If you want great detail on the presidents, this book series, "The American Presidents," will not be for you. If, however, you would like to get better introduced to some of the Presidents with some quick reads, this series could be very attractive. "Grover Cleveland," written by Henry Graff, is one book in the series. At the outset, I will say that this is a nice introduction to Grover Cleveland; if you want lots of detail, though, this book will not be for you.
That said, this is up to the usual dependable quality of works in this series. The book begins by placing the Cleveland family in context (e.g., I had never guessed that one of Cleveland's predecessors was a founder of Cleveland, Ohio, after whom the city was named!). The story of Cleveland's political career began in earnest when he served as Mayor of Buffalo, NY. This served as a launching point for his accession as Governor of New York. In the latter role, he distinguished himself as a "reformer."
After that, as a result of a confluence of events, he was nominated for President as a Democrat. While running for office (not that candidates did much in the way of campaigning), it came out that Cleveland may have fathered a child out of wedlock. Indicative of Cleveland's reputation, when asked what his "handlers" should do, he said, "Tell the truth." Rather refreshing!
Once elected, he served as a competent president, with some accomplishments in his first term. He was defeated when he ran for re-election, with Benjamin Harrison ousting him from office. However, four years later, he was re-elected to serve the White House. There were many challenges in his second term, some beyond his control. There was also the medical problem that was kept from public eye.
The book winds down by talking of his life after the presidency. This 138 page volume gives a nice glimpse of Grover Cleveland, his presidency, his times, and his accomplishments. For what it is, it does well. Recommended for those who want a brief introduction to the presidents generally and Cleveland specifically.
This is the fourth installment of an exciting new series in which major presidential scholars provide brief, critical biographies of all the American presidents. Arthur Schlesinger, who among many other things is famous for his overseeing the group of presidential scholars who rank all the American presidents, edits the series. In the most recent version of Schlesinger's list, Grover Cleveland is ranked 12th out of 39 presidents, at the top of the "Above Average" category and just missing the "Near Great" presidents. As Graff, the author of this volume, puts it, "Grover Cleveland is the best Unknown President." And that is the great virtue of this series: not in providing short biographies of figures like Abraham Lincoln and FDR, but less well known figures like Cleveland, and such future subjects as Martin Van Buren and James Buchanan.
While Grover Cleveland emerges in this biography as an admirable, laudable, and highly capable president, he also strikes the reader today, as he did Americans in the late 19th century, as a terribly unexciting person. Of our better presidents, Cleveland was unquestionably the one with the least outgoing personality. Being respectful, one might describe him as "solid" rather than "dull." Although not someone possessed with a great deal of charisma, he was nonetheless impressive by his own great personal honesty and integrity, and the enormous amount of hard work he put into his job. After a series of presidents whose time in office was marred by corruption, Cleveland did a great deal to restore integrity and respect to the White House.
Graff does a fine job within the confines of this biography to detail both the highpoints of Cleveland's relatively (for a president) uneventful life and of detailing many of the issues surrounding both his elections and his terms of office. Many of these issues will be familiar to students of American history, but when I have read of these before, it has been in the context of the country as a whole, and not from the viewpoint of a particular administration.
Despite not being a terribly exciting individual, a number of aspects of Cleveland's life and presidency are of note. He is the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. He is the only president to be married in the White House. I found the section dealing with his highly secret surgery for cancer of the mouth to be fascinating. To keep his political opponents ignorant of his condition, he was transported to New York, placed in a yacht that was anchored near Bellevue Hospital, and operated on while on the boat. Because the surgery necessitated the removal of much of his jaw, he was fitted with a prosthetic jaw. Bizarrely, the public did not learn of any of this until a decade after his death.
I can strongly recommend this slender volume to anyone who wants to know more about the life of one of our better yet least known presidents, and to get a better grasp of the political life of the United States near the end of the 19th century.
