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60 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Analysis Yields Brilliant Insight
Dr. Felzenberg creates a new and useful methodology for rating U.S. Presidents. Instead of one single grade as in previous surveys, he rates presidents on six criteria. The first three are internal characteristics that each president carries into the Oval Office: character, competence, and vision. The second three reflect presidential accomplishments: economics,...
Published on May 29, 2008 by Wise Economist

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Incomplete Analysis of Presidential Greatness
Americans are fascinated with rankings. From sports teams to cities, we enjoying making and reading lists of rankings based on some semi-objective criteria. Thus, it's no surprise that we'd also make lists ranking the effectiveness of our Presidents. Up until now, most Presidential rankings have been greatly influenced by Arthur Schlesinger's list that was created...
Published on March 5, 2010 by Michael Lima


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Six Dimensions of Presidential Greatness, December 22, 2011
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Alvin Felzenberg is dissatisfied with the criteria historians use to rank U.S. presidents. His concerns range from the rating methods to the biasing effects of historians' political ideologies. Felzenberg collects his own ratings "...according to six criteria I have developed. The first three are internal attributes: character, vision, and competence. These often determine how a president approached the next three important policy realms in which all presidents engage: economic policy, the preservation and extension of liberty, and national security and defense." A panel of historians rated each U.S. president using these criteria.

The book is structured around the six rating dimensions. Each of six chapters ranks the presidents (from Washington to Clinton) by their score on one of Felzenberg's dimensions. It then reviews the lives and legacies of selected high- and low-scoring presidents. Across the six chapters, each president is profiled once. Felzenberg makes his assessments without favoring the political right or left. He sometimes credits a president with achievements which undo the work of a previous "great" president. Readers might examine how well Felzenberg achieves objectivity by comparing his profiles of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. These two very different presidents appeal to voters at opposite ends of today's political spectrum. Each receives both credit and criticism for his attributes and policies.

The last two chapters apply the books rating framework. "What Does It All Mean?" constructs a candidate evaluation checklist from traits that distinguish between high- and low-scoring presidents.

Americans should endorse candidates who:
- Articulate specific goals
- Have overcame adversity
- Have broad life experiences
- Exhibit curiosity about the world
- Have a strong sense of integrity
- Temper confidence with humility

We should avoid candidates who:
- Exhibit cynicism or complacency
- Whine and complain
- Won't take advice
- Have a narrow focus
- Cling to an ideology or agenda
- Hold grudges
- Aggressively assert power

The author's use of the six rating dimensions is consistent and thought-provoking. He encourages multi-dimensional thinking about what constitutes presidential success. A few presidents, like Abraham Lincoln, score well across the board. Others, like James Buchanan are uniformly poor. Most presidents' ratings vary across the dimensions, sometimes dramatically. This book is highly recommended to those interested in comparative analysis of U.S. presidents. It is also of significant value to any voter open to a non-partisan approach to assessing presidential candidates. Such readers might also benefit from Steven Rubenzer's Personality, Character, and Leadership In The White House: Psychologists Assess the Presidents.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, Educational...and Somewhat Biased, October 13, 2008
By 
Beth C. (San Diego, CA) - See all my reviews
I was inspired to read this book based on the very mixed reviews here. I agree that the glorified review of Reagan, one of the most partisan of presidents, was highly biased - indeed, most of his reviews of the presidents after Kennedy showed a definite slant. His main economic reference was Milton Friedman. And the assessment of character can be highly subjective - although he justifiably gives Jimmy Carter high points here.

But when you go back further, it gets more interesting. The author proves that he is not just a knee-jerk conservative. He disagrees with many historians in that he gives Grant a relatively high rating - largely because of his efforts to promote the freedom and well-being of blacks during Reconstruction. Likewise, Wilson and Jackson are marked down because of their racist policies. Another interesting section pertains to James Madison - the author discusses why President Madison could have (and should have) avoided the War of 1812.

So I would recommend reading the book, although I wish it were organized differently (with a separate section for each president). It is probably impossible for one person to write a completely unbiased book on this topic.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Innovative Look At Presidential Rankings, December 26, 2011
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This review is from: The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game (Paperback)
This book takes a new tact on ranking American presidents. Not only does it evaluate what presidents actually "did do" but also what they "did not do" and how their actions stand up in the light of history. There are a number of very interesting features and surprises in the book.

