Best Presidential Biographies United State – In 2017, I started a project to read biographies of every US President. Forty-five men and over 25,000 pages later, I finally finished just before Joe Biden took the helm. It was not an easy task, and certainly dull at times (especially through the long stretches of the 1800s), but always interesting and endlessly fascinating.
Like all biographies, the books were full of life lessons. Although these presidents held the highest office in the country, they also dealt with obstacles and issues that are universal to the human condition — parenting that was more or less loving, weighty decisions and crossroads, death and illness, love and There were betrayals. They all had individual temperaments that aided or hindered their rise, and allowed them to do better and worse jobs in office. The power they possessed really only amplified the strength and relief we all shared from the loss they brought to me, and I took so much from their lives (and specially highlighted one for each president on my Instagram page) .
At the same time, the biography also broadened and enriched my understanding of the course of American history in general and the ups and downs of politics in this country in particular. Because of my reading, I am better able to put today’s frenetic political climate into context.
Although I personally found my reading project a real boon, I suspect there are many people who have the same appetite for presidential biographies. And that’s perfectly fine, because you can get the same benefits by reading just a fraction of these books. If you’re interested in reading about the Presidency and the remarkable characters who held the office – if you want to gain a deeper understanding of our nation and how we got here – below I present my 10 favorite POTUS biographies. (Best Presidential Biographies)
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Thousands of books have been published about George Washington, the first appearing shortly after his death in 1799. Since then, there has been a steady stream of award-worthy titles and series, including Douglas Southall Freeman’s 7-volume set from the 1950s. and James Flexner’s 4-volume treatment that followed nearly a decade later. (Each even has a single-section acronym!) So where do you possibly begin with the man who set the most important precedent for the office of President of the United States?
For the modern reader, there’s no doubt that Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life is where to turn. While Chernow’s books are long and admittedly intimidating (and not exactly easy), he is undeniably a master storyteller, who has a knack for cracking the inner psyche of his characters in ways that I have encountered Better than almost any biographer. Washington inevitably retains some of his stone-like stature, but Chernow strips it away in the best possible way to reveal the man inside. Washington: A Life is an incredibly rewarding read that will make you certain that George Washington was the perfect man to be America’s first president. (Best Presidential Biographies)
American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis
Thomas Jefferson has become the poster boy for the changing tide of public opinion regarding the Founding Fathers. For almost 200 years he was respected without any reservation; But as his relationship with his slaves unfolded over the decades, Jefferson took another path toward villainy. So who is it, the hero or the scoundrel? To read any biography of our third president is to understand what an enigma he was; Even historians who have spent their careers studying the man eventually find him, as Merrill Peterson puts it, “impenetrable”.
Suffice it to say, modern readers have no shortage of options for digging into Thomas Jefferson’s life. I started with John Meacham’s The Art of Power, which was a great place to start. I also found our third president “impenetrable,” and so continued Joseph Ellis’s fascinating and enlightening American Sphinx. Less a cradle-to-serious biography than a series of essay-like chapters on Jefferson’s life, this book gets at the heart of what made the man so fascinating and, of late, so palpable. . Inside its pages, you’ll find a treasure trove about character, freedom, and America’s contradictory founding legacy. (Best Presidential Biographies)
Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
How could one possibly choose one book to study when it comes to the most written about man in American history? It’s a tall task to be sure. The number of books published about him is estimated to be around 16,000, with more and more hitting the shelves every year. From dual biographies (e.g., Lincoln and John Brown, or Lincoln and Frederick Douglass), to his frontier boyhood, to his upbringing, and even to his signature speeches, you can find almost any part of Lincoln’s life and presidency. One can find books on the aspect. ,
The task of choosing a biography among this corpus actually becomes a bit easier when you focus on cradle-to-grave biographies, not those that narrow in on a single element. If you’re looking for a one-volume option, there is a general consensus among both readers and historians that David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln or Ronald White’s A. where is lincoln I read Donald’s work and thoroughly enjoyed it. Given the enormity of the man, the book’s 600 pages are finished in a jiffy, and every period of Lincoln’s life is given its due place – some give too much time to his youth; Some give too much to the war years; Donald struck the perfect balance.
If you really want a deep dive, Michael Burlingame’s two-volume Abraham Lincoln: A Life will keep you busy for a while, as will Sidney Blumenthal’s series – of which three of the proposed five volumes are currently done. Are. (Best Presidential Biographies)
Grant by Ron Chernow
Though long ignored and written off as a bad president, Civil War general-turned-politician Ulysses S. Grant has been reintroduced in a handful of major biographies over the past decade. While there are many quality options, it’s impossible to beat Ron Chernow’s epic, 1,000-page grant. The best autobiographies are those that not only reveal their subject, for both good and bad, but also provide an inspiring and motivating reading experience. Grant does in spades.
The psychological penetration Chernow achieves is eye-opening and often illuminating. Many biographers have characterized the war years very well – it was a dramatic period that is not too difficult to make exciting and evocative. The real trick is to capture Grant’s eight years as president with the same verbosity that the master historian undoubtedly does. As with the other Chernow titles on this list, it will take some dedication, but the effort is well worth it. Grant is, in my opinion, Chernow’s best book. (Best Presidential Biographies)
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
America’s most charismatic president has been written about extensively and endlessly since the day he died. It takes a gifted writer to fully capture Roosevelt’s energy and vitality—something that only a handful of historians have actually done. For the full picture, you simply can’t beat Edmund Morris’s epic and stirring trilogy: Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex, and the Rise of Colonel Roosevelt.