This short book is part of "The American Presidents" series edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. The series devotes a short volume to the life and accomplishments of each American President. The books in the series can be read quickly, and each gives the reader an overview of the life and accomplishments of an important American figure. It is a worthy goal to encourage people to get a working understanding of our presidents and part of an attempt to reeducate Americans about their country and government. The series, Schelsinger states in his introductory note, will "give readers some understanding of the pitfalls and potentialities of the presidency and also of the responsiblities of citizenship".
Professor Graff's short study of the life of Grover Cleveland (1837-1908) fulfills the aim of the series. The book consists of a brief biography of Cleveland and covers his youth, his public (and some of his private) life before he became president, his two presidencies, and his life in retirement. The accomplishments of each of his two terms are summarized, if briefly.
As do most writers who have studied Cleveland, Professor Graff finds his strength in his integrity and common sense. He was able to persuade his fellow Americans, both before and during his presidency of his honesty. Cleveland was a President without charisma and an uninspiring public speaker. He regretted his entire life his lack of a college education, and his career shows something of a discomfort with new ideas or new approaches. Yet, he was able to turn these traits, together with his own strengths into advantages. He proved a capable and inspiring President.
Professor Graff does not engage in hero-worship. If anything, I thought that he somewhat undervalued Cleveland and his accomplishment. He describes some aspects of Cleveland's presidencies which seem to run counter to the picture of Cleveland as a reformer and as given to complete probity and openness.(For examples, Graff discusses the abrupt dismissals of many Republican civil servants at the outset of his terms and the secret operation on Cleveland's jaw which was held on a ship offshore to conceal it from the public at the beginning of Cleveland's second term.) Yet Graff finds much to admire in Cleveland in his hard work, acknolwedgement of his illegitimate child, financial probity, and Civil Service reform. Graff praises Cleveland for his refusal to support the annexation of Hawaii when its queen was overthrown under dubious circumstances. Cleveland restored public faith in government at a time when it was sorely lacking. I think he was the first President who could be desribed as attempting to govern by principles that he believed were both "conservative" and "compassionate." In this he is an inspiration whose goals, if not all his specific decisions, could be followed and expanded upon.
This is not a complete study of Grover Cleveland but it succeeds well in giving the reader a sense of his accomplishment. The reader who wants to learn more might read Allan Nevins', "Grover Cleveland, A Study in Courage" (1944) which remains the standard biography of Cleveland.
This book describes the life and character of Grover Cleveland - and addresses the latter more clearly than the former. Cleveland comes across as uninspiring, but absolutely honest. He was such a workaholic that he refused to attend baseball games during the Presidency, thinking it a waste of the people's time. While Cleveland was President, there was no White House staff to speak of; he spent much of his time meeting with job seekers, and held regular office hours for the citizenry. He lost the 1888 election in part because he did not consider campaigning for the office to be part of his job description. In short, there was nothing modern about Grover Cleveland.
Graff also adequately explains Cleveland's sex scandal (in which he was accused of fathering a child out of wedlock; he supported the child, but paternity was unclear) and his three elections.
However, Graff fails to explain the 1893 depression which has tainted Cleveland's reputation. What did Cleveland fail to do, and how serious were these mistakes? Did the depression cure itself, and if so how? All these questions glide past Graff.
on December 17, 2010
I usually enjoy the books in this series as concise but informative introductions to the presidents. This particular volume, in my mind, isn't quite as good as some of the others. It certainly presents a number of very interesting vignettes of the historical and social context in which President Cleveland lived, but the book at times seems to be more about everything but President Cleveland. There are long sections that detail other players and groups from some of the nomination and electoral proceedings and the sections on his two administrations seem kind of sparse when it comes to his relationship to some of the issues and events of the day. I found the book fascinating in the sense that it breaks through the general view of the "good old days" many Americans have of this time period to describe some of the turmoil and human actors of the time. However, I'm not sure I came away knowing as much about President Cleveland as I would have liked. The author concludes that this president deserves historical respect because he was a symbol of integrity and honesty in a time of questionable politics, but it's hard to get a grasp on where President Cleveland would fall in terms of today's political views. I would recommend this book, if for no other reason than the fact that most people probably haven't read a lot about this time period or this president. President Cleveland's administration fell between the end of the Civil War and the coming of interesting inventions like electricity and telephones on the one hand and famous events such as the annexation of Hawaii, the Spanish American War and the Panama Canal on the other hand. Like all of the volumes in this series, this one is short so it is probably not a bad place to start.