1) A close look at economic policies of President Lincoln. Lincoln's wartime economic policies get at most a cursory glance in virtually all history books yet here those policies are closely analyzed and commended.

2) An equally close look at Linooln's conduct of foreign policy not directly related to the Civil War.

3) The ranking that virtually all American presidents have been of high character. That is almost all of them actually sought to do what they "thought" was best for the United States at the time.

4) Most U.S. presidents come up way short in spreading liberty and ensuring civil rights for all. Perhaps this has to do with presidents inevitably having an investment in the status quo.

All in all an outstanding book that I'll be reading and rereading for years to come.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proudly conservative take on ratings game, August 11, 2008
By 
Robert Fliss (Cape Coral, Fla.) - See all my reviews
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I noticed that most of the negative reviews of this book seem to come from liberals. Well you have a right to your opinion -- and by God! I have a right to mine.

The presidential ratings game the Schlesingers started is so slanted toward the left as to be virtually worthless. It seems that the surest way of getting a high rating is to participate in yet another expansion of federal power.

After all, historians are biased in favor of presidents who did something they can write about. Advocates of federal restraint, like Cleveland and Coolidge, make dull copy.

Let's face it -- the presidential ratings game is just that. It's less factual than the sportswriters' votes for the college football championship.

Felzenberg introduces a measure of discipline by breaking the ratings into six classifications, weighted equally for the overall score.

Liberals should be able to take comfort from the high rankings awarded to Truman and FDR, the latter despite a fairly tough critique of the New Deal. The author is, if anything, even more tough on Hoover, noting that many policies we associate with the New Deal started with the Republicans.

The difference here is that at least some in the GOP, as embodied by Ronaldus Magnus, learned that the best thing the government can do in an economic downturn is let the market work itself out. The Democrats, on the other hand, evidently learned nothing, and still view the New Deal as a public policy triumph, when in fact it prolonged the Great Depression.

The only other long depression in American history followed Andrew Jackson's demolition of the national bank. Is there a pattern here?

As an unapologetic conservative, I'm a little disappointed that my all-time favorite Democrat, Grover Cleveland, didn't score higher.

Actually, Felzenberg is fairly open to big-government policies, as witnessed by his ranking of Theodore Roosevelt third behind Lincoln and Washington. I don't believe that anyone had coined the phrase "big government conservative" during TR's lifetime, but it fits like a glove.
Much as I admire TR for his undoubted patriotism and colorful personality, the really outstanding president of that era was the martyred William McKinley, who inherited the mantle of limited government from Grover Cleveland.

Of course, it's all a game, and this book was written to provoke debates. Felzenberg does a vastly better job defending his ratings than any other historian I've read who attempted the same task.

I don't have to agree -- just indulge me by arguing from facts and logic instead of slogans and fear, which is all the left has been offering for decades.

I'm recommending this book to all my conservative friends. In fact, on the phone the other day, my friend and I were wracking our brains for the absolute worst president in American history.

We both blurted out simulataneously: "Woodrow Wilson!"

Actually Felzenberg gives the booby prize to James Buchanan for having allowed the War Between the States to happen.

The way I figure it, Buchanan was a weakling, but slavery was such a poisonous issue that something had to break.

Wilson -- the beau ideal of the sanctimonious Puritan reformer -- dragged the nation into a European war we had no business in. After victory in 1918, Wilson ensured we would lose the peace by insisting on the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire. Supposedly, this was to be done along ethnic lines, but the reality is that the Hapsburg successor states were nearly as polyglot as the "ramshackle empire" itself. The resulting power vacuum left Central Europe and the Balkans ripe for devastation by fascism, Nazism, and communism.

Good going, Mr. President!
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fun and Very Informative Book, August 18, 2008
By 
Okie Expat (Philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
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Admittedly biased by a personal friendship with the author, I still found this book to be not only Dr. Felzenberg's best work to date, but for a political historian, refreshingly balanced, insightful, and a easy to read.

