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Presidential Campaigns: From George Washington to George W. Bush
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on February 12, 2011
Every four years, the United States must take up the task of choosing its chief executive. Campaigns have addressed a wide variety of issues and tactics to get the word out to the American people on who the next President should be.

In Presidential Campaigns, every election, from George Washington's essentially preordained election in 1789 to George W. Bush's controversial victory in 2000, is covered.

It is interesting reading the book cover-to-cover and looking at how America's current Presidential campaigns developed. Starting with the first few elections when the electors of the electoral college were actually important, and how the electoral college itself quickly became more irrelevant around the 1820s and 1830s. Many of the traditions we see today are only recent incarnations. Debates did not come around until 1960 and were not even a mainstay until 1976. Party nominating conventions did not originate until the 1830s or so. They were an important part of every campaign until the late 1970s. With the rise of the primary and caucus systems, convention nominations simply rubber-stamp the decision, but this was not always the case.

The issues themselves play a central role in many elections. From things like banking, tariffs, and the gold standard in the 19th century, to America's role in the world and dealing with Soviet Union in 20th century.

Of course, mudslinging has its place in American Presidential campaign history. Starting right out in 1800, which was one of the nastiest campaigns in history, continuing to the present day.

And who could forget phrases and other notables that have become so important when looking at these campaigns? From Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too, to Bryan's Cross of Gold speech, Dewey Defeats Truman, "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy," and so on. All of it is found in this book.

Controversy is also something that has come up throughout history. Think 2000 was the most controversial election? Try reading up on 1876. Or the two elections when the House of Representatives had to settle the issue (1800 and 1824).

The only error I noted when reading this book, aside from the occasional typo, was in the section on the 1844 campaign. It says that "Fifty-four Forty or Fight" was a campaign slogan, but the phrase did not originate until months after the election itself.

In conclusion, I recommend this book. People interested in American history, political history, and/or presidential history are sure to love it. Each summary is well written and balanced. The only thing it really lacks are the famous electoral maps! But in this case, who needs them?
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on October 17, 2015
This book covers the political machinations used by the opposing parties since George Washington. I was amazed at how the tactics used from day one of our political election cycles to today invoke the same accusations, mud slinging and posturing.
I always thought that we had degraded ourselves to the mud slinging of today and that early elections were more "gentlemanly" and altruistic. Boy, was I wrong !
This book is a great read. It covers , not with a lot of detail ( so you won't get bored), each election from Washington to Bush. It made me want to delve deeper into some of our historic happenings and how those elections shaped the U.S. today.
I would recommend it, but I wouldn't pay a lot for it. It's good, but not great.
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on February 6, 2012
The book "Presidential Campaigns, from George Washington to George Bush" is an outstanding work of non-fiction, especially for (formerly) politically naive scientists like me. Not only is it well-written, educational, and as un-put-downable as any racey political novel on the bookstands, today, it also performs the valuable public service of dispelling the myth (perpetually ressurected during election years like this one) that the current election campaign is the dirtiest one in history. But, it also performs the even more important public service (in my opinion) of reminding us that there were, in fact, times when the profession of Politics was more civil and respectable, the American people were more appreciative of the right to vote, and the country as a whole benefitted from both, especially during times much harder than anything we face today.

