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77 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent book about the American Presidents!
"To the Best of My Ability" is a wonderful new book about the American presidents. Published by the Society of American Historians, it has as its General Editor the distinguished Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson.
"To the Best of My Ability" has similarities with other Presidential reference works I've read, but it also has...
Published on August 9, 2000 by Mike Powers

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good general reference, but a bit brief!
This is a great reference book for those who want to check on the highlights of each President's term, but I found it somewhat lacking in details. I guess I was looking for a history of America from the President's desk, and I didn't get it.
However it is entertaining enough, and would be a good addition to any library.
Published on January 1, 2001 by Lesley West


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77 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent book about the American Presidents!, August 9, 2000
By 
This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
"To the Best of My Ability" is a wonderful new book about the American presidents. Published by the Society of American Historians, it has as its General Editor the distinguished Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson.
"To the Best of My Ability" has similarities with other Presidential reference works I've read, but it also has some particularly notable new features which I believe set it apart as the most outstanding work in its genre. The first 306 pages are devoted to short historical essays of each President and his administration . Each essay is written by a renowned Presidential scholar, biographer, or historian, and are without peer for writing quality and scholarship. The essays are lively, interesting, and offer a brief and completely objective appraisal of each President's time in the nation's highest office.
After the Presidential essays section, there is another intriguing segment that has short articles describing each President's election campaign(s). The complete text of each Chief Executive's inauguration speech(es) is also included. I found this area of the book to be fascinating. I especially enjoyed reading the two Inaugural addresses of Abraham Lincoln, who is my favorite President. There I was able to compare his first Inaugural, a long, pedantic justification for beginning the Civil War, with his second address, his so very brief and powerfully eloquent appeal for the American people to "...bind up the nation's wounds."
In addition to being a well written, meticulously researched, and superbly edited, "To the Best of My Ability" is a irresistibly beautiful volume. It is lavishly illustrated throughout with paintings, lithographs, and photographs both familiar and unfamiliar. (I was especially captivated by the daguerreotypes of such early Presidents as John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and James K. Polk.) The book is printed on heavy gloss paper, with a binding that is of an outstanding and obviously very durable quality.
"To the Best of My Ability" is simply a magnificent volume in every way! For readers of American history, and especially those interested in the American Presidents, it's a book that should not be missed.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Anthology of Exceptional Importance, June 4, 2001
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This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
I join with countless others in praise of this magnificent collection of essays which discuss all but one of the Presidents of the United States. The author of each essay is a distinguished historian who is especially well-qualified to comment on the given subject. James M. McPherson serves as general editor and provides an Introduction which, by itself, is worth the price of the book. He also provides the analysis of Abraham Lincoln. David Rubel assists McPherson in the capacity of editor.

Each of us has a special interest in certain Presidents and therefore is inclined to proceed to those essays which discuss them. Fair enough. What I found of special interest and value is the information and analysis provided concerning Presidents in which I had little (if any) prior interest, such as Van Buren, both Harrisons, Polk, Fillmore, and Buchanan. The essays are supplemented by a wealth of illustrations as well as what I view as "historical nuggets."

For example, during the administration of John Adams, we learn that on August 28, 1797, "In order to end costly pirate attacks on American merchant shipping in the Mediterranean Sea, the United States signs a treaty with the Barbary Coast state of Tunis. The agreement, ratified by the Senate in January 1800, requires the United States to pay tribute to Tunis." These brief but informative items supplement each essay.

