My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies

Related Reading: “Into the Amazon: The Life of Cândido Rondon” by Larry Rohter

16 Saturday Dec 2023

Posted by Steve in Related Reading


biographies , book reviews , Candido Rondon , Larry Rohter , New Releases , River of Doubt , Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition

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Unless you’ve read Candice Millard’s thrilling “ The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey ” you are unlikely to know much about the man featured in this commendable new biography.

Cândido Rondon (1865-1958) was a Brazilian explorer and military officer responsible for installing telegraph lines across huge, often unexplored, regions in Brazil. But outside his native country he is best-known for leading a harrowing thousand-mile expedition with former US president Teddy Roosevelt through an unforgiving and uncharted area of the Amazon basin….

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An Unfinished Love Story

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An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s by Doris Kearns Goodwin, one of America’s most beloved historians, artfully weaves together biography, memoir, and history. She takes you along on the emotional journey she and her husband, Richard (Dick) Goodwin embarked upon in the last years of his life.

Dick and Doris Goodwin were married for forty-two years and married to American history even longer. In his twenties, Dick was one of the brilliant young men of John F. Kennedy’s New Frontier. In his thirties he both named and helped design Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and was a speechwriter and close advisor to Robert Kennedy. Doris Kearns was a twenty-four-year-old graduate student when selected as a White House Fellow. She worked directly for Lyndon Johnson and later assisted on his memoir.

Over the years, with humor, anger, frustration, and in the end, a growing understanding, Dick and Doris had argued over the achievements and failings of the leaders they served and observed, debating the progress and unfinished promises of the country they both loved.

The Goodwins’ last great adventure involved finally opening the more than three hundred boxes of letters, diaries, documents, and memorabilia that Dick had saved for more than fifty years. They soon realized they had before them an unparalleled personal time capsule of the 1960s, illuminating public and private moments of a decade when individuals were powered by the conviction they could make a difference; a time, like today, marked by struggles for racial and economic justice, a time when lines were drawn and loyalties tested.

Their expedition gave Dick’s last years renewed purpose and determination. It gave Doris the opportunity to connect and reconnect with participants and witnesses of pivotal moments of the 1960s. And it gave them both an opportunity to make fresh assessments of the central figures of the time—John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, Eugene McCarthy, and especially Lyndon Johnson, who greatly impacted both their lives. The voyage of remembrance brought unexpected discoveries, forgiveness, and the renewal of old dreams, reviving the hope that the youth of today will carry forward this unfinished love story with America.

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The Leadership Journey How Four Kids Became President

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From #1 New York Times bestselling author, Pulitzer Prize winner, and leading historian Doris Kearns Goodwin comes a definitive middle grade guide to Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson and how they became leaders.

Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Lyndon B. Johnson. They grew up and lived in very different worlds—Lincoln was poor and uneducated, his frontier cabin home deep in the harsh wilderness; Theodore Roosevelt hailed from an elegant home in the heart of New York City and traveled the world with his family; Franklin Roosevelt loved the outdoors surrounding his family’s rural estate where he was the center of attention; and Lyndon Johnson’s modest childhood home had no electricity or running water but provided a window into Texas politics.

So how did each of them do it—rise to become President of the United States? What did these four kids have individually—and have in common—that made them the ones to lead the country through some of its most turbulent times?

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Leadership in Turbulent Times

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In this culmination of five decades of acclaimed studies in presidential history, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin offers an illuminating exploration into the early development, growth, and exercise of leadership.

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the man make the times or do the times make the man?

In Leadership in Turbulent Times , Goodwin draws upon four of the presidents she has studied most closely—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights)—to show how they first recognized leadership qualities within themselves, and were recognized by others as leaders.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon adversity. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

To order a signed and/or personally inscribed copy of any of Doris’ books please contact the Brattle Book Shop in Boston at 617-542-0210.

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Doris Kearns Goodwin: The Presidential Biographies: No Ordinary Time, Team of Rivals, The Bully Pulpit

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From America’s “Historian-in-Chief” ( New York magazine), The Presidential Biographies boxed set—featuring the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s beloved and bestselling biographies No Ordinary Time , Team of Rivals , and The Bully Pulpit .

After five decades of acclaimed studies of the presidency, Doris Kearns Goodwin stands as America’s premier presidential historian. Now, for the first time, her three most esteemed books are collected in one beautiful box set.

No Ordinary Time :

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History, No Ordinary Time relates the story of how Franklin D. Roosevelt, surrounded by a small circle of intimates, led the nation to victory in World War II and with Eleanor’s essential help, changed the fabric of American society.

Team of Rivals :

The landmark biography of Abraham Lincoln, adapted by Steven Spielberg into the Academy Award-winning film Lincoln, and winner of the prestigious Lincoln Prize, illuminates Lincoln’s political genius as he brought disgruntled opponents together and marshaled their talents to the task of preserving the Union.

The Bully Pulpit :

The prize-winning biography of Theodore Roosevelt—a dynamic history of the first decade of the Progressive era when the nation was coming unseamed and reform was in the air. Told through the friendship of Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Goodwin captures an epic moment in history.

Pre-order now!