This volume has a permanent place on my bookshelf, and I re-read the relevant portions of it every election season. I recommend it enthusiastically to anyone and everyone who does not actually prefer to be an uninformed, non-voting citizen of the United States of America.
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on July 26, 2017
This is a well organized book full of useful facts that show how our political history has evolved over the years. Full of antdotes and trivia, the book reveals quite a bit about America. Very well condenced stories of each election. Reports things as historical facts rather than a political leaning (except for the 1988 race maybe). Overall a very good read.
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on May 22, 2014
What do I enjoy in a book of history? Wonderful stories! This book does not fail to deliver on that. Hilarious and/or thought-provoking stories of behind the scenes in American campaigns - many quotes I have never heard, the rumors the parties started about their competitors - all there. I'm telling you, if you thought politics was down and dirty today - it's downright civilized compared to all the stuff they have been doing for over 200 years. How did you start rumors and dig up the dirt on your opponents before the Internet? Apparently they succeeded. Fascinating - highly recommend for history buffs. If they taught these stories in high school history class, there would't be a bored student within hearing distance!
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on July 8, 2013
In honest cases, presidential elections may be nothing but politicians from governorship or Congress just trying to get to office, but seriously it has been the unexpected getting elected to the presidency. In 1828, John Quincy Adams thought that since he was a smart politician, he would never lose to Andrew Jackson. In 1948, the poll pointed Thomas Dewey thought he wouldn't lose to Harry Truman only cause of Truman's unpopularity. Expect the unexpected, no matter how politically experienced, you may have a good chance of losing. In 1884, James Blaine was more experienced in politics than Grover Cleveland, but because Blaine had some affairs during his years in Congress, he didn't win the election contest.
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on July 10, 2014
You kinda know what you're in for when you look at this book. It's literally a campaign by campaign look at the actual elections of the US Presidency. No more, no less. There's lots of fun little stories surrounding each campaign, some that smack of political scheming and trying to make stories where there are none, some that are just funny quotes expanded upon. One thing I came away with is that the US Presidential Trail is, and always has been a cutthroat game. It's not any worse than it used to be, because it's always been a disaster.
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on June 14, 2014
I do like this series (if I can call it that) about the Presidents. I've always enjoyed history (except revisionist--please!) and after reading their stories, their wives' stories, it's time for the third account--what it takes to convince the public that a candidate should spend-let's face it-the next four years being the most hated man in the country. I pity anyone taking the Oath; even if they were my second choice for the job. It's not for the faint of heart. The writing is excellent as always, and well worth the money.
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Politics is one of my guilty pleasures, and I am always amazed at how thin the veneer of pomp and decorum can be in American politics. It is always somewhat reassuring to find that our current highly polarized, almost childish political rivalries are nothing unusual.

=== The Good Stuff ===

* Paul Boller writes well, and the book is easy to read and keeps moving. The book does not get bogged down in the history related to each election, which is either a good or bad thing, depending on your viewpoint. If you are well versed in American history, you will enjoy not reading yet another summary of events you know well. However, if you are a novice at history, you will probably not understand a lot of the references or controversies discussed in the book.

As an example, the "free coinage of silver" drags with it a whole series of political, economic, class warfare and human welfare issues, none of which are explained or explored in the text. The book merely lists some of the campaign issues and content revolving around the coinage, but assumes the reader knows the background info.

* Each chapter is a self-contained story of one election. Again a double-edged sword, The reader is left to smooth over the transitions and connect the issues. Again, a brief example. Both Kennedy and Johnson had some similar stands on civil rights, but with some serious differences. These are not explored, but an understanding of them helps put the campaigns in context.

* The book is packed with amusing little anecdotes, some of which will send you away shaking your head. A quick and representative example- Zachary Taylor was notified of his nomination by a letter- which arrived postage due at his home. Taylor refused to pay for postage due letters, and his official notification of his calling to run for the nation's highest office sat in a dead-letter office.

=== The Not-So-God stuff ===

* The book really didn't hit its stride until about the Abraham Lincoln era. The biggest problem I had was that the political wit and humor of the 18th and early 19th centuries just doesn't translate well. In many cases, while I understood the history and issues being presented, the humor went right over my head because of obscure references, archaic language, and dated humor.

* The book sort of languished between humor and seriousness. Boller incorporates many amusing little stories, but can't seem to decide if the book is a serious history of campaigns, or a part of "The Humor of JFK" genre.

=== Summary ===

I enjoyed the book, but found the early parts of it less interesting than the latter parts. There were quite a few facts that were new to me, but also many familiar tales. The book assumes a reasonable knowledge of American history to truly appreciate the humor and content of the campaigns. The book was a little slow-reading-it took me many more days than usual to read, but overall I enjoyed it.
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on December 9, 2016
Very insightful. Many of us thought the 2016 election was unique, but a lot of what we saw has been happening for many decades. There was plenty of ugly campaigning even 200 years ago...
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