This is book is ideal for the political junkie and amateur history who tires easily with heavy tomes more focused on often insignificant historical facts instead of interpretation and analysis. While I'm sure I do not agree with all of Dr. Felzenberg's rating (I thought he was a little harsh on Richard Nixon, and was too kind to Mr. Manifest Destiny, James K. Polk, the only President who really lied to start a war), he has successfully established a new benchmark for rating Presidents as objectively as humanly possible.

His greatest service, however, may be exposing the heavy biases of respected historians such as Dr. Arthur Slezinger, who clearly rated President by how they matched up against his liberal idealogy of bigger and more intrusive government. No liberal, Dr. Felzenberg nonetheless made an obvious attempt at fairness and balance in his ratings. I suspect such biased readers and historians will chafe at his high rating of Ronald Reagan and others, but I defy them to find flaws in his presentation.

I strongly recommend this book to: political junkies; anyone who is interested in the history of the Presidency; and high school and college teachers looking to orient their pupils on the presidency. I especially recommend it to journalists, who by and large are ignorant of history and can't handle book above an 8th grade level (much less digest it). It was a terrific and fascinating read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely Enjoyable!, April 13, 2014
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In The Leaders We Deserved (And a Few We Didn’t): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game, Alvin S. Felzenberg argues that presidential surveys, where participants rank U.S. presidents, are flawed. He asserts that “the most confounding limitation in expert surveys may be a tendency, as Fred I. Greenstein has pointed out, to divert attention from the ‘full range of presidential experience.’” In an attempt to correct this defect, Felzenberg creates his own system and criteria for rating the presidents. In doing so, he opens our eyes to many presidents that have been overlooked, while also giving us a new look at the presidents we may think we’re familiar with. His assessment includes stories that give us new information about the U.S. presidents, but also might simply restore context that has been lost to us.

As a lover of history, but also a student, I found this book immensely enjoyable. One of the difficulties in writing about the ranking of presidents is that it can often reflect our idealogical views. I initially found myself disagreeing with Felzenberg’s rankings solely because of my political views. Putting aside all that I learned from the fascinating historical antidotes, the book really forced me to rethink some of my preconceived notions.

I noticed that other reviewers commented on the difficulty of boiling down the history of all the U.S. presidents into one book. This is certainly true. Felzenberg doesn’t cover every possible aspect of each president’s presidency, however, he makes good use of the space he has. This book functions as a wonderful introduction to American history, inspiring us to read more.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A second look at the same people, from a different vantage point, August 15, 2013
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One does not have to agree with his analysis to appreciate his methodology in rating the presidents. It offers a point of view that is supported by facts, history and economics as he views them.

I really enjoyed his book. I intend to read it again; I suspect that I will like it even more the second time.

I suspect that most of his critics will come, not from the left, but those of his own political party who are attempting to rewrite history, rather than interpret it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, March 22, 2013
By 
Terry Buettner (Hendersonville, NC) - See all my reviews
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When you start feeling bad about the government, just thumb through, and you'll know it could have been worse.
Every kid bored with history should get this book.
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12 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Shallow, January 13, 2009
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I only made it halfway through this ranking of the presidents, not according to some supposedly systematic criteria, but instead the author's banal stream of consciousness. It's a casual narrative, sometimes aimless and often historically simplistic. I say this even though I agree with many of his conclusions.

Not recommended. If you want to understand the presidents, there are no shortcuts. You have to study the political, international and economic circumstances of their administrations. There are many worthwhile books on those subjects with far greater merit than this.

I bought the book because of the favorable comment by a real historian and excellent writer, James McPherson. I was surprised to find he was into the incestuous cross-marketing culture of "historical" writers. He has certainly sullied his reputation in my eyes with his endorsement of this flimsy effort.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth in Ratings, September 6, 2008
In this book Dr. Felzenberg undertakes to rate US presidents by establishing standards in certain areas, such as Character, Vision, National Security and others. We are all familiar with the ratings game played by historians, most of whom are university professors and political liberals. They generally rate presidents without announcing any standards they employ. Their results leave me too often believing that the standards are determined by how liberal or conservative a president has been. By their definition liberal is good and conservative, bad. In other words actual performance in office by a president is less important that how the professor/historian himself votes. Felzenberg does not play that game. I found his reviews instructive and highly interesting. This is an excellent book and I recommend it very highly.
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