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Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents Series: The 29th President, 1921-1923 Hardcover – January 7, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dean-of Watergate fame and author of the memoirs Blind Ambition and Lost Honor-does his best to make Warren G. Harding's lethargic life and scandal-laced presidency sound interesting. Throughout his entire pre-presidential career-including stints in both the Ohio state senate and the U.S. Senate-Harding was, for the most part, nothing more than an amiable nonentity. No bill of any consequence bore his name nor did he champion any measure worth recalling. Elected the nation's 29th chief executive in 1920 by an overwhelming vote in a postwar reaction against Wilson's foreign policies, Harding was the first president born after the Civil War. He was destined to die in office in 1923, but even before his death, he allowed the infamous Teapot Dome fiasco (based largely on dubious dealings conducted by the most notorious of Harding's many mediocre appointees-the anticonservationist secretary of the interior, Albert B. Fall) to occur. In an attempt to give Harding his due, Dean points out that he did at least bring to an end President Wilson's longstanding practice of excluding blacks from federal appointments. As well, in a speech of rare passion and boldness delivered in Birmingham, Ala., he called for political, economic and educational equity between the races. His most permanent domestic accomplishment, however, was as dull as it was necessary: the creation of the Bureau of the Budget. Dean (and Arthur Schlesinger's American Presidents series) is not to be faulted for the fact that Harding's life is a yawn-but a yawn it is.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Harding is perhaps the best-known president about whom we actually know very little. His administration is seen as marking a conservative reaction to the progressivism begun by one Roosevelt and setting up the conditions for the progressivism of another. More personally, he appears as the hapless front man for the gang of thieves whose crimes culminated in the Teapot Dome Scandal, the acme of political scandals until Watergate. Dean is from Harding's hometown in Ohio and learned about him from residents who knew him there. Taking full advantage of the president's papers, which generally have been unused by historians, the author set out to discern who Harding was. The man who emerges is far more nuanced and interesting than would be presumed. He comes across as an individual of skill and drive who was caught up in the issues of his day, such as international disarmament and industrial conflict, and at a time far more demanding and dangerous than tends to be conjured up by images of the 1920s. Some of his officials served him well and others behaved badly as Harding sought to carry the country into the future without losing touch with the past. Readers cannot deny that there is more to this figure than they ever assumed and Dean deserves a great deal of credit for making them aware of that.–Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st edition (January 7, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069569
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069563
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #330,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
John Dean has achieved the considerable feat of rescuing the reputation of a man who is generally considered one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. He does this by drawing the reader's attention to what made Harding one of the most popular American presidents during his lifetime: a speedy and significant economic recovery, a major international arms reduction agreement, and, perhaps most importantly, a reduction in divisiveness from his predecessor's final two years in office.
Not long after Warren Harding's death in August, 1923, public and critical opinion toward his presidency began a precipitous decline. Several scandals - some of which had already emerged during his presidency and some of which would only come out after his death - began to symbolize his regime. Harding's presidential papers, which could have helped remove some of the black marks towards his administration, were withheld from public view, allowing fictionalized and grossly unhistorical accounts of his presidency to stand as the only available record.
Harding's fundamental decency, his good political instincts, and his high regard for public service were lost in the one-sided reckoning of his presidency. Even in the selection of his cabinet and other personnel, Harding was far better than is now widely assumed. While several scandals arose among his cabinet and staff (none of which implicated the president himself), Harding made several outstanding and notable selections to his cabinet and to the Supreme Court: Andrew Mellon as Treasury Secretary, Herbert Hoover as head of the Department of Commerce, William Howard Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court are some examples.
Harding was not a five-star president, and this biography does not make the case he was.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John W. Dean's new short biography of Warren G. Harding, the twenty-ninth president of the United States, is a welcome addition to the scant amount of good literature on the president who enjoyed a great reputation while in office, but sank to the bottom of the list when scandals and corruption in his administration were exposed after his death. For us Harding enthusiasts Dean's book makes the explicit point that Harding wasn't really all that bad...that after all, he had some successes in the abbreviated term he served from 1921-1923. To this end, I believe Dean has made a strong case.
Warren Harding was a man whose entire life seemed to be clouded in intrigue and mystery. It's always been a wonder to me why historians haven't written more about him. From the gossipy "The Shadow of Blooming Grove" (1968) through Dean's book, one senses a definite uptick in Harding's reputation. Dean recites Harding's accomplishments....the Washington disarmament conference (1921-22), the creation of the Bureau of the Budget and his naming of former president William Howard Taft to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The author gives Harding praise for his efforts to help settle the coal and railroad strikes and his ability to stand up to Congress when he thought he was right. In Dean's book President Harding comes across more forcefully than in other books I've read about this president.
Dean suggests that one of Harding's biggest political achievements was his ability not to make enemies. Of course, this was his biggest problem, too. Dean is careful not to elevate Harding too high and the overall success of this book is to keep Harding out of the cellar of the ranking of presidents. Perhaps that space can now be occupied by James Buchanan.
John Dean conquers no new real historic ground.
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Format: Hardcover
I decided to read this book after seeing Dean plug it on C-SPAN. It sounded fascinating, and it was. As a history student and reader, I had never bothered to read up on Harding and had been subjected to the repeated, glib assessments of the 29th president as a bland mediocrity, a morally compromised Republican get-along, go-along who comfortably fell into the presidency and did little but play poker, drink bootleg liquor, and frolic with his mistress in the White House before dying of a bellyache.

Wrong, concludes Dean. I doubt that anyone will ever make the case for Harding being a great president, but Dean at least makes a case for his being a competent chief executive who racked up some worthwhile accomplishments during his twenty-nine months in office. Eschewing the myths that grew up around the man after his death in August, 1923, Dean evaluates the personal attacks that were made on Harding and finds them wanting in both veracity and objectivity.

Of course, Harding was tainted in life and in death by the shenanigans of two cabinet members and some of their cronies. I do wish Dean had gone deeper into the treatment that the U.S. news media gave to Teapot Dome and the other scandals that scarred Harding's administration, and whether his tarnished reputation can be traced to a few partisan journalists (such as H.L. Mencken, whom Dean does talk about at length). Although Dean portrays Harding (who was for many years a newspaper publisher) as getting along famously with White House reporters and the Republican-dominated news media of his day, there must have been something beyond politics that motivated Mencken and Harding's other detractors to constantly trash him. Eastern elitism? Scorn for Harding's often tortured oratory? (He wasn't a bad writer, just ... different.
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