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

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From the country’s leading presidential historian,  The Bully Pulpit  is a masterful and deeply insightful study of presidents – freshly told through the decades-long and complicated friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Like with Lyndon Johnson, the Kennedys, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin meticulously and with great perception and compassion captures an epic moment in history, when in 1912, Roosevelt and Taft engage in a brutal fight for the presidency – a fight that destroys both their political futures, while seriously weakening the progressive wing of the Republican Party, and dividing their wives, their children, and their closest friends.

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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

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Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Lincoln’s political genius in this deeply original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln  is a “brilliant” multiple biography and  New York Times  bestseller centered on Lincoln’s mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation’s history.

“Endlessly absorbing…. [A] lovingly rendered and masterfully fashioned book,” says  The Wall Street Journal,  and “An elegant, incisive study,” comes from  The New York Times.

Steven Spielberg acquired the rights to  Team of Rivals  and developed the feature film,  Lincoln , based in part on it, with a script by Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning writer Tony Kushner and starring three-time Academy Award®-winner Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln. Released domestically in November 2012,  Lincoln  received 12 Academy Award® nominations, and earned Daniel Day-Lewis the Academy Award® for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role and a Golden Globe® for Best Actor for his portrayal of Lincoln. Kushner and Goodwin received a coveted nomination for the USC Scripter Award presented by the University of Southern California.

Team of Rivals  was rereleased 16 October 2012 as the movie tie-in edition for  Lincoln .

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No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II

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Doris Kearns Goodwin won the Pulitzer Prize for History for her compelling chronicle of President Franklin Roosevelt in  No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.

This masterfully written book recounts the fascinating period when modern American was created. With an uncanny feel for detail and a master storyteller’s grasp of drama and depth, Goodwin brilliantly narrates the interrelationship between the inner workings of the Roosevelt White House and the destiny of the United States.

“Engrossing…no ordinary book…An ambitiously conceived and imaginatively executed participants eye view of the United States in the war years…” said  The New York Times  and “endlessly gripping” noted the  Boston Globe.   No Ordinary Time  paints a comprehensive, intimate portrait that fills in a historical gap in the story of our nation under the Roosevelts. This book also won the Harold Washington Literary Award, New England Bookseller Association Award, The Ambassador Book Award and  The Washington Monthly  Political Book Award.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

author of presidential biographies

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s  Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream  is a compelling examination of the classic life of Lyndon Johnson, who presided over the Great Society, the Vietnam War, and the tumultuous 1960s.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream  takes us through the vast landscape of Johnson’s political and personal life: from his childhood, dominated by an indulgent mother and hell-raising politico father, through this early political victories and the ideals that inspired them; from the Washington system that trained him, through his election as Vice President and the transitional year, 1964, When JFK’s assassination brought him to the highest office in the land.

“The most penetrating, fascinating political biography I have ever read…No other President has had a biographer who had such access to his private thoughts” says the  New York Time s,  and “Magnificent, brilliant, illuminating…A profound analysis of both the private and the public man” according to the  Miami Herald.

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Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir

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Wait Till Next Year  is Doris Kearns Goodwin’s touching and best-selling memoir of growing up in love with her family and baseball. Set in the suburbs of New York in the 1950s, she re-creates the postwar era, when the corner store was a place to share stories and neighborhoods were equally divided between Dodger, Giant, and Yankee fans.

Goodwin introduces us to the people who most influenced her early in life: her mother, who taught her the joy of books, but whose debilitating illness left her housebound; and her father, who taught her the joy of baseball and to root for the Dodgers: Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, and Gil Hodges. Most important, Goodwin describes with eloquence how the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn in 1957, and the death of her mother soon after, marked both the end of an era and, for her, the end of childhood. “This is a book in the grand tradition of girlhood memoirs, either fact or fiction, dating from Louisa May Alcott to Carson McCullers and Harper Lee.” ~ Ron Fimrite, Washington Post Book World

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The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga

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Acclaimed presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s best-selling  The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys: An American Saga  explores the fascinating, pertinent history of two immigrant families, their rise to potent political dynasties, and the marriage that brought the two together to found the most powerful family in America.

Drawing on unprecedented access to the family and its private papers, Goodwin takes readers from John Francis “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald’s baptism in 1863 through his reign as mayor of Boston, to the inauguration of his grandson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, as President of the United States ninety-eight years later. Each character emerges unforgettable: the young, shrewdly political Rose Fitzgerald; her powerful, manipulative husband, Joseph P. Kennedy; and the “Golden Trio” of Kennedy children—Joe Jr., Kathleen, and Jack—whose promise was eclipsed by the family’s legacy of tragedy.

Called “A rich tapestry of brigands and dreamers, hustlers and stoics, cynics and idealists, and a rousing good story,” by  USA Today , Goodwin’s  The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys  is at once the story of an era, of the immigrant experience, and—most of all—of two families, whose ambitions propelled them to unrivaled power and whose passions nearly destroyed them.

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44 Presidential Biographies to Add to Your Reading List

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Kate Scott is a bookstagrammer and strategic web designer serving women business owners and creative entrepreneurs. Follow her on Instagram @ parchmentgirl and visit her website at .

