Getting Beyond Trump by Reading Presidential History

The inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President inspired me. It felt to me like mending the threads of American history. Decency, independence and pragmatic optimism — these threads were almost severed from the national story in the last four years. The nation almost capitulated to pompous, illiterate, catastrophic authoritarian rule under a second Trump term. That would have provided the final chop to the delicate remaining threads for the vast majority of Americans (whether they liked it or not). Thankfully, something like national sanity prevailed.

The inauguration undoubtedly inspired different people in different ways. It inspired in me a desire to better understand these threads of the American character through the lens of the Presidency. I decided to read a large stack of presidential biographies — the ones considered masterpieces. Soon after inauguration day, a large delivery box arrived. In it: two box sets of presidential biographies, each containing three books, by Doris Kearns Goodwin and David McCullough.

I intend to read all six books this year in chronological order by President. Thus:

John Adams by DM

Team of Rivals (Lincoln) by DKG

Mornings on Horseback (Teddy Roosevelt) by DM

The Bully Pulpit (Roosevelt and Taft) by DKG

No Ordinary Time (Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt) by DKG

Truman by DM

So far I’ve completed John Adams, which I previously started years ago and never finished. This is a book that gets better and better as the story goes along. John Adams is rarely mentioned among the greatest American presidents these days, but I think his influence remains. I’ll share a few more thoughts about John Adams in my next post and hopefully reflections on each of these volumes as I go on this journey.

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