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Imperfect Presidents: Tales of Misadventure and Triumph Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 20, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st edition (March 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403975132
  • ASIN: B006G86ZZO
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,206,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jim Cullen was born in Queens, New York, and attended public schools on Long Island. He received his B.A. in English from Tufts University, and his A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in American Civilization from Brown University. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including Harvard, Brown and Sarah Lawrence College. He is currently chair of the History Department at the Fieldston School in New York City and a book review editor at the History News Network. He is married to historian Lyde Cullen Sizer and has four children.

Jim is the author of a dozen books, which include "Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions" (Oxford University Press, 2013), "The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation" (Oxford, 2003) and "Born in the USA: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition" (HarperCollins, 1997). His next book, "A Brief History of the Modern Media," is slated for publication by Wiley-Blackwell in 2014.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Cullen does an excellent job of giving a historical account with a twist of humor as he presents a side note of events not easily found in mainstream history. He shines a light the lives of our past presidents in ways that may have been missed or glossed over in school books. In some ways, I walked away with a different view of how I looked at some of our more colorful leaders.
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Format: Paperback
While this fascinating book, is a bit all over the place -- jumping from one president and topic to the next -- it's still very much worth reading for the wonderful, juicy tidbits about some of our most esteemed (and some less respected) presidents. Focusing on how they got themselves in awkward, difficult situations, and the courage they often showed to extricate themselves, Jim Cullen offers a great source for history teachers looking for good content to spice-up their lectures.

The chapter titles and subtitles tell it all:

Prologue: "General Washington Coddles a Protege: In which we see a winter soldier demonstrate the limits of power, the power of limits, and a new kind of leadership for a new kind of nation"

Ch 1 "Vice-President-Elect Jefferson Stabs a Friend in the Back: In which we see a hypocritical ideologue apprehend the value of pragmatism"

Ch 2 "Former President Adams Can't Stop Gagging: In which we see that a privileged upbringing need not handicap a (very) senior citizen"

Ch 3 "Representative [Abraham] Lincoln Smears a Preacher: In which we see an ambitious politico achieve the moral--and spiritual--clarity of a great emancipator"

Ch 4 "'Gentleman Boss' [Chester A.] Arthur Bites the Hand that Feeds Him: In which we see a great political hack discover the virtues of good governance"

Ch 5 "Dude T.R.
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