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Ready to dive into history and learn more about the forty-four men who led these United (and sometimes not-so-united) States? Check out these definitive presidential biographies!

Ready to dive into history and read more about the forty-four men who have ruled over these United (and sometimes not-so-united) States? Check out these definitive presidential biographies. | Books | Books to Read | Reading | Reading List | History | American History | Presidents Day

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow— Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, this nearly one thousand–page tome is the definitive biography of America’s first president.

John Adams by David McCullough— Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, this is one of my favorite presidential biographies because it has the rare combination of stellar historical research and beautiful, evocative writing.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham— This #1 New York Times bestseller explores Jefferson’s life through a political lens and offers a balanced view of the founding father’s strengths and weaknesses.

James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham

The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger— At four hundred pages, this book offers an approachable introduction to America’s last—and oft-overlooked—founding father.

The Lost Founding Father: John Quincy Adams and the Transformation of American Politics by William J. Cooper— This new biography argues that John Adams’s less famous son has been sidelined by history and should be honored as a founding father alongside his predecessors.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

Martin Van Buren and the American Political System by Donald B. Cole — This book provides an excellent introduction to the president you’d never heard of until that funny Google commercial came along.

Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy by Robert M. Owens— This book focuses on Harrison’s role in shaping America’s westward expansion and federal Indian policy in the Old Northwest.

John Tyler by Gary May

Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman— This book offers a fascinating overview of Polk’s role in the westward expansion of America: wresting control of California and much of the southwest from Mexico, bringing Texas into the Union, and liberating most of Oregon from Britain’s grasp.

Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest by K. Jack Bauer— This biography explores the contradictory nature of America’s twelfth president.

Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President by Robert J. Rayback

Franklin Pierce by Michael F. Holt— This book offers a concise overview of the troubled presidency of Franklin Pierce and posits that the fourteenth president placed party over politics to the detriment of the nation.

President James Buchanan: A Biography by Philip S. Klein— This short biography explores the life of the man who all but ensured the ignition of the Civil War and has been consistently ranked as one of the worst presidents in American history.

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy by David O. Stewart— This book details the impeachment of Lincoln’s successor and the chaos of post-Civil War politics.

Grant by Ron Chernow— This outstanding #1 New York Times bestselling biography argues that Grant has been unfairly judged by history and was far more complex than we give him credit for.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior & President by Ari Hoogenboom

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard— This book chronicles James Garfield’s rise from poverty to the presidency and details the dramatic history of his assassination and legacy.

Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves— This book recounts the life, early career as a lawyer and civil servant, and administration of the twenty-first president.

Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character by Alyn Brodsky

Benjamin Harrison by Charles W. Calhoun— This succinct biography offers an overview of the younger Harrison’s life as a leading Indiana lawyer, Lincoln campaigner, senator, and president.

President McKinley: Architect of the American Century by Robert W. Merry— This book contends that McKinley’s considerable achievements were overshadowed by his successor, Theodore Roosevelt, and seeks to restore his place in the presidential pantheon.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

The William Howard Taft Presidency by Lewis L. Gould— This book offers a provocative analysis of Taft’s successes and failures in office and presents a compelling picture of the only president to later serve as a chief justice.

Wilson by A. Scott Berg— This compelling biography offers one of the most personal portraits of Woodrow Wilson, thanks to the author’s access to two recently-discovered caches of papers written by people close to the president.

Warren G. Harding by John W. Dean

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes— This New York Times bestselling biography chronicles the unlikely ascent of a small town New England youth to the presidency and offers a compelling portrait of the man who restored trust in Washington following the disastrous Harding administration.

Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency by Charles Rappleye— The result of detailed research, this this book argues that Hoover is not quite the passive president he is often portrayed as.

FDR by Jean Edward Smith

Truman by David McCullough— Another of David McCullough’s renowned presidential biographies, this book offers a nuanced portrait of the president who oversaw the conclusion of World War II and the Korean War.

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith— In this definitive biography, Smith provides new insight into Ike’s apprenticeship under General MacArthur, his wartime affair with Kay Summersby, and the 1952 Republican convention that catapulted him into the White house.

An Unfinished Life: Robert F. Kennedy by Robert Dallek

Lyndon B. Johnson: Portrait of a President by Robert Dallek— Originally a two-volume biography, this book has been condensed into a more readable four hundred pages of insightful analysis of Johnson’s presidency.

Richard Nixon: A Life by John A. Farrell— This uncompromising biography of America’s darkest president explores the many twists and turns that found Nixon at the point of impeachment.

Gerald R. Ford by Douglas Brinkley

Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer— This fascinating book places Carter’s politics in the context of his faith and documents how he challenged the conventional marriage of Evangelical Christianity with conservative politics.

Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power by Lou Cannon— This is the first in a two-volume biography. The second volume is President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime .

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham

The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris— The author of this biography covered Clinton for the Washington Post for six of his eight years in office, giving him unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the Clinton White House.

Bush by Jean Edward Smith— This book offers a well-rounded look at the younger Bush’s presidency and documents how the president’s tendency to ignore his advisers led to some disastrous decisions.

