The best books about American presidents

The Books I Picked & Why

Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government

By Catherine Allgor

Parlor Politics: In Which the Ladies of Washington Help Build a City and a Government

Why this book?

So much of the early presidency took place out of “office hours.” Social events where women were present were considered apolitical and non-partisan, but of course, women had just as many opinions about politics back in the Early Republic as they do today! Instead, these events served as helpful venues for brokering deals, arranging political marriages, and securing appointments for friends and family members. Wives were also essential partners in campaigns and coalition-building once politicians were in office. You can’t understand the early presidents without understanding the broader social context as well.


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U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

By Joan Waugh

U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth

Why this book?

There are so many fantastic new biographies of Ulysses S. Grant. U.S. Grant is particularly good for a one-volume biography. It’s an incredibly fair treatment and does a great job of showing Grant’s cultural importance as a symbol for national reunification after the war. Waugh also demonstrates why Grant has been underappreciated by previous historians and generations, and why he deserves more recognition.


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Theodore Rex

By Edmund Morris

Theodore Rex

Why this book?

Theodore Roosevelt is another presidential figure that has received a great deal of scholarly attention. I ultimately selected Theodore Rex for two reasons. First, it’s one of the few books that focuses solely on the presidency, meaning it offers an unrivaled, in-depth examination of his years in office. Second, it’s such a page-turner. I started reading a specific section to better understand one cabinet interaction and I found myself still reading many pages and many hours later without even realizing it. Morris fully captures TR’s oversized personality in an extraordinarily colorful way.


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The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s

By William Hitchcock

The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s

Why this book?

After Eisenhower left office, he was routinely ranked in the bottom ten on the presidential rankings. Now, he’s regularly voted into the top five. This book helps explain why Eisenhower deserves to be at the top, why he left such an indelible mark on the nation, and why the second half of the 20th century was the age of Eisenhower. It’s also beautifully written and a joy to read.


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A Promised Land

By Barack Obama

A Promised Land

Why this book?

Most twenty-first-century presidents write autobiographies after leaving office, but not all autobiographies are created equal. A Promised Land gives an honest, unflinching view of the presidency. Obama is straightforward about his goals, successes, mistakes, and lessons learned the hard way. Whether or not you like him or agree with his policies, this book will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the presidency in a way that few others books can provide.


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