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Star-Spangled Men: America's Ten Worst Presidents Paperback – February 25, 1999

3.7 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

In Star-Spangled Men, presidential biographer Nathan Miller compiles a subjective list of the 10 crummiest presidents in history. His criteria for ignominy: "bad character, the inability to compromise, a lack of vision, poor political skills, dishonesty, and an inability to communicate." Richard Nixon and Andrew Johnson are obvious choices, Jimmy Carter and William Howard Taft somewhat less so, though probably deserving according to Miller. Many readers probably can find a selection or two to quarrel with on these pages (Is Calvin Coolidge really one of the 10 worst?), but nonetheless will appreciate Miller's candid assessments. (The most controversial part of the book is certainly its brief epilogue, which details "the two most overrated presidents": Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.) Miller provides 10 neat summaries of 10 arguable failures in this good bit of opinionated writing that turns the klieg lights on some of American history's dimmer stars. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Combining brief biographical profiles with scathing critiques, this one-man's rogues' gallery offers up Miller's (The Roosevelt Chronicles) opinions on who he considers to be the least successful American presidents. The trenchant though often superficial nature of this account is first revealed in the table of contents, where Miller lambastes William Howard Taft for being so fat he got stuck in a White House bathtub and characterizes Benjamin Harrison as looking like a "medieval gnome" with a handshake like a "wilted petunia," as if these qualities affected leadership. In an epilogue, he deflates two more presidents as the "most overrated"?John F. Kennedy, whom he calls a "confirmed cold warrior" (wasn't virtually everyone in those days?), and Thomas Jefferson, whom he accuses of wrecking the nation's economy and leading the country to war with Britain through the Embargo Act of 1807. Miller writes with passion in this irreverent broadside, where opinion tends to overstep analysis.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Touchstone ed. edition (February 25, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684852063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684852065
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #699,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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In an age of ultra-partisan hit pieces, this thoughtful and factual account is refreshing. You may not agree with Nathan Miller's choices of the ten worst presidents, but I believe you will find this a very readable and intelligent critique of ten different men who have attempted to lead the country. Though I remain one of those who felt last year's whole impeachment sideshow was a waste of precious tax dollars, I have to admit that I had to agree with much of what Miller has to say about Clinton's character. (Our current president is not on the list, though Miller has reserved the right to include him in future editions.) He also makes excellent cases against presidents who have been revered, such as Andrew Johnson who faced impeachment in 1868 for his undermining of Reconstruction. Calvin Coolidge is pilloried for refusing to forgive the debts of our Great War allies and, indirectly, contributing to the rise of Adolf Hitler. Some of the choices are predictable (such as Richard Nixon), but others like Jimmy Carter may (or may not) surprise you. Miller doesn't pick on people for party or ideology: he seeks instead to define for each man what exactly it was that made him so bad for the country. Those who are picking our nation's leaders this year should review this book before selecting from the candidates.
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Format: Hardcover
Modesty is rarely a politician's strong suit. When he sought his country's highest office in 1976, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter titled his campaign memoir "Why Not The Best?" The former president, no doubt, would not be happy to find himself included in this far less flattering work. In this witty and informative volume, author Nathan Miller focuses on Carter and nine other chief executives who he rates as the worst presidents in our history.

Some of his choices--Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant, Warren Harding, Benjamin Harrison, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan--are pretty much consensus picks. The inclusion of Carter and Richard Nixon will no doubt stir the ire of their partisans. And putting Calvin Coolidge and William Howard Taft on the "ten worst" list is definitely debatable. But that's part of the fun of this book. Miller writes with an obvious delight for his subject matter. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, you will have to concede he lays out his arguments with a definite sense of conviction. Perhaps the greatest prospect for debate will be the epilogue, in which he argues that Thomas Jefferson and John Kennedy are our two most overrated chief executives.

Although these tales of incompetence, corruption and failure might seem disheartening after a while, there's one positive thought the reader is left with when it's all over....we've survived this bunch, so we're likely to survive a few more turkeys!--William C. Hall
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Format: Hardcover
Miller has given us a valuable history lesson whose readership should include every candidate or potential candidate for the presidency. Although Bill Clinton is not considered for this book, will he become a "Starr (sic) Spangled Man?" This chapter is yet to be written.
In any event, the portraits of our White House schemers, wusses, and do-nothings are well sketched out, although I would have preferred more depth on the great "worst" -- U.S. Grant and Richard Nixon. The analysis seems a bit thin on these men, both of whom had such rich and and extraordinary pre-presidential careers. The chapter on overrated presidents, Thomas Jefferson and JFK was on the mark, althogh here, too, deeper analysis would have been welcome. I would quarrel with MIller on one major point. In his table of contents, he lists the 10 worst presidents in order from poor to horrid. If one regards the actual harm a president did to the country, I would rank order the final four as follows: Harding, Pierce, Nixon, and Buchanan. Buchanan was the very worst because he did not even attempt to halt the drift to the bloodiest period in American history. Nixon was bad enough, but his resignation prevented him from doing more harm; give him credit at least for not prolonging the agony and departing the scene voluntarily. For us history buffs, Miller should now try a new arcane theme. How about America's best Secretaries of Commerce?
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Format: Paperback
(original version posted May 8, 2000)

While the title does offer a warning that this might be a "fluffy," sensationalistic, or overly cynical offering, it's fortunately none of these things.

Unfortunately, that doesn't imply there's a lot of depth to this work. Miller does a competent job of picking ten of our less distinguished Presidents and compiling a lot of well-documented facts about their respective administrations. The book does a satisfactory job of telling us why someone is on his ten worst list. But the facts pretty much do this for us already without the need for much synthesis or supporting argument. In fact, it's hard to argue with any of his choices...with one exception.

I did find Miller's choice for the absolute worst President rather surprising and far too critical considering this President's skills and accomplishments (although I should note that I'm not a big fan of the 37th President). While I understand Miller's point, I really needed some more support for his argument.

Short on interesting arguments, viewpoints, or in-depth analysis, this book could still make for a nice quick read if you're looking for an overview. One last thing... if you're wondering if Miller may have forgotten any of our recent Chief Executives, note that the book was written before 2001.
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