Obama: The Call of History by Peter Baker

The Making of Donald Trump by David Cay Johnston— This biography by a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist starts with Trump’s family origins and takes readers all the way up to the White House, detailing his long history of racism, mafia ties, shady business dealings, and ties to Russia.

Tell me about the best presidential biographies you’ve read in the comments!

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The Best New Book Releases Out May 21, 2024

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David McCullough

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David McCullough: The Presidential Biographies: John Adams, Mornings on Horseback, and Truman

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David McCullough: The Presidential Biographies: John Adams, Mornings on Horseback, and Truman Paperback – November 7, 2017

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  • Print length 2352 pages
  • Language English
  • Publisher Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date November 7, 2017
  • Dimensions 6.13 x 4.9 x 9.25 inches
  • ISBN-10 1501189026
  • ISBN-13 978-1501189029
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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster; Boxed Set edition (November 7, 2017)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 2352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1501189026
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1501189029
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 6.87 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.13 x 4.9 x 9.25 inches
  • #1,584 in US Presidents
  • #3,630 in Political Leader Biographies
  • #11,684 in U.S. State & Local History

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David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback; His other widely praised books are 1776, Brave Companions, The Great Bridge, and The Johnstown Flood. He has been honored with the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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The Best Presidential Biographies For History Buffs

Dig into 46 top-notch biographies—one for each American president.


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The office of the American presidency is one of the most storied in history, equaling that of older monarchies in both richness and scope. For nearly 250 years, the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have inspired admiration, provoked outrage—and everything in between—both at home and abroad.

In light of the current political climate, we're interested in our nation's leaders more than ever. In these uncertain times, perhaps the best way to understand our future is to first understand our past—and how we got here. Whether you're a history buff or simply a curious reader, you can find valuable insight in the best presidential biographies. With their comprehensiveness and readability, they'll be the literary torchlights for your journey through history.

Related: The Best Biographies and Memoirs for Every Kind of Reader  

1) George Washington


By James Thomas Flexner

Flexner’s award-winning multivolume series humanizes a man who has reached almost mythic status in the American psyche. His nimble and dramatic prose paints a complex portrait of a novice who set the standard, a conflicted man of unshakeable purpose, who made his mark in history as few ever have.

2) John Adams


By David McCullough

McCullough has made a name for himself as an epic chronicler of great lives, and he lives up to his reputation in this magisterial biography of Adams, the Founding Father who could never quite escape the shadow of the man who preceded him. From his surprising role in the Boston Massacre to inaugurating the vice presidency, America’s second president had a first row seat to its birth and trial by fire, here told by McCullough with all the depth and sweep befitting.


3) Thomas Jefferson


Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

By Jon Meacham

Remembered as much for his philosophy as his politics, Jefferson is a fitting subject for the cerebrally-minded Meacham, who here weaves the story of a complicated polymath who Declared Independence and Purchased Louisiana, shaping his country in ways literal and figurative.


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4) James Madison


James Madison: A Life Reconsidered

By Lynne Cheney

The wife of former wartime VP Dick Cheney, Lynne observes the life of the first wartime president of what was now officially the United States of America. Briskly-paced and heavily researched, the author nimbly guides readers through Madison’s tumults and triumphs, from authoring the Constitution to seeing the White House burned down.


5) James Monroe


The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness

By Harlow Giles Unger

As Monroe shepherded the United States through a period where it began to assert itself as a regional power, Unger shepherds his audience through this riveting account of a transitional phase in American history and the key founding figure who charted its new course.


6) John Quincy Adams


John Quincy Adams: American Visionary,

The son of John and Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams’ presidency might be of particular interest given our most recent election, as he was both America’s first Commander-in-Chief to run as part of a familial dynasty, and its first to win an election despite losing the popular vote. In this illuminating biography, Fred Kaplan reevaluates the life of this son of American royalty, making a case for why he was a more consequential president than often given credit for.


7) Andrew Jackson


Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

By H.W. Brands

Praised and reviled, but never ignored, Jackson was an American original, and Brands does him due service in this meticulously researched recounting of his life. From an orphanage to the Oval Office, from his battles with bankers to the Trail of Tears, Jackson and his outsized persona of a “tough guy” fighting on behalf of the common man against a “corrupt establishment” are as relevant today as they have ever been.


8) Martin Van Buren


Martin Van Buren

By Ted Widmer

An early sign of Americans’ tendency to follow up two-term presidents with their opposites, Martin Van Buren was everything Andrew Jackson was not: polished, deliberate, multilingual and politically groomed. Clinton White House veteran Ted Widmer is an appropriate choice to look back on the life and career of this most accomplished of figures, who nonetheless found himself under siege from all sides once he reached the peak.


9) William Henry Harrison


Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time

By Freeman Cleaves

America’s shortest-serving president had a nonetheless fascinating life, done justice here by Freeman Cleaves. Running apolitically on his credentials as a war hero, Harrison helped set the modern template for a personally popular “non-ideological” figure to campaign for high office as a “problem solver.” His untimely death only a month into his term has rendered him somewhat of an enigma among presidents, and Cleaves explores this fertile ground with a historian’s eye and a writer’s flourish.


