From Publishers Weekly
Cullen (Born in the USA
) unmasks the major mistakes of 11 American presidents. Some of his choices are predictable, such as FDR's fumble in trying to subvert the judiciary. Other choices seem quirky. Lincoln's greatest error? Arrogantly criticizing Methodist minister Peter Cartwright when the future president was a young man. Clinton's real misstep was not his failure to keep his pants zipped, but his health care plan. Cullen overreaches when he suggests that this political disaster was linked to Clinton's sexual shenanigans: in Cullen's view, Clinton delegated health care reform to his wife "in part [as] an act of personal atonement for marital infidelity." Cullen singles out the invasion of Iraq as the current president's grossest blunder, with his mishandling of Katrina a close second. A few of the portraits are redemptive. LBJ, who engaged in electoral fraud to get elected to the Senate in 1948, later signed the Voting Rights Act into law. Cullen's grand conclusion takes the tone of a tedious inspirational speech and trades in clichés ("Effective governance is a two-way street") as he pedantically explains that what really matters is not who the president is, but "who the people are" and what presidential behavior the American electorate will accept. This is a sadly thin contribution to presidential history. B&w illus. (Mar.)
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In an anecdotal style, a perennially popular form of American presidential history, Cullen counterpoises a slipup with a success in 11 chief executives. From a twelfth, incumbent George W. Bush, Cullen withholds the achievement half of his dual structure, condemning him as "among the worst [presidents] the United States has ever had." Whether time validates or dismisses Cullen's opinion, its verdicts on Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, LBJ, FDR, TR, Chester Arthur, Abraham Lincoln, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington have formed, and Cullen thematically conforms to conventional views of these figures. For example, he reveals FDR's 1937 "court-packing" proposal as the political bungle it was but praises his recovery of political acumen in navigating the international crises of the 1930s. Cullen's presentation of Arthur, ever at the bottom of historical esteem, is the most novel section as the author redeems the party hack with credit for beginning the dismantlement of the spoils system. Presidential opportunism contrasted with presidential principle--Cullen's format has the potential to attract readers through its character-illuminating stories. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved