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Worst. President. Ever.: James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser Presidents Hardcover – October 1, 2016
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Robert Strauss is perhaps The Funniest. Presidential Biographer. Ever. But it is no joke that he has turned the story of James Buchanan—indisputably the Worst. President. Ever—into a fascinating tale on the triumph of mediocrity. It would be hilarious—except that Buchanan ushered in a bloody Civil War. Unfortunately for all of us, Strauss also makes a good case that some contemporary seekers of high office are eerily reminiscent of Buchanan’s 19th century Know-Nothing comrades. (Kai Bird, author of The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames)
Count me among those media personalities who’ve been solicited to engage in our national parlor game: Ranking American Presidents. You know the drill. We reflexively offer Abraham Lincoln and George Washington as among the best of American presidents, and then, depending upon contemporary bias, toss in Ronald Reagan or maybe cite the abbreviated tenure of John F. Kennedy. But at the bottom of the list, there’s rarely debate. Rather, near-unanimity that America’s worst chief executive was the only Pennsylvanian to inhabit the White House, James Buchanan. Now comes Robert Strauss with Worst. Present. Ever., which demands that we justify our pre-conceived opinions on Buchanan’s tenure. Perhaps history, in the absence of scholarly analysis like that which has been shown on Buchanan’s brethren, has judged No. 15, arguably the most credentialed candidate ever to assume the presidency, too harshly. I’ll not give away the insight and analysis. Suffice it to say that Strauss makes his case in a manner to be appreciated by both serious historians and modern day politicos. This treatment of a critical piece of Pre-Civil War history will leave readers engaged, entertained, and better equipped to justify their next ranking of Buchanan’s true place in American history. (Michael Smerconish, television and radio host, and New York Times bestselling author)
In a world obsessed with celebrating successes, we can often learn more from studying failure. There’s nowhere better to start than James Buchanan, the president who doomed America to a Civil War. This entertaining, informative book is full of lessons for leaders in every office. (Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals and Give and Take)
Entertaining study of ‘the first plodding-to-the-top president,’ a man mercifully forgotten by history. . . . Strauss makes a firm argument for the essential doofusness of the 15th president. (Kirkus)
It’s ironic that Pennsylvania’s only President, James Buchanan, is almost universally proclaimed as our worst. His bumbling performance as President belied the fact that he had perhaps the best previous experience that would qualify him to serve in the Oval Office—as a State Legislature, a Congressman, a U.S. Senator, an Ambassador to Russia and Great Britain, and Secretary of State. In this book, Robert Strauss details the Buchanan presidency in an entertaining and humorous fashion, and also takes potshots at the concept of ranking our presidents. It is a must read for those interested in the history of the presidency. (Edward G. Rendell, Former governor of Pennsylvania)
A revealing look at President Buchanan and our fascination with ranking those who have been our Commander in Chief. (Julian Zelizer, author of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress and the Battle for the Great Society)
Robert Strauss has penned a fascinating biography of James Buchanan. With humor and candor, he plumbs the depths of presidential ineptitude while offering compelling sidebars into the history (and vagaries) of presidential rankings and the lives of Buchanan’s fellow Bad Presidents. (Matthew Algeo, author of Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip)
Journalist Strauss turns his lifelong interest in U.S. presidents into a biography of the 15th, mining the premise that Buchanan (1791–1868) is the worst of them all. Along the way, Strauss takes the opportunity to exercise his wit and knowledge to rate the candidates for the title. . . . The process of nominating and then rejecting other contenders for the eponymous title is an entertaining exercise. . . . Strauss maintains a light tone, but doesn’t sacrifice substance in offering solid historical detail and insights into American politics as the country careened toward Civil War. (Publishers Weekly)
Authors who want to teach us the secrets of the best are a dime a dozen. Only Robert Strauss could show us what we have to learn from the worst. Worst. President. Ever. is a tour de force—entertaining and edifying in equal measure. (Kermit Roosevelt, Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School, and author of Allegiance and In the Shadow of the Law)