10) John Tyler


By Gary May

Dubbed “His Accidency” by his detractors in Congress, then-Vice President John Tyler became the first American to assume the presidency without ever being elected to that office, quickly seizing power amidst constitutional uncertainty. Noted secret government historian Gary May plumbs the depths of history to detail the hushed negotiations and go-it-alone diplomacy of this renegade president who circumvented congress in an effort to bring Texas into the Union.


11) James K. Polk


Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America

By Walter R. Borneman

Few presidents have seen their political careers careen from low to high as often as Polk, who went from Speaker of the House to a twice-defeated gubernatorial candidate before ending up in the highest office in the land. Not often remembered in accordance with his impact, Borneman leaves no stone unturned in this revealing portrait of a man whose work culminated in sweeping victory in the Mexican-American War.


12) Zachary Taylor


Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest

By K. Jack Bauer

Bauer delves deep into the mind of the enigmatic 12th president, who could confound those around him with positions that defied his origins. An anti-slavery southerner who nonetheless himself held slaves, Taylor vied to use the force of his war hero status to hold the Union together in a time of impending civil war, only be to felled by disease in the second year of his presidency.


13) Millard Fillmore


Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President

By Robert J. Rayback

Fillmore was the last president to come out of the Whig Party, which, while having long since faded into history, was a major force in American politics for decades. Rayback deftly weaves together the life of President Fillmore, the party’s last contribution to America’s highest office, with the looming theme of political upheaval that gripped the country in the years before the Civil War.


14) Franklin Pierce


Franklin Pierce: New Hampshire’s Favorite Son and Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union

By Peter A. Wallner

Even the worst of presidents can make for fascinating subject matter, and Pierce is frequently ranked near the bottom by presidential historians. In his two-volume biography Peter Wallner gamely makes an effort to rehabilitate his subject’s military career from longtime charges of cowardice, and he starkly illuminates the political circumstances and personal failures that Pierce struggled with as the nation drifted ever-further toward a rupture point.


15) James Buchanan


President James Buchanan: A Biography

By Philip S. Klein

Another poorly-ranked president is given his day in Philip Klein’s account of backroom dealings and proverbial smoke-filled rooms as he illustrates that Buchanan’s “political animal” nature blinded him to the necessity of turning down the heat in a culture war that was rapidly reaching a boil. Supporting the expansion of slave territory and the infamous Dredd Scott decision because he believed they helped his political brand, Buchanan’s quest for personal glory in his single term would visit fateful consequences upon his nation for decades to come.


16) Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln Reconsidered

Lincoln Reconsidered

By David Herbert Donald

From humble beginnings to Mount Rushmore, few lives are as quintessentially American as that of the 16th president. Amongst the countless books on Lincoln’s life, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Herbert Donald’s stands out for its sheer sweep – this is at once a grand historical epic and a personal tale of inspiration and tragedy. Readers will come away with an appreciation not just for Lincoln’s wartime leadership but for the struggles he endured at home, even as the very idea of the United States itself hung in the balance.

RELATED: 10 Civil War Books That Inform and Entertain  

17) Andrew Johnson


Andrew Johnson

By Hans L. Trefousse

It is no coincidence that some of the worst-remembered presidents are those who immediately preceded and followed Honest Abe; standing next to a giant, anyone could look small. But Johnson holds the distinction of being one of only two American presidents to ever be impeached, andstep-by-step, Hans Trefousse lays out how the out-of-his-element Johnson was both overridden by Congress and overwhelmed by the job.


18) Ulysses S. Grant

Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

By Ulysses Grant

A military memoir is a proper vehicle for a figure revered less for his presidency and more for his battlefield heroics. With this account of his time in the Mexican-American War and his successful leadership of the Union Army to victory in the Civil War, Grant shows himself to be a compelling writer in his own right. Crisp and to-the-point prose offers an inside look at battle strategy like few other sources, and Grant’s personal insights into each wars’ merits make for an intriguing read.

RELATED: True Stories About America's Military Heroes  

19) Rutherford B. Hayes


Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President

By Ari Hoogenboom

Hayes reasserted presidential power after Congress had taken charge during the two prior presidencies, and for this Ari Hoogenboom makes his case to reassert Hayes’ position in the presidential canon. Though often seen as ineffectual, Hoogenboom recontextualizes his subject’s accomplishments in light of how far the powers of the presidency had fallen, and compellingly relates Hayes’ personal push for progressive policies on a host of issues from public education to prison reform.


20) James A. Garfield


Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

By Candice Millard

The title of this account of Garfield’s life conjures images of plot and intrigue in the mind of the reader. So it should, for Candice Millard has written a biography that often reads like a thriller, breathless as it is in retelling the story of a man who rose from poverty to prominence, only to be felled by an assassin’s bullet less than a year after his election. But the bullet itself is only part of the plot–Millard then leads us through a whirlwind of experimental treatments and medical malpractice, as the last days of the president’s life play out like an episode of ER.


21) Chester A. Arthur


Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur

By Thomas C. Reeves

Arthur’s presidency was memorable for its quiet confidence, and Arthur himself for vastly surpassing expectations. Thomas Reeves charts the court of a man of limited ambition who was suddenly thrust into power and had to sink or swim. Under his steady leadership the United States suffered no major crises, and upon his retirement he was lauded in a bipartisan way that is almost impossible to imagine today.


