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Don't Know Much About® the American Presidents Hardcover – September 18, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews



"Fun, engrossing, and significant ... History in Davis's hands is loud, course, painful, funny, irreverent-and memorable."―San Francisco Chronicle


"Don't Know Much About the American Presidents by Kenneth C. Davis contains a plethora of information about the men who have held our nation's highest office. If you read it you will be enriched."―Dayton Daily News
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

After giving rise to the Don't Know Much About series, Ken Davis has been dubbed "The King of Knowing" by Amazon.com because he becomes a subject expert in all of the areas he writes about: the Bible, mythology, the universe, the Civil War, for example. Ken Davis is a frequent media guest and has appeared on hundreds of television and radio shows, including NPR, The Today Show, Fox and Friends, CNN, and The Discovery Channel. He has been a commentator for All Things Considered, has written for the New York Times, CNN.com, and Smithsonian magazine, and serves as an educator for TED-ED, a new division of TED that share free "lessons worth sharing" via brief animated videos. In addition to his adult titles, he writes the Don't Know Much About Children's series published by HarperCollins. He lives in New York with his wife. They have two grown children.

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Product Details

  • Series: Don't Know Much About...
  • Hardcover: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Hachette Books; 1St Edition edition (September 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401324088
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401324087
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #721,688 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Woodrow Wilson is my go to president used to judge a book on presidents for quality. This book passes muster on my Wilson Test.

Wilson is difficult to write about for a book on presidents because those looking to buy such a book probably run on the warmer to hotter side of the American patriot spectrum, and one risks alienating, offending, or even wounding your target audience by tackling issues that arise with him, issues that discuss the whole of our American experience both good and bad. And Wilson had both good and bad.

Davis discusses the good, Wilson's measures to bolster "the people" whom the nation is built of and on, but he doesn't shy away from stating that under the Wilson administration "Jim Crow became the policy of the U.S. government" (389). Many presidential books wont go here, even though this fact had a devastating affect on the lives and experiences of American blacks.

Davis does not tell you much about Wilson's views on this subject nor does he go into the effects these views had on the country. This is indicative of the tempo of the book; it is a good overview, but for more in-depth analysis Davis provides further reading resources for each president. But by mentioning Wilson's racial failings and doing so in context, Davis gives the reader a chance to unpack why the complications of history are in fact complicated. This invites a deeper reading into our past. For example Davis writes, "But (Wilson's) handling of racial issues was of little concern to a nation that was warily watching the approach of a European war" (389).

Davis aims to highlight the men and the times of the United States through timelines, presidential quotes, bulleted facts, and analysis. He also provides further reading, both books and online resources, for each president.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a person who loves learning about U.S. Presidents, I read this book hoping to increase my knowledge of past presidents, get a fresh perspective on old knowledge, or at least get a refresher. However, this book had little to offer in all three respects.

The book itself is divided into three sections. The first examines the origins of the presidency and why the framers of the Constitution decided to create the office. The second, and by far largest, section looks at the forty-four presidents with brief biographies and notable events of their administrations. The third is a short retrospective of the office.

The bulk of the book, that is the biographical section, contains some trivia facts and a brief biography of each man to have been president. While it certainly is difficult in writing a book that is essentially forty-four mini-books in one, Don't Know Much About the American Presidents still falls short.

The first is the numerous omissions I noted when reading this. For example, in the section on Thomas Jefferson, the author apparently has enough room to mention Sally Hemmings a few times, but other events during Jefferson's presidency, such as the Barbary Wars and the Lewis and Clark Expedition are just footnotes. Quite possibly the most well-known accomplishment of Benjamin Harrison's presidency, the Sherman Antitrust Act, is only mentioned in passing. The section on Franklin Roosevelt almost exclusively covers the New Deal and the Great Depression with almost nothing on his leadership during World War II. The section on Jimmy Carter focuses mainly on his "malaise speech" and barely mentions one of his greater accomplishments: the Camp David Accords. I could go on.

The book also contains many slipshod comparisons to modern events.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The primary problem with Kenneth Davis' book here is that he is using this book to give everyone an exceedingly editorialized version of history. He was snarky throughout the entire book as he tries to tell us his opinion on the presidents that it seems like he just looked up on wikipedia for two minutes. It's also a very shallow telling of American history that really only focuses on practically one or two issues per president (For the first 16 presidents, the only issue is slavery). By the way, did you know that some presidents owned slaves? Kenneth D. wants to remind an already informed reader of this many times throughout this book.

A perfect example of this strange telling of history is that, in the Thomas Jefferson chapter, Sally Hemmings is mentioned multiple times (I truly do mean multiple, in unrelated circumstances. He just loves talking about Sally Hemmings), while Lewis and Clark is not mentioned at all. Which is actually more relevant to American history?

And did you just talk about Michelle Bachman in the Thomas Jefferson chapter, Kenneth? Really?

The author also seems weirdly obsessed with comparing Shay's rebellion and the Whiskey rebellion to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. I could name at least a dozen reasons why these comparisons make so little sense that they are self-refuting.

He seems weirdly preoccupied with marginalizing the founders. And, by all means, that's fine. They are a bit mythologized. But Kenneth here really wanted them to seem like 2014 progressives in the light of Bill Maher when it came to religion. He provides only evidence that supports his view, but omits contradictory evidence like, I don't know, the Declaration of Independence's line "We are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights".
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