In a Top 10 article, however, I didn’t want to officially take up space three with a trilogy, so I chose the first volume, which details Roosevelt’s path to presidency (a shorter path than any other president; He remains our youngest POTUS). From the outset, Morris captures the reader’s attention and takes us through TR’s aristocratic upbringing and meteoric rise in politics, as well as the heartbreaking loss of his first wife and later in the literal wilderness, and again as Washington, D.C. brings back. Politicians with some serious life experience. You can read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt on its own and get a more complete picture of the man than a lot of one-volume cradle-to-grave bios. And I can pretty much guarantee you’ll be sucked in enough to read the other two volumes.
It is worth noting that Candice Millard also captured Roosevelt’s hard work in documenting Roosevelt’s post-presidency travels to South America in her thrilling book, River of Doubt. (Best Presidential Biographies)
Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin
I have a soft spot for our 27th president, William Howard Taft, after reading about him in The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Theodore Roosevelt actually gets top billing in the subtitle of this book, but I think that has more to do with the publishing marketing machine than the content of the book, which is more about Taft and his relationship with TR. It certainly works well enough as a biography of Big Bill.
As Doris Kearns Goodwin often does, she weaves in several tangential plot threads, but always comes back to the tender-turning-fearful relationship between TR and Taft. It’s a wonderful read with a compelling narrative and many inspiring takeaways. I’m glad Goodwin chose to give the spotlight here to William Howard Taft; Hardly any other biographer or historian has. (Best Presidential Biographies)
The Accidental President by AJ Baime
Although David McCullough’s Truman is often cited as one of the great presidential biographies (which it is!), AJ Bam’s more masterful volume is actually the POTUS bio I recommend most to average readers. Filled in 360 jam-packed pages of inspirational leadership and unwavering character, Bam shows us that Truman was one of the truly decent men who ever held the office of President of the United States.
Spending the entire first chapter on April 12, 1945—the day FDR died and Truman became president—Beim sets the scene for how out of their depth the Missourians really were. The reader gets a bit of Truman’s introduction before embarking on the bulk of the book, which focuses on the spring and summer months of 1945 as WWII approached its end on both the European and Pacific fronts. You’ll definitely come away from The Accidental President with a greater appreciation of who Harry S. Truman really was. (Best Presidential Biographies)
An Unfinished Life by Robert Dallek
With John Fitzgerald at the center of the Kennedy universe, nearly every member of the family has been studied and written about several times—grandparents, parents, children, and all eight of his siblings. Books about him could fill entire shops. Perhaps surprisingly, however, comprehensive biographies of John himself are somewhat rare. a number due to uncooperative surviving family members (Gene Kennedy, the last surviving brother, died the previous year), declassified top secret documents (much of his presidency, and especially his death, was shrouded in secrecy) And left, and his famously impenetrable inner psyche.
Robert Dalleck has written what I believe is the best treatment of JFK ever written with An Unfinished Life. Describing in detail the shortcomings of Kennedy’s personal life, Delek reveals for the first time the depth of his debilitating medical problems and also offers a balanced and dramatic account of his 1,000 days as president.
Another book deserves mention in connection with JFK: Winston Churchill’s famed biographer William Manchester wrote a once-overlooked account of his death in 1967’s The Death of a President. It doesn’t get the same attention as Manchester’s other books, but it is just as expertly written. (Best Presidential Biographies)
Master of the Senate by Robert Caro
When it comes to the art of presidential biography, there is Robert Caro and there is everyone else. Since writing his first (and now classic) biography on New Yorker Robert Moses 50 years ago, Caro has devoted decades to studying the mechanics of power through the unique character of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Through four volumes and more than a few thousand pages, Caro profiles not only Johnson, but also the key characters who surrounded his life and political rise, and even the harsh Texas landscape. The best of the series (so far) is a title that can be read on its own: Master of the Senate. This third volume details the years between 1948 and 1957, when Johnson displayed a mastery of the United States Senate not seen before or since. It’s not an easy book, but the prose is often surprisingly good and I can guarantee it will be one of the more memorable reading experiences of your lifetime.
Amazingly, Caro has yet to finish his epic series. He is hard at work on the fifth and final volume, which means the readers only get through Johnson’s first year or so of presidency. Randall Woods’ LBJ is too good to get an entire life in a single stretch. (Best Presidential Biographies)
Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell
Man not only likes to study and learn from failure, but also takes pride in it. Given Nixon’s place in the pantheon of infamous presidents, there are plenty of books about the man. The real work of any Nixon biographer goes beyond presenting the blunt truth (and uncovering the question of why he did what he did), but not necessarily in providing context from his boyhood, easygoing personality, and learned mannerisms. That should inspire sympathy, but at least understanding. No one is one-dimensional, Richard Nixon included.
In my opinion, the biographer who best reveals the true man is John Farrell in Richard Nixon: The Life. The narrative is remarkably readable and penetrating; Of course, there were signs throughout Nixon’s life that he would be a brilliant politician, but also a scoundrel, willing to do anything to win. Farrell certainly doesn’t explain Nixon’s failings, but he provides the necessary nuance to come away from the book with a more complete picture of our 37th president. Plus, the Watergate drama makes for flat-out engrossing reading. (Best Presidential Biographies)