22) Grover Cleveland


The Forgotten Conservative: Rediscovering Grover Cleveland

By John Pafford

Most famous for being the only president to be elected on non-consecutive occasions, John Pafford’s work reminds us that Grover Cleveland was much more than a historical anomaly. Cleveland felt a strong calling to “try to do right,” and in his first term he took on political corruption and nepotism in a way many would say is sorely needed in modern America.


23) Benjamin Harrison


Benjamin Harrison

By Charles W. Calhoun

Interrupting the presidencies of the popular Grover Cleveland (who actually defeated him in the popular vote), Benjamin Harrison was a political savant. Calhoun skillfully lays out how this grandson of America’s 9th president played the system like a fiddle, ousting the more popular Cleveland in an electoral college landslide, and then worked with congress to accomplish much in their limited time with Republican control, including passing the crucial Sherman Antitrust Act that established the baseline with which we break-up monopolies to this day.


24) Grover Cleveland


An Honest President: The Life and Times of Grover Cleveland

By H.P. Jeffers

Everything old was new again as Grover Cleveland reassumed the presidency after a four year absence. He picked up where he left off in his crusade for justice and honesty in political life, and it is this quality of integrity that H.P. Jeffers returns to again and again in this biography, which takes the more personal path of examining how Cleveland’s character shaped his presidency.


25) William McKinley


The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century

By Scott Miller

Miller’s expansive account of the 25th president’s life reads almost like a romance-era thriller. McKinley is both a swashbuckling figure, instigating and achieving sweeping victory for America in the Spanish American War, and a tragic one, cut down shortly after winning reelection. Miller weaves into this epic the story of his assassin, Leon Czolgosz, a large figure in his own right in anarchist history.


26) Theodore Roosevelt


Theodore Roosevelt Series

By Edmund Morris

Selected in its entirety by the Modern Library as one of the Best 100 Nonfiction Books of All Time, Morris’ three-volume look at “Teddy’s” life is, like its subject, the stuff of legend. Combining the accuracy of a historical detective with the literary verve of a master dramatist, Morris cruises through the extraordinary life of this politician, progressive, adventurer, explorer and, of course, president.


27) William Howard Taft


The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

By Doris Kearns Goodwin

In the crowded field of presidential historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin is in a category all her own. Here she sets her subject’s presidency on not just his own terms, but as part of a titanic battle for the very soul of America, as Taft wages a brutal political war against his one-time friend Theodore Roosevelt. At issue was the widening wealth gap, corporate resistance to regulation, and a muckraking press. Readers need not be forgiven for seeing resemblances to their own time.


28) Woodrow Wilson


By A. Scott Berg

For this comprehensive look at one of the most consequential presidents America has ever seen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Berg was the first to gain access to many primary source documents related to Wilson’s life. Those documents help Berg take readers on a breathless ride through the birth of America as an international power, as Wilson guides the nation through the pivotal role it played in what was a war unlike any seen in human history to that point in time.


29) Warren G. Harding


Warren G. Harding

By John W. Dean and Arthur M. Schlesinger

This unique writing pair (Schlesinger a revered historian and public intellectual, Dean an infamous figure from the Watergate-era Nixon White House) combine to offer a clear and concise look at the breakdown of a president’s public image. Popular upon his death, Warren Harding’s reputation took a posthumous plummet when the tawdry details of both his political and private activities became public. Few know about such things at the presidential level as well as Dean.


30) Calvin Coolidge


By Amity Shlaes

Shlaes gives us an even-handed look at the controversial Coolidge. Viewed by some as an upstanding champion of up-by-your-bootstraps Americanism, and by others as a cold-hearted worshipper of capital; whichever side of the debate you may fall on (or if this is your first forage into it) Coolidge remains an intriguing figure, as Shlaes’ New York Times bestseller here proves.


31) Herbert Hoover


Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency

By Charles Rappleye

A successful businessman who presided over the worst economic crisis in American history, Hoover is somewhat of an enigma. Charles Rappleye gamely dives into the life and mind of this complicated figure, who was both ambitious and timid, personally optimistic and publicly dour, and dismissed as “CEO” by American shareholders after only a single term.


32) Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox

By James MacGregor Burns

An epic presidency (Roosevelt remains the only man ever elected to the office more than twice; he won it four times) gets the epic treatment it deserves from James MacGregor Burns in this Pulitzer Prize-winning two-volume biography. 

From his beginnings on the New York political scene to his becoming the most consequential figure on earth during World War II, Burns paints an endlessly captivating portrait of Roosevelt the intellectual, inspirer, warrior and even humorist.

Related: 10 Thought-Provoking Books About Leadership

33) Harry S. Truman


A man as underestimated as perhaps any in American history, “Give ‘em Hell” Harry today gets his due from one of the foremost historians of our time. McCullough thrills his readers with all the trials and tribulations of a bookish man who found himself at the heart of so many epochal events it boggles the mind. The end of World War II, the decision to use the atomic bomb, McCarthyism, the Korean War – McCullough conducts this concert of history with the expertise of a true maestro.