The reader is also provided with detailed information about various Presidential campaigns as well as the inaugural addresses of winning candidates, from George Washington (April 30, 789) until Bill Clinton (January 20, 1997). If a higher rating were available, I would give it to this unique volume.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid book, August 21, 2000
This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
This book offers a fresh new perspective on the 40+ presidents who have taken office to serve their country " to the best of their ability". I have seen many books on the presidents, but none as superbly written and compiled as this one. An elite group of some of America's most renowned historians write about each president: his life, his times, his accomplishments, his failures...The book is authoritative and trustworthy. It does not harshly criticize the presidents nor does it laud them unduly. On the contrary, each president is given the credit he is due and even the weakest presidents are shown in a new light explaining the great difficulties of their times. Instead of alienating the U.S. presidents from the people, this book works to bring this prestigious class of Americans ever closer to the people, American or foreign. The book is abundantly illustrated and, although I did find a few typos, it is sumptuously written. The book is crammed with interesting facts, and at the end, there is the complete set of the presidents' inaugural addresses. I doubt there was ever a book this magnificent written about the lives of the U.S. presidents. Dorling Kindersley books are true treasures for any library due to the wealth of information and beauty of print, and this book is no exception. It is recommended as a book to read or just as a reference to keep for information. However you use it, it is truly an excellent book.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Resourceful book!, August 23, 2000
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This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
This is a very resourceful book, with rare pictures of campaign memorabilia and of the presidents, as well as nice brief chapters on each of the presidents. I was particularly pleased with this book because it included all the inauguration speeches by all 41 presidents. Most books have either one or the other (the biography of the president or the speech), but this book is a gem because it contains both! Though the text is a bit small to read, it could be enlarged a bit (this is with me using reading glasses, by the way).
A very resourceful book to have, and well worth the price.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Reference Book., October 2, 2000
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Rheumor (New Orelans) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
This is not a story, but rather a collection of very short stories on each of the American presidents. Every author is a member of the Society of American Historians, and each chapter is written by a different author. These micro-bios average only 5 pages. The second half of the book is filled with transcripts of important speeches, including Inaugural Addresses, and much is devoted to campaign memorabilia. The book then is more of a handy (albeit limited) reference work, most suited to coffee-table duty.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book, May 3, 2001
By 
Old Fisherman "Jim" (Orange, California USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
Most of us, even history buffs, know little about many of the Presidents who have served our country. This book will help you remedy that. Each President's administration is discussed in a short three or four page essay by a distinguished historian. What really makes this book extra nice is that, like all books from the Doring Kindersley publishing house, it is profusely illustrated with paintings and photographs. It also has little sidebars that give bits of intrigueing information about each president that is not generally known. For instance: Warren G. Harding was so vain about his appearance and had so many clothes that new closets had to be built in the White House to hold them all. Or: Calvin Coolidge had an electrically operated horse (similar to the bull-riding machines you used to see in cowboy bars) that he used to ride while in the White House.
As others have noted, the second half of the book tells about each campaign and has the text for each inaugural address.
A very good book. I recommend it highly.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evereything you'd want to know and then some!!!!!!!, March 24, 2004
A history buff, especially in U.S. History, I love to read anything I can about the presidents. This book far from dissapoints.
What I really like about this book is that it is very fair to every president. For example, while it glorifies Washington and Lincoln (as it should), it also points out their personal flaws. For example, Washington, although not wanting to be a king, was a little full of himself when he preferred that people adress him in a glorifying manner. In other words, it provides the positive and negative sides of each president (politically and personally).
I can assure you that even if you think you know everything there is to know about the U.S. Presidents, you WILL learn something new from this great book (I sure did)!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even A Brief History Shows Warts, October 2, 2004
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If you are looking for a nice, easy to read and somewhat flashy overview book on all the American Presidents then this book should fit the bill. The book provides the reader with a brief overview of each of the Presidents. The overview includes details of their life's before they took office and an overview of their administrations. There are a number of photos in each section and side of the page inserts that hold additional interesting facts. The book ends with an overview of each election with a run down of what took place in the campaigns and the final vote count. Within this section are a number of additional pictures of campaign paraphernalia that I really enjoyed. There is also the inaugural address for each of the Presidents, and if you can get through all of them you have more stamina then I did. Some of these men were on the long winded side and the advent of professional speech writers has helped the readability of Presidential speeches.

Each chapter is written by a different American historian who, judging by the biographies in the back of the book, are all well thought off, many the average reader will know by name. I found it interesting that the book takes a no holds barred approach in its reporting. The authors are not afraid to call out Presidents that were down right bad and except for a few (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, TR, FDR and Truman) the authors are a bit harsh. Then again we expect a great deal from our Presidents so maybe a tough look is needed for a historical overview. Overall I enjoyed the book for what it was, a brief history of each of the Presidents. Other then providing the basic facts the best this book will do is direct you to the men you are most interested in for further reading. I did have a few complaints, the authors did not provide a bibliography or even a suggested reading list at the end of the book and it would have been nice if they could have gathered in a table the complete list for an easy look at the trends that have taken place.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a great book!, August 30, 2000
This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
History buffs will love it. I think it is a MUST READ for politicians and all our government employees. The book gives the reader inside information about our presidents which is not always included in encyclopedia and other references. I read it from cover to cover. I enjoyed every bit of this beautifully displayed book. As for myself, just an average history buff."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it for style as well as substance; both are there., March 2, 2001
By 
Elsie Wilson (Aberystwyth, Cymru) - See all my reviews
This review is from: To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents (Hardcover)
A fascinating book. Divided into two parts, this is the most comprehensive anecdotal history of the Presidents i've ever seen ~ or could imagine. The first part tells the story of each president with a nice amount of detail, in four or five pages. There is less information than, say, a World Book Encyclopaedia article, but it is far better organised, and delightfully readable in every case (there isn't a poorly written article in the bunch). The second part of the book is a very brief (a half dozen paragraphs) explanation of each of the quadrennial elections, followed by the text of the President's inaugural speech. I will confess, i have not read all of these speeches; i have read all of some, however, and some of many ~ enough to get a feel for the way the men spoke, and for the changing tastes in speeches over the past two centuries. If for no other reason than this latter point, the inaugural speeches ought to be required reading for students. To our ears a speech such as Washington's or the first Adams's is long, tedious, overly convoluted and, perhaps, irresponsibly difficult to follow. On the other hand, those of, for example, Clinton or Reagan are, by contrast, simple, if not simplistic, and not especially effective as oratory. The meat of the book, though, is definitely the fortyone essays by thirtytwo historians. I who, though not American, thought i had, through constant and varied reading, gained a fair amount of knowledge about the country's history, have learned an immense amount. And so i repeat, a fascinating book.
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To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents
To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents by James M. McPherson (Hardcover - August 1, 2000)
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