- Publisher: Scribner; 2 edition (November 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684805510
- ISBN-13: 978-0684805511
- Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 1.5 x 11 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,203,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Presidents: A Reference History Paperback – November 1, 1997
In The Presidents: A Reference History United States presidents from George Washington to William Jefferson Clinton are profiled in depth. A quick browse through John A. Garraty's piece on Grover Cleveland reveals that not only was Cleveland the 22nd and the 24th president of the United States, but also that he had a popular plurality of 100,000 votes in the election he lost to Benjamin Harrison. In 1881, three years before he became president, Cleveland was but a Buffalo lawyer, stating "No amount of money would tempt me to add to or increase my present work." One further learns that he ran with a coarse crowd, hired a substitute to fight for him in the Civil War, and was the father of an illegitimate child. When you tire of present-day scandals, it's educational to learn about the skeletons that past presidents kept in their closets. Excellently indexed, Henry Graff's work makes for a reliable presidential reference as well as an absorbing and enlightening read.
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The essays are roughly 20 pages per figure, more for some and less for others (it is ironic that Teddy Roosevelt has more pages than Franklin Roosevelt, or that both Richard Nixon and George Bush the elder have more pages than Abraham Lincoln, but then, quality is not a simple calculation of page numbers). Some presidents are paired for purposes of the essays - William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore, James Garfield and Chester Arthur are each paired, as the length of time in office for each of the former figures in the pairs is rather brief, and none of the successors from the vice presidency went on to second terms.
The essays include very brief overviews of the time before office, as well as time after the presidency (as appropriate). However, the primary focus of the information is on the policies and events during the time of the presidency; this extends to military, diplomatic, administrative, legislative and judicial matters. This is one of the best one-volume references that includes cabinet members and other leaders of the executive branch in addition to the presidents; one has but to read headlines today to realise how important these figures can be in shaping the overall image and direction of a presidency.
There is also a concluding essay on role of the first lady, from Martha Washington to Hillary Clinton. From Dolley Madison's saving the portrait of Washington as the British burned the city to the extraordinary influence of figures such as Edith Galt Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton, these women are deserving of attention for their work and influence.
Perhaps the most handy feature is Appendix B, the summary tables of data on the presidents. These feature in bullet form key biographical data, election returns, major appointments, political composition of Congress, Cabinet and Supreme Court appointments, and key events arranged chronologically. The index is also very well done; at 64 pages in length, I was hard pressed to find something in the text not referenced in the index.
The essays vary in quality, but even the least of them is pretty good. The essays on the earlier presidents, because they concentrate more on details of in-office activity, filled in many gaps in my knowledge of some of the administrations. This is a book destined to be more of a library volume than a personal possession, which is unfortunate, as this is a valuable text.
through Bill Clinton (remember, it was published in 1996); obviously,
it cannot give as full a history as a full, comprehensive biography
could. But for many of the presidents, it is almost impossible to find
a full, comprehensive biography, and for those interested in those
presidents, this work is invaluable. Also, each chapter has an
exhaustive bibliography, so those interested in learning more are given
the names of books, many of them out of print, to look for.
A must for any presidential history buff.
With each section written by a different contributor, there is bound to be some unevenness of style and tone, and there is. Generally, each presentation is scholarly and disinterested--although by no means dry--and free from excessive praise or condemnation, but for two exceptions that somewhat detract from the work. The most egregious of these is the section on Franklin Pierce, which is filled with personal gibes and, to a much lesser degree, the section on Calvin Coolidge. This is particularly surprising in light of the fact that such controversial figures as Andrew Johnson, Warren G. Harding and even Richard Nixon have been handled so professionally. But otherwise there is little to fault.
With only 15 to 20 pages devoted to each administration, obviously many difficult decisions had to be made on what material to include and exclude. Yet, it is the insight that went into these decisions that is one of the high points of this book; indeed, there is more than enough material to satisy most history buffs. However, those looking for obscure facts or trivia about each man, except when such details are directly relevant to the central issues of the time, are best advised to consult full-length biographies. Extensive references, including a list of such biographies, have been provided at the end of each section.