34) Dwight D. Eisenhower


Eisenhower: A Life

By Paul Johnson

“I like Ike” was Dwight Eisenhower’s election slogan, and it remains an apt one for a president who has remained popular in the public mind over a half century after leaving office. In this succinct biography Paul Johnson hits all the major beats of Ike’s life, from his modest Kansas upbringing to the shores of Normandy Beach, all the way up to the gates of the White House itself.


35) John F. Kennedy

John Kennedy

John Kennedy

First published before his election to the presidency, James MacGregor Burns’ biography of the ‘up and coming’ congressman from Massachusetts gets its spot on this list because of the uniquely personal relation of the author to his subject. Burns and Kennedy were close friends, and the president-to-be granted him unprecedented interviews and access to both himself and the entire Kennedy clan. JFK was and remains a celebritized figure in our national consciousness, and so it is worthy to look at the more personal side of him revealed to Burns here.

36) Lyndon Baines Johnson

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

Goodwin makes a return to this list to chronicle the peaks and valleys of LBJ, to whom she was both a confidante and White House employee. She mines this relationship to offer frank insights into and eyewitness play-by-play of the life of a man whose domestic achievements of Medicare and the Civil/Votings Rights Acts were ultimately overshadowed by his failure in the Vietnam War, resulting in the almost unfathomable fall from winning one of the greatest landslide victories in presidential history to being drummed out of his own party’s primary race just four years later.


Being Nixon: A Man Divided

By Evan Thomas

This was the age of upheaval, and the political career of Richard Nixon waxed and waned with the times in true rollercoaster fashion. Thomas expertly guides us through Nixon’s early triumphs as Ike’s vice president through his nail-biting loss to JFK, from the misery of his defeat in a California gubernatorial bid to his shocking comeback to the presidency and landslide reelection, and finally, of course, to the most infamous moment of this remarkable life, as he becomes the first, and only president to ever resign from office.

RELATED: 8 Revealing Books About Richard Nixon and the Watergate Scandal  


38) Gerald R. Ford


Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life

By James Cannon and Scott Cannon

The stunning series of events that led Gerald Ford’s elevation to the presidency (the resignations of Vice President Agnew and then President Nixon) sets the stage for the Cannons’ attempt to rehabilitate the image of an “accidental president” often mocked for being in over his head. The authors make a compelling case that the humble and honest Ford was exactly the figure America needed to follow the deception and corruption of the Nixon years, even if Americans did not at the time realize it.


39) James Earl Carter

The Unfinished Presidency: Jimmy Carter’s Journey Beyond the White House

By Douglas Brinkley

Renowned historian Douglas Brinkley gives a unique take on a unique figure. While most anyone would consider the American presidency the pinnacle of personal achievement, Brinkley makes the case that for Jimmy Carter the highest office in his country was but a stepping stone to his later work on behalf of causes and peoples all over the world. Utilizing the relationships he’d built in office allowed Carter to travel the world as a statesman and humanitarian in his long post-presidential life, advocating with faithful zeal on behalf of the many disenfranchised.

40) Ronald Wilson Reagan


Reagan: The Life

In both life and death Ronald Reagan was as much an avatar of his political movement as perhaps any president; to this day Republican presidential candidates go out of their way to compare themselves to “The Gipper” in all ways possible. Revered by many for his infectious optimism and Cold War warrior’s zeal, reviled by others for his administration’s multiple scandals and controversial economic practices, the actor-turned-president was a true American original, and Brands’ expansive account of his life will give interested readers all they could hope for.

RELATED: Step Inside the White House With These Entertaining Reads  


41) George H.W. Bush


Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

For the man who presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and in the sands of Iraq, the first President Bush is today considered by many to be a historical footnote. Jon Meacham here makes the forceful case for a reevaluation of that conventional wisdom, as he draws on Bush’s personal diaries to paint a picture of a cerebral man who guided the nation through tumultuous times according to what he thought best for the country, even as it took its toll on his personal popularity.


42) William Jefferson Clinton


The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House

By John F. Harris

An apt title for the young man who found himself perpetually under siege from the day his presidency began, Harris’ appraisal of Bill Clinton’s life continually returns to the theme of survival. From losing the Arkansas governor’s mansion only to return, from his disastrous national debut at the 1988 DNC to his triumphant ascent to the presidency, from the ignominy of impeachment to leaving office with the highest approval ratings on record, Harris’ work offers an up close and personal view of a man who has inspired, frustrated and beguiled on his way to becoming one of the foremost figures of the modern era.


43) George W. Bush


Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House

By Peter Baker

Baker’s choice to feature Dick Cheney so prominently in both his title and his book on the years of “Dubya” is a fitting one, for few presidents have been so inextricably tied to their junior partners. However, Baker goes far beyond the simple explanation of Bush as Cheney’s puppet; rather, through hundreds of interviews and previously unreleased memos, he arrests our attention with the story of a friendship gone awry, from the president’s admiration of Cheney’s hard-nosed tactics that helped him eke out the closest election in American history to his disgust in their final years as one of the most disliked White House tandems the country has ever seen.