President Buchanan had a great résumé, but in war, peace, race, religion, leadership, friendship, love, and honor he left much to be desired. Strauss weaves the history of this failed president with countless facts and observations about American presidents and his own lifelong fascination with the successes, failures, and foibles of our elected leaders. (Rush D. Holt, former congressman, Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science)
If you despised W., if Obama fills you with loathing, if you fear apocalyptic consequences with the election of Hillary or Trump . . . then Robert Strauss is here with historical reassurance. A century and a half ago, America survived (just barely) a truly terrible president: a bungler of a politician who did next to nothing as the Union broke apart over slavery. (David Kinney, author of The Devil's Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich)
Was James Buchanan really the W.P.E.? And if so, what did he do (or not do) to deserve the designation? How does the peculiar business of presidential rankings work, anyway? To find out the answers to those and other questions, you’ll need to read Robert Strauss’s smart and very entertaining Worst. President. Ever. (Ben Yagoda, author of Will Rogers: A Biography and The B Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song)
One might put forth other candidates for the crown Mr. Strauss has bestowed on Mr. Buchanan, but one cannot dispute the élan with which he makes his case. This is history writing at it should be, but too often isn’t: authoritative, yet lively and fun to read. (David M. Friedman, author of Wilde in America, The Immortalists, and A Mind of Its Own)
Daddy's Little Goalie breaks the mold...delightful, a breeze to read, and filled with the kind of love that will have you crying and laughing. (Buzz Bissinger)
Daddy's Little Goalie is a love letter of sorts, but without the syrup and sap. And the tears. What separates it from the well-worn genre of fathers and offspring bonding is gender. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
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6. Harlow Giles Unger’s JOHN QUINCY ADAMS
7. H.W. Brands' ANDREW JACKSON: His Life and Times.
8. Ted Widmer’s MARTIN VAN BUREN.
9. Gail Collins’ WILLIAM HENRY HARRISON.
10. Edward P. Crapol’s JOHN TYLER: THE ACCIDENTAL PRESIDENT.
11. Walter R. Borneman’s POLK: THE MAN WHO TRANFORMED THE PRESIDENCY AND AMERICA.
12. John S. Eisenhower’s ZACHARY TAYLOR.
13. Dhirubhai Patel’s MILLARD FILLMORE: 13TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
14. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s THE LIFE OF FRANKLIN PIERCE
15. Robert Strauss’ WORST. PRESIDENT EVER. JAMES BUCHANAN
Currently, I have begun Doris Kerns Goodwin’s TEAM OF RIVALS: THE POLITCAL GENUS OF ABRHAM LINCOLN.
The last book review I submitted was Borneman’s work on Polk. Eisenhower’s book on Zachary Taylor and Patel’s book on Millard Fillmore were uninspiring. So uninspiring, I decided not to write reviews. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s book on Franklin Pierce was without a doubt the absolutely worst presidential biography in the group. In addition, I am beginning to think that it is one of the worse books I have read in my life. Essentially, Hawthorne wrote like he was brown-nosing Franklin Pierce. Hawthorne’s writing was so terrible; I nearly stopped my project of reading all the presidential biographies. Hawthorne, of course, is the author of THE SCARLET LETTER (1850) and THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES (1851). He was a contemporary of Pierce which can be the only explanation for the embarrassing level of compliments.
For me, the best aspect of Strauss’ book is that regained my interest in reading presidential biographies. In many ways it is both sad and funny. Clearly, Buchanan was an incredibly incompetent man – not just a president. In addition, he was not a particularly honest man. In summary, he deeply desired the admiration and prestige of the presidency without doing the work necessary to be the caretaker of the executive branch of government.
Here lies a comparison with Trump. Many Trump haters exist in the US. If they read Strauss’ book, they would realize that no matter their level of disrespect they have for Trump, Trump cannot come close to Buchanan’s level of gross incompetence, lack of knowledge and incredibly poor insight into the implications of his actions and statements. Buchanan was a poor excuse for a man and by far the worst president. If you do not like Trump, Strauss’ book will bring you comfort and reassurance that our democratic republic will survive.
In reading, Strauss’ book, I found inconsistencies. That is, occasionally Strauss makes statements of facts that contradict other presidential biographies. Such inconsistencies would be expected. However, compared to the other presidential biographies, Strauss has more of them. Nevertheless, one will not struggle in reading Strauss’ WORST. PRESIDENT EVER. JAMES BUCHANAN.
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Perhaps that seems overly harsh, but Worst. President. Ever.: James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser...Read more
I’ve read many of the most recent history books over the past few years. They have been a great way to read history as an adult.Read more