When I was seven years old, I bought a book at my elementary school’s annual book fair about the United States presidents. It was your typical “All About The Presidents” book — it had their birthdays, dates of their terms, key accomplishments, and broad historical background on that particular era of United States history. I spent countless hours poring over every detail in that book and quickly became obsessed with the presidency. I could name each president (in chronological order, no less), tell you a bit about each of them, tell you all about my favorite (back then it was Lincoln).
I was nine years old during the election year of 1996 and, by no one’s choice but my own, dressed as Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole for Halloween. I carried red, white, and blue Dole balloons in my left hand and a Dole pen in my right. None of my classmates understood my costume, but I sure did feel presidential that day.
Needless to say, I was and am an enormous history nerd. That term isn’t self-deprecating for me — I wouldn’t have it any other way. My interest in United States history and, specifically, the presidency began early in my life and has never left. It goes beyond interest, really — it’s a fascination, an admiration, at times an obsession, but always a deep affection. An affection that rendered me speechless with awe when I visited Mount Vernon in the 4th grade because, good God, I was in the same room as George Washington’s dentures (no, they’re not made out of wood).
I’ve read my fair share of presidential biographies through the years, mostly books about the “big ones” — Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy. When the Washington Post blog The Fix posted an exhaustive list of the best presidential biographies (at least one for each president), I saw an immediate opportunity to go deeper with these men (and, hopefully someday soon, women) who have fascinated me for nearly two decades. I decided to read at least one book on each president. You can find my current reading list (which will be updated as I go) here.
There are more books than I can read there. Robert Caro will surely write more about Lyndon B. Johnson, we’ll get definitive accounts of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations in the coming years, and I’ll add some choices of my own along the way (I can’t believe Arthur M. Schlesinger’s trilogy of books on the FDR White House didn’t make the cut).
This will be a long project. I don’t expect to finish this year or next, or even within the next five. I will, to maintain my sanity, be reading fiction and other, non-presidential non-fiction in between biographies.
I’ll also not be reading about the presidents chronologically. I may read about Nixon one month then skip back to Madison the next. Particularly as new biographies are released, I want to keep open the option of engaging with current literature and conversations around it.
This blog will be a chance for me to document the quest and share my observations, reflections, and analysis with you. I’ll also use this blog as a place to post general presidential findings and some analysis and commentary on the current presidency as it relates to what I’m reading about those who held the office in the past.
I’m also toying with the idea of a podcast, but more on that to come at a later, yet-to-be-determined date.
I’m excited about the years ahead with this project— it will be a long slog, but every moment of it will be fascinating and enlightening. I hope you’ll join me.