Cover image for Author in chief : the untold story of our presidents and the books they wrote
Title:
Author in chief : the untold story of our presidents and the books they wrote
ISBN:
9781476786391
Edition:
1st Avid Reader Press hardcover ed.
Physical Description:
434 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm.
Contents:
Part I: George Washington to James Monroe. In and out of control: Thomas Jefferson and the first campaign book ; Autobiography's founding father: John Adams and the first legacy book ; Primed and cocked: American history finds its readers -- Part II: John Quincy Adams to Ulysses S. Grant. The poet, the president who couldn't spell, and the campaign biography ; "Abram" Lincoln writes a book ; "Genera Grant, the people are moving en masse upon your memoirs" -- Part III: Rutherford B. Hayes to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Head of the class: Roosevelt, Wilson, and the expansion of executive power ; Campaign books hit the trail (thanks to, of all presidents, Calvin Coolidge) ; Legacy books get personal (thanks to, of all presidents, Calvin Coolidge) -- Part IV: Harry S. Truman to Donald Trump. Harry Truman's histories ; The writer who wouldn't write ; Reagan and the rise of the blockbuster ; The literary candidate -- Epilogue -- Appendix I: a presidential reading list -- Appendix II: an essay on sources and methods.
Genre:
Summary:
Presidential books have made an enormous impact on American history, catapulting their authors to the national stage and even turning key elections. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, the first presidential book to influence a campaign, these books have cast fresh light on the private drives and self-doubts that fueled our nation's leaders. Fehrman shows that the story of America's presidents and their books opens a rich new window into presidential biography. From volumes lost to history to ones we know and love, Fehrman unearths countless insights about the presidents through their literary works, delivering a feast for history lovers, book lovers, and everybody curious about our presidents. --
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Summary

Summary

"One of the best books on the American presidency to appear in recent years." --Thomas Mallon, The Wall Street Journal

"Fun and fascinating...It's witty, charming, and fantastically learned. I loved it." --Rick Perlstein

Based on a decade of research and reporting, Author in Chief tells the story of America's presidents as authors--and offers a delightful new window into the public and private lives of our highest leaders.

Most Americans are familiar with Abraham Lincoln's famous words in the Gettysburg Address and the Eman­cipation Proclamation. Yet few can name the work that helped him win the presidency: his published collection of speeches entitled Political Debates between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas . Lincoln labored in secret to get his book ready for the 1860 election, tracking down newspaper transcripts, editing them carefully for fairness, and hunting for a printer who would meet his specifications. Political Debates sold fifty thousand copies--the rough equivalent of half a million books in today's market--and it reveals something about Lincoln's presidential ambitions. But it also reveals something about his heart and mind. When voters asked about his beliefs, Lincoln liked to point them to his book.

In Craig Fehrman's groundbreaking work of history, Author in Chief , the story of America's presidents and their books opens a rich new window into presidential biography. From volumes lost to history--Calvin Coolidge's Autobiography , which was one of the most widely discussed titles of 1929--to ones we know and love--Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father , which was very nearly never published--Fehrman unearths countless insights about the presidents through their literary works.

Presidential books have made an enormous impact on American history, catapulting their authors to the national stage and even turning key elections. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia , the first presidential book to influence a campaign, and John Adams's Autobiography , the first score-settling presiden­tial memoir, Author in Chief draws on newly uncovered information--including never-before-published letters from Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan--to cast fresh light on the private drives and self-doubts that fueled our nation's leaders.

We see Teddy Roosevelt as a vulnerable first-time author, struggling to write the book that would become a classic of American history. We see Reagan painstakingly revising Where's the Rest of Me? , a forgotten memoir in which he sharpened his sunny political image. We see Donald Trump negotiating the deal for The Art of the Deal , the volume that made him synonymous with business savvy. Alongside each of these authors, we also glimpse the everyday Americans who read them.

Combining the narrative felicity of a journalist with the rigorous scholarship of a historian, Fehrman delivers a feast for history lovers, book lovers, and everybody curious about a behind-the-scenes look at our presidents.


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Contemporary critics are wrong to dismiss the significance of presidential memoirs and campaign books, argues this entertaining and illuminating survey of U.S. presidents as authors. Historian Fehrman showcases "important presidents and important books," including Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia and Jimmy Carter's An Hour Before Daylight, to make the case that such works have "revealed the White House's deepest secrets" and helped to mold American democracy. He depicts Profiles in Courage author John F. Kennedy as more interested in literary renown than the act of writing, and discusses how Barack Obama's love of fiction shaped his leadership qualities. More expansively, Fehrman illustrates the evolution of America's print and popular culture, from the 1700s, when books were expensive and difficult to produce, to the blockbuster era of the 1980s, when Donald Trump accepted Random House's first offer for The Art of the Deal. Fehrman's deep research delivers a wealth of intriguing tidbits (Jimmy Carter leased a $12,000 word processor to compose Keeping the Faith; the Committee to Boycott Nixon's Memoirs sold T-shirts and bumper stickers with the slogan "Don't Buy Books by Crooks"), which are complemented by a generous selection of illustrations. Bibliophiles and presidential history buffs alike will relish this gratifying deep dive into an underappreciated genre. (Feb.)


