: From the Whiskey Rebellion and War of 1812 to the Bay of Pigs and War in Iraq Paperback – September 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


“Thomas J. Craughwell has brought us presidents behaving execrably and what a great read it is. From George Washington's misadventure with taxing whiskey to another George W's decision to invade Iraq, this book captures chief executive miscalculation, malfeasance, and maladroitness in all its glory. We learn as much from our failures as our triumphs and we'll all learn a great deal from this enjoyable slice of living history.” Joseph Cummins, author of The World’s Bloodiest History and The War Chronicles: From Flintlocks to Machine Guns

The cover showing the Father of Our Country with egg on his face may lead readers to think they’re in for a romp, but this is, in fact, a serious journey, handsomely illustrated, providing narratives on 20 episodes of presidential failure. In the introduction, the authors explain why Bill Clinton is not included, impeachment notwithstanding, while both Bushes are, and it makes sense. The writing offers accessible pathways through the thicket of American history, but signposts like ‘Tricky Dick’ remind us that there’s some attitude here. There are also details that get lost along the way. Still, the results are a good bet for school and public libraries.” -Library Journal, October 2008

“…a fascinating, level-headed, and insightful look at the pratfalls that marked our leaders' march to destiny. Great stuff.” Cormac O'Brien, author of The Forgotten History of America and Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents

From the Author

SERIAL KILLER EXPERT, star of the hit Investigation Discovery series DARK MINDS and acclaimed investigative journalist M. William Phelps is the national bestselling, award-winning author of 22 nonfiction books. Winner of 2008 New England Book Festival Award for "I'll Be Watching You," Phelps has made over 100 television appearances, including CBS's "Early Show," "The Today Show," "The View," "Fox & Friends," truTV, Discovery Channel, Fox News Channel, ABC's "Good Morning America," Learning Channel, Biography Channel, History Channel, Oxygen, OWN, and others. He's been on USA Radio Network, Catholic Radio, Mancow, Wall Street Journal Radio, Zac Daniel, Ava Maria Radio, ABC News Radio, and Radio America, who calls him "the nation's leading authority on the mind of the female murderer." He's written for numerous publications, consulted on the first season of the hit Showtime cable television series "Dexter," and written several narrative history books, including NATHAN HALE, THE DEVIL'S RIGHT HAND, THE DEVIL'S ROOMING HOUSE and MURDER, NEW ENGLAND. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Fair Winds Press; First Printing edition (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592332994
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592332991
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,442 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Newman VINE VOICE on January 5, 2009
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a book you can sit down and read for mild, non-fiction entertainment. I was kind expecting a book with obscure stories that I had not heard about, but what it ended up being was a kind of overview of fairly well known historical "failures." I'm not complaining it was still entertaining and somewhat educational but there wasn't anything shocking. The writing is not academic and is mostly general overviews backed up with a good supply of quotes and some fantastic photos and illustrations. The author does some analysis but does not go too in-depth.

One thing I hate is getting a book like this is finding out that it was written by a political pundit who blames the worlds ills on Clinton/Bush, GOP/Dems or liberals/neocons. When I saw that they skipped from Reagan's Iran Contra Gate to Bush 43's Iraq war, I immediately worried that this is just another book of punditry. But I am glad he left out Clinton/Lewinsky/Paula Jones. They were sad political events, but as the author explains, these were personal failures that actually only impacted a small group of people. (compared to Bay of Pigs or Japanese internment camps.) However, I'm surprised that he would include a chapter on Bush. There is still a lot of history to be written. The Iraq War may not even end up being his biggest failure. I think I would have given that one another decade to reflect.

I read this book backwards, because I could better judge the author's coverage of the events I knew best. I was impressed, I spent the first day having thoughts like "Oh yeah, I remember that plane going down in Nicaragua." It was kind of a nice look back now that the pieces have fallen into place.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Steven Peterson TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 29, 2008
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book examines a number of presidential failures, decisions that simply did not pan out well. The book notes that it sometimes takes quite awhile to weigh successes and failures of presidents. Also, each decision is placed in its context and (Page 9) "Our goal has been to 'get inside [the Presidents'] heads,' to review the circumstances they faced, consider their options, and understand their motives for acting as they did."

20 case studies are considered, from George Washington's effort to put down the Whiskey Rebellion to George W. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq. Here some questions can be raised. Has there been time for history to judge Bush's Iraq policy? Selecting this example seems to go against one of their statements that time has to pass to assess decisions.

Sometimes, the authors appear to exaggerate the negative consequences of decisions. Washington's efforts to quell the Whiskey Rebellion certainly can be questioned. But to suggest that this was a debacle that helped to lead to the decline and fall of the Federalist Party seems to me to go over the top, as does the suggestion that the decline of this Party "hamstrung the national government for sixty years" (Page 23).

Nonetheless, the book does illustrate the making of and consequences of major decisions. Among those examined here (each decision takes up 12-15 pages of text and photos): Adams' The Alien and Sedition Acts, Jefferson's Embargo Acts, Madison's War of 1812, Cleveland and the Pullman Strike, FDR and the internment of Japanese-Americans, Kennedy's Bay of Pigs invasion. Johnson's Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Nixon's Watergate, and Carter's 'Malaise" speech and energy proposal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. W. Kennedy on December 19, 2008
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book is written in a very clear, easy-to-read style. There are 20 chapters, each one a 15 to 20 page article about a Presidential Mistake. These are bad executive decisions that ruined or endangered large numbers of people, destroyed economies, shamed the United States in the international community, and changed the political landscape significantly in their aftermath. Of course, with only 20, not every president got a chapter. Nixon and Carter each got two. Surprisingly (to some) there is not a chapter on the Clinton sex scandal; the authors decided that, although the story generated a lot of media noise at the time, it was not a policy-making error and turned out to have had little or no actual effect on the long-term fate of the nation & the world. Equally surprising, after explaining in the introduction that presidents can really only be judged in retrospect, with 20 to 40 years of historical hindsight, they included a chapter on George W. Bush, written while he is still in office. Admittedly, the Iraq war is seen as a disaster by most, but "only time will tell" how it finally plays out. I also felt that the authors failed to prove the ultimate error of McKinley's "splendid little war" with Spain for possession of the Philippines. According to the authors' summation, although the war itself was a humanitarian disaster, the long term results seem to have worked out in everyone's favor. Perhaps some nuance was lost in the effort to condense a complex historical episode down to a 14-page article (with pictures.)

I would consider this a "coffee table" book because it is a large, squarish size, printed on heavy paper, lavishly illustrated with full-color pictures (each with a two- or three-sentence caption).
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