on April 3, 2012
Sixty pages into Graff's take on Grover Cleveland, I was utterly bored and ready to declare the book of the worst of this series. In Cleveland's pre-Presidential years, Graff goes into FAR too much minutiae and talks about events that have very little to do with President Cleveland the man besides just creating context.
Luckily, Graff turns things around in the latter half of the book, wrenching it from the top to a middling effort.
The trouble, of course, is that Cleveland's dual presidencies were not the most exciting in the history of that office (!). Graff does a good job of covering "the basics", but there are few ways to spin Cleveland as anything but "another link in the chain".
By the end of the book, however, I had learned more about Cleveland's personality, as well as his ultimate place in the pantheon of Presidents (the last "old time" President). In that sense, it accomplished its goal (though little more).
on April 21, 2013
President Cleveland was the first elected Democratic president after the Civil War. In this day and age, in essence, the Democrats were the conservative pro business party, and the GOP supported a larger central Federal government, in complete role reversal of today. Cleveland also administered a rather weak executive, in the same vein as many of his immediate predecessors. This all changed, just a few years later, with the Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt, and his bully pulpit philosophies - changing American government forever.
Cleveland has two claims to fame: He was a bachelor in his first term, and married in the White House to a lady 27 years his junior. Also, he is the only President to have served two non-consecutive terms. He apparently was a large man, of great girth, and is accused of fathering a baby out of wedlock and having the child institutionalized.
This book is well written. I found it enjoyable. I learned a lot about the President. As is the case often in this particular series, the book lacks a little in depth. But, for the casual reader, it is a very good read.
on November 14, 2013
I read Presidential biographies and lately have focused on lesser-know ones. There is much more to Cleveland than I realized. If you're looking for deep political, leadership, and psychological insight, this series probably isn't for you. But if you want a good overview of each President to expand your knowledge or "audition" presidents for deeper reading, this series is great. Each book gives a good, two-nights of reading assessment of the subject president against the historical background of the day, and I find myself retaining a great deal of knowledge.
Grover Cleveland is best known as the only the president to serve two nonconsecutive terms. While this feat is remarkable, it leaves an unfortunate omission in the life of a remarkable man. In this concise biography, we are allowed a greater insight into this often forgotten president.
In the original era of corrupt politics which included Tammany Hall, Cleveland's integrity and honesty were a welcome relief and made him a shining example as president. Cleveland experienced a meteoric rise to the White House, going from Buffalo's mayor to New York's governor to the Oval office in less than ten years. Decendent of a Presbyterian minister, Cleveland was never able to attend college. However, he was still able to initiate a successful law career.
Cleveland's physical appearance would not have lend him to success in today's political landscape. A noted drinker and lover of food, Cleveland's frame is rumored to have hovered near 300 pounds at its peak. Cleveland was also known to avoid speaking engagements, knowing his time could be better spent at work. It reality, he was a quiet man. Yet his honesty spoke loudly for him in all situations.
Having enjoyed other books in this presidential series, I would advise readers that this series is far from thorough. The authors do have the ability to make even the most dry presidencies seem readable. With only labor strife and silver coinage as the primary controversies of his presidency, this biography of Grover Cleveland is a very good read.
on January 31, 2014
I read all the Biographies of the Presidents by way of the Presidential series. If you are going to do it, read John Hancock first because he was the first Continental Congress President. You will find as you read these how the lives of each President intertwined with the next. The job is a lineage.