Today marks George Washington’s 285th birthday and the celebration of President’s Day. In observation of the holiday, we’re sharing some of our favorite books about the presidency.
For most Americans, George Washington is more of a legend than a man—a face on our currency or an austere figure standing in a rowboat crossing the icy Delaware River. He was equally revered in his own time. At the helm of a country born of idealism and revolution, Washington reluctantly played the role of demigod that the new nation required—a role reconciling the rhetoric of democracy with the ritual of monarchy.
Washington on Washington offers a fresh and human perspective on this enigmatic figure in American history. Drawing on diary entries, journals, letters, and authentic interviews, Paul M. Zall presents the autobiography that Washington never lived to write, revealing new insights into his character, both personal and political.
A new and more complex portrait of Thomas Jefferson, as told by Jefferson himself. Not trusting biographers with his story and frustrated by his friends’ failure to justify his role in the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson wrote his autobiography on his own terms at the age of seventy-seven. The resulting book ends, well before his death, with his return from France at the age of forty-six. Asked for additional details concerning his life, Jefferson often claimed to have a “decayed memory.” Fortunately, this shrewd politician, philosopher, architect, inventor, farmer, and scientist penned nearly eighteen thousand letters in his lifetime, saving almost every scrap he wrote.
In Jefferson on Jefferson, Paul Zall returns to original manuscripts and correspondence for a new view of the statesman’s life. He extends the story where Jefferson left off, weaving excerpts from other writings—notes, rough drafts, and private correspondence—with passages from the original autobiography. Jefferson reveals his grief over the death of his daughter, details his hotly contested election against John Adams (decided by the House of Representatives), expresses his thoughts on religion, and tells of life at Monticello.
What best defines a Democrat in the American political arena—idealistic reformer or pragmatic politician? Harry Truman adopted both roles and in so doing defined the nature of his presidency.
Truman and the Democratic Party is the first book to deal exclusively with the president’s relationship with the Democratic party and his status as party leader. Sean J. Savage addresses Truman’s twin roles of party regular and liberal reformer, examining the tension that arose from this duality and the consequences of that tension for Truman’s political career.
Drawing on personal interview with former Truman administration members and party officials and on archival materials—most notably papers of the Democratic National Committee at the Harry S. Truman Library—Savage has produced a fresh perspective that is both shrewd and insightful. This book offers historians and political scientists a new way of looking at the Truman administration and its impact on key public policies.
A former Sunday school teacher and Hollywood actor, Ronald Reagan was an unlikely candidate for president. His charisma, conviction, and leadership earned him the governorship of California, from which he launched his successful bid to become the fortieth president of the United States in 1980. Reagan’s political legacy continues to be the standard by which all conservatives are judged. In The Enduring Reagan, editor Charles W. Dunn brings together eight prominent scholars to examine the political career and legacy of Ronald Reagan. This anthology offers a bold reassessment of the Reagan years and the impact they had on the United States and the world.
As the most prominent figure of the U.S. government, the president is under constant scrutiny from both his colleagues and the American people. Questions about the proper role of the president have been especially prevalent in the media during the current economic crisis. The Presidency in the Twenty-first Century explores the growth of presidential power, investigating its social, political, and economic impact on America’s present and future.
Editor Charles W. Dunn and a team of the nation’s leading political scientists examine a variety of topics, from the link between campaigning and governing to trends in presidential communication with the public. The book discusses the role of the presidency in a government designed to require cooperation with Congress and how this relationship is further complicated by the expectations of the public. Several contributors take a closer look at the Obama administration in light of President George W. Bush’s emphasis on the unitary executive, a governing style that continues to be highly controversial. Dunn and his contributors provide readers with a thorough analysis of a rapidly changing political role, provoking important questions about the future of America’s political system.
An intriguing phenomenon in American electoral politics is the loss of seats by the president’s party in midterm congressional elections. Between 1862 and 1990, the president’s party lost seats in the House of Representatives in 32 of the 33 midterm elections. In his new study, James Campbell examines explanations for these midterm losses and explores how presidential elections influence congressional elections.
After reviewing the two major theories of midterm electoral change-the “surge and decline” theory and the theory of midterms as referenda on presidential performance Campbell draws upon each to propose and test a new theory. He asserts that in the years of presidential elections congressmen ride presidential coattails into office, while in midterm elections such candidates are stranded. An additional factor is the strength of the presidential vote, which influences the number of seats that are won, only to be lost later.
Including both election returns and survey data, The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections offers a fresh perspective on congressional elections, voting behavior, Congress, and the presidency.
What essential leadership lessons do we learn by distilling the actions and ideas of great military commanders such as George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Colin Powell? The Art of Command illustrates that great leaders become great through a commitment not only to develop vital skills but also to surmount personal shortcomings. Harry S. Laver, Jeffrey J. Matthews, and the other contributing authors identify nine core characteristics of highly effective leadership, such as integrity, determination, vision, and charisma, and nine significant figures in American military history whose careers embody those qualities. The Art of Command examines each figure’s strengths and weaknesses and how those attributes affected their leadership abilities, offering a unique perspective of military leadership in American history.
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