The best books on the life and presidency of Gerald R. Ford

Who am I?

When I was 16 years old, my father, Burton Kaufman, who is also a historian, took me to the Jimmy Carter Library in Georgia to help him research a book on America's thirty-ninth president. Having had a love of history since the sixth grade, that trip deepened my desire to major in History in college and teach it as a profession. It also made me interested in learning more about the presidency, starting with Carter. Several years ago, I edited a series of essays on both the Ford and Carter presidencies, and realized there was need for an in-depth political biography of our thirty-eighth chief executive. The result was my book on Ford.

I wrote...

Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford

By Scott Kaufman,

Book cover of Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford

What is my book about?

Oftentimes remembered as little more than a caretaker president whose only significant act was to pardon Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford's life in politics, both in Congress and in the White House, was far more significant. A Republican Party loyalist who hoped to become speaker of the House, Ford was a moderate and pragmatic conservative willing to reach across party lines. Propelled by an unprecedented series of events from Congress into the White House, facing a Republican Party moving to the right and a Democratic Party that controlled Capitol Hill, and confronted by his own shortcomings, Ford’s presidency lasted only 895 days. Yet his career offers a broad perspective of American politics during the last half of the twentieth century. 

The books I picked & why

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Time and Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment with History

By James Cannon,

Book cover of Time and Chance: Gerald Ford's Appointment with History

Why this book?

I recommend this book with some caution, as Cannon worked for Ford, and sometimes authors who are too close to their subject will oversee their faults. But what makes Cannon’s work a must-read—and why I found it so helpful to my own research on Ford—is that he was one of the first to devote extensive attention to Ford’s pre-presidential years. Furthermore, he relied not only on archival materials but on dozens of interviews he conducted with people who knew and worked for Ford, as well as interviews with the former president himself. 

Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-The-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford

By Thomas M. DeFrank,

Book cover of Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-The-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford

Why this book?

DeFrank was a correspondent for Newsweek magazine who spoke extensively with Ford, with the understanding that he was not to publish those conversations until after Ford’s passing. Ford openly describes his difficulties with President Richard Nixon and his dislike for Ronald Reagan, whom Ford believed should have done more to help him win the 1976 presidential election. Maybe most fascinating was his criticism of Dick Cheney, who had served as Ford’s chief of staff and who, as President George W. Bush’s vice president, pushed for the invasion of Iraq in 2003—something that Ford felt was a mistake. 

A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford

By Gerald R. Ford,

Book cover of A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford

Why this book?

While any reader should be cautious with memoirs, what they tell you—or, conversely, omit—can offer great insight into what the writer believed and did. Researched and co-authored by Trevor Ambrister, A Time to Heal is at some points disjointed. However, its value is in Ford’s telling of his upbringing, his relationship with his wife, Betty, his ambitiousness to rise up the political ranks, the challenges he faced as president, and his failure to win the presidency in 1976. 

The Times of My Life

By Betty Ford, Chris Chase,

Book cover of The Times of My Life

Why this book?

While Gerald Ford’s memoir is useful, I liked Betty’s even more because of her candor. She tells the story of the wife of a congressman, vice president, and president who struggled with loneliness as her husband focused on climbing up the political ranks. His absenteeism contributed to her struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction. Suddenly thrust into the role of First Lady, Betty publicized her fight against breast cancera disease that up to that point had received little public attentionand sought to walk the fine line between acting as White House hostess and drawing attention to issues of women’s rights. 

Gerald R. Ford: The 38th President, 1974-1977

By Douglas G. Brinkley,

Book cover of Gerald R. Ford: The 38th President, 1974-1977

Why this book?

There are a number of studies of Ford’s presidency, but there are two reasons why I picked Brinkley’s. First, his was the first book published following Ford’s passing and, consequently, the first full biography of the thirty-eighth president. Second, Gerald R. Ford is part of a series on the presidents published by The New York Times that are specifically aimed at a general audience. While each of the books is short and, therefore, selective insofar as coverage, they are well-written and informative.

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