Kirkus Review

A lively account of the literary achievements (and failures) of America's presidents.Though countless books have been published on nearly every presidential topic imaginable, journalist Fehrman (Home Grown: Cage the Elephant and the Making of a Modern Music Scene, 2013) has found one yet to be covered in-depth: the books that the presidents wrote. While George Washington wasn't much of a writer, the tradition of the U.S. president's donning his influential pen started early and has remained strong, with just a handful of exceptions. Nearly every POTUS has writtenor had written for himeither a campaign book or a legacy book. The author provides both backstories and modern critiques of well-known books such as The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant and Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father as well as less familiar titles, including Calvin's Coolidge's surprisingly well-written autobiography. "As a writer and public speaker," notes Fehrman, "Coolidge could be funny, imaginative, even rhetorically forceful when it served his ambitions." Throughout, the author offers highly personal looks at the men who have occupied the White House: "Examining presidents as they write means examining them at their most human." Consider, for instance, John F. Kennedy, who "craved literary fame" but "lacked the discipline to do literary work." Beyond just presidential authorship, Ferhman also paints inspiring portraits of how our presidents consumed books, from Grant ("America's first fiction-loving president") to Theodore Roosevelt ("Reading, to him, was living") to Harry Truman, who "read a stunning number of books." The author goes even further, providing insight on the general history of reading and publishing in America. Overall, the author covers a great deal of ground that even major biographers have skipped over in favor of "sexier" storylines, yet to the book lover, these stories will be unquestionably enticing. Even the footnotes, appendix, and sources offer bookish gems.Fehrman's illuminating blend of presidential and publishing history with literary criticism will appeal to amateur historians and bibliophiles alike. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

From the very beginnings of America's experiment in republican government, its chief executives, both actual and aspiring, have put pen to paper (nowadays fingers to keyboard) in attempts to justify themselves and inspire others. Here, Fehrman records such literary efforts back to Jefferson and Adams. These presidential books fall into two categories: a memoir to rationalize one's actions in office, or a campaign broadside to introduce its self-promoting subject to the electorate or set a campaign objective. Occasionally delving into quirkier matters, such as John Adams' assurances that he bore no illegitimate offspring, most of these books reflect the deeply held political interests of their writers. Calvin Coolidge published a book that genuinely excited 1920s voters. John Kennedy's Profiles in Courage (1956) became required reading for students even if its authorship was challenged. As Fehrman sees it, what presidents read matters even more than what they wrote. Ronald Reagan read books about film, and Barack Obama, whose Dreams of My Father (1995) was central to his election triumphs, reads widely across genres. Illustrations grace the text, and extensive bibliographic notes brim with intriguing facts. Both history buffs and politics enthusiasts will relish this.--Mark Knoblauch Copyright 2019 Booklist


Library Journal Review

Journalist Fehrman offers a spritely, quote-filled selective survey of significant writings by those who have held the office of the presidency. Fehrman asserts that while texts by soon-to-be presidents were impactful in their time, the voting public later largely, but wrongly, forgot these revealing writings. The author considers the writings of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, and others in order to determine the leaders' inspirations, aspirations, and motivations. Important aspects here include an annotated appendix of particular publications attributed to presidents, and the author's essays at the beginning of the endnotes for each chapter citing relevant interviews and secondary works. VERDICT This narrative presents an engaging and enlightening perspective on the history of the presidency. Also suggest Seth Cotlar and Richard J. Ellis's Historian in Chief.--Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC


Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
Part I George Washington to James Monroe
1 In and Out of Control: Thomas Jefferson and the First Campaign Bookp. 9
2 Autobiography's Founding Father: John Adams and the First Legacy Bookp. 37
3 Primed and Cocked: American History Finds Its Readersp. 62
Part II John Quincy Adams to Ulysses S. Grant
4 The Poet, the President Who Couldn't Spell, and the Campaign Biographyp. 85
5 "Abram" Lincoln Writes a Bookp. 109
6 "General Grant, the People Are Moving En Masse upon Your Memoirs"p. 133
Part III Rutherford B. Hayes to Franklin D. Roosevelt
7 Head of the Class: Roosevelt, Wilson, and the Expansion of Executive Powerp. 159
8 Campaign Books Hit the Trail (Thanks to, of All Presidents, Calvin Coolidge)p. 184
9 Legacy Books Get Personal (Thanks to, of All Presidents, Calvin Coolidge)p. 209
Part IV Harry S. Truman to Donald Trump
10 Harry Truman's Historiesp. 237
11 The Writer Who Wouldn't Writep. 257
12 Reagan and the Rise of the Blockbusterp. 279
13 The Literary Candidatep. 300
Epiloguep. 323
Appendix I A Presidential Reading Listp. 327
Appendix II An Essay on Sources and Methodsp. 337
Notesp. 343
Acknowledgmentsp. 411
Indexp. 413
Image Creditsp. 433