The presidents of the United States are the most powerful people in the country. They often lead the nation through difficult times, such as wars or tough economic conditions, but they also have many opportunities to travel overseas and interact with different nations.
The American presidency has evolved significantly over the years, from the days of George Washington to the present day. As such, it has played a role in the development of American society and its political culture.
There have been numerous presidents who have been lauded for their service to the nation. For example, Abraham Lincoln led the Union to victory in the Civil War and was regarded as one of America’s greatest presidents. In addition to his leadership, Lincoln also fought against slavery and was known for his fiery speeches and political shrewdness.
Other notable leaders include Theodore Roosevelt, who is a legend for his life-long commitment to social reform and his charismatic personality. He has been extensively documented and is a favorite subject of historians.
Edmund Morris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning three-volume series is a fantastic place to start if you want to get an overview of Theodore Roosevelt. Morris has a knack for bringing out the personalities of the people who make up history, and he captures Roosevelt’s energy and vitality in full force.
Borneman’s 2008 biography is a must-read for anyone interested in the era of the 1840s and 1850s, when America was on the cusp of becoming a more modern nation. Polk is a man who receives less attention than he deserves, but Borneman makes the case that he was a critical figure in the development of the US as a democratic republic.
Benjamin Harrison is not a figure most people would consider exciting or interesting, but Calhoun makes the case that he was responsible for setting in motion the evolution of the presidency into the modern conception we know today. Rather than being incompetent or exceptional, Calhoun says, Harrison was actually an activist president who worked tirelessly to set the tone for the presidency in the 19th century.
He was the first president to formally organize the National Guard, and he helped establish the first state legislatures. He was also an early advocate of the abolition of slavery, and was instrumental in drafting the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Chester Arthur is another forgotten figure who has a story to tell; he was the first president to enact the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, a hugely important legislation that is still in use today. The common wisdom is that Arthur was a shady politician, but Karabell finds his backstory, which includes an early childhood involving extreme poverty and a remarkable education, and paints Arthur as a complex, multi-faceted man who is much more fascinating than you might think.
John Quincy Adams is most commonly remembered as a member of the father-son president duo, but Nagel has done a great job exploring Adams’ inner life and personal relationships in this absorbing biography. A number of chapters are based on Adams’ own diary, and Nagel has gained access to this important historical document, which helps give this account an intimacy that would be hard to achieve otherwise.