44) Barack Obama


The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

By David Remnick

Any biography of the nation’s first African American president must address not only the life of its endlessly fascinating subject, but perform on-the-fly contextualization of the historical significance of something so fresh in our minds. Remnick clearly relishes the challenge, and his bestselling account of Obama’s life and task dovetails beautifully with an exploration of how America’s disgraceful past on the issue of race explosively gave way to its crowning achievement.

Related: The Barack Obama Reading List  


45) Donald Trump



By Timothy L. O'Brien

How prescient O’Brien’s title was, as we found ourselves at this strange point in history where it was indeed Donald Trump’s America. True to form, after granting the author dozens of hours of interviews and traveling privileges, Trump then turned around and unsuccessfully sued O’Brien, claiming the author misrepresented his wealth as smaller than it “bigly” was. (Years later, Trump's leaked tax reforms would vindicate O'Brien's depiction of Trump's finances.) 

Likewise true to form, the president himself makes perhaps the best case for reading O’Brien’s book: he doesn’t want you to read it.

46) Joseph Biden

joe biden presidential biography

Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now

By Evan Osnos

National Book Award-winner Evan Osnos published this biography of President Joe Biden less than a week before Election Day 2020. At just 193 pages, the biography is surprisingly concise. But by blending interviews with both Biden and contemporary figures who know him best, including Barack Obama, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg, Osnos paints a picture of what the Biden presidency might look like—and why he may be exactly who this country needs right now.

Related: What Are Joe Biden's Favorite Books?

joe biden presidential biography

Featured photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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News Obituaries | David McCullough, historian who wrote acclaimed…

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News Obituaries

News obituaries | david mccullough, historian who wrote acclaimed presidential biographies, dies, pulitzer prize-winning author wrote about john adams and harry truman, and his voice was heard often on pbs.

David McCullough, seen here at his home on Martha's Vineyard in 2001, died Sunday at the age of 89. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian whose lovingly crafted narratives on subjects ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him among the most popular and influential historians of his time.

NEW YORK — David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly crafted narratives on subjects ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him among the most popular and influential historians of his time, has died. He was 89.

McCullough died Sunday in Hingham, Massachusetts, according to his publisher, Simon & Schuster. He died less than two months after his beloved wife, Rosalee.

“David McCullough was a national treasure. His books brought history to life for millions of readers. Through his biographies, he dramatically illustrated the most ennobling parts of the American character,” Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp said in a statement.

A joyous and tireless student of the past, McCullough dedicated himself to sharing his own passion for history with the general public. He saw himself as an everyman blessed with lifelong curiosity and the chance to take on the subjects he cared most about. His fascination with architecture and construction inspired his early works on the Panama Canal and the Brooklyn Bridge, while his admiration for leaders whom he believed were good men drew him to Adams and Truman. In his 70s and 80s, he indulged his affection for Paris with the 2011 release “The Greater Journey” and for aviation with a best-seller on the Wright Brothers that came out in 2015.

Beyond his books, the handsome, white-haired McCullough may have had the most recognizable presence of any historian, his fatherly baritone known to fans of PBS’s “The American Experience” and Ken Burns’ epic “Civil War” documentary. “Hamilton” author Ron Chernow once called McCullough “both the name and the voice of American history.”

McCullough’s celebrations of the American past also led to the toughest criticism against him — that affection turned too easily to romanticization. His 2019 book “The Pioneers” was faulted for minimizing the atrocities committed against Native Americans as 19th century settlers moved westward. In earlier works, he was accused him of avoiding the harder truths about Truman, Adams and others and of placing storytelling above analysis.

“McCullough’s specific contribution has been to treat large-scale historical biography as yet another genre of spectatorial appreciation, an exercise in character recognition, a reliable source of edification and pleasant uplift,” Sean Wilentz wrote in The New Republic in 2001. Interviewed that same year by The Associated Press, McCullough responded to criticism that he was too soft by saying that “some people not only want their leaders to have feet of clay, but to be all clay.”

But even peers who found flaws in his work praised his kindness and generosity and acknowledged his talent. And millions of readers, and the smaller circle of award givers, were moved by his stories. For years, from a wireless cottage on the grounds of his house on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, McCullough completed works on a Royal Standard typewriter that changed minds and shaped the marketplace. He helped raise the reputations of Truman and Adams, and he started a wave of best-sellers about the American Revolution, including McCullough’s own “1776.”

McCullough received the National Book Award for “The Path Between the Seas,” about the building of the Panama Canal; and for “Mornings on Horseback,” a biography of Theodore Roosevelt; and Pulitzers for “Truman,” in 1992, and for “John Adams” in 2002. “The Great Bridge,” a lengthy exploration of the Brooklyn Bridge’s construction, was ranked No. 48 on the Modern Library’s list of the best 100 nonfiction works of the 20th century and is still widely regarded as the definitive text of the great 19th century project. Upon his 80th birthday, his native Pittsburgh renamed the 16th Street Bridge the “David McCullough Bridge.”

FILE - President George W. Bush, right, bestows the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author and historian David McCullough during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 15, 2006. McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author whose lovingly crafted narratives on subjects ranging from the Brooklyn Bridge to Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman made him among the most popular and influential historians of his time, died Sunday in Hingham, Massachusetts. He was 89. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

McCullough also was a favorite in Washington, D.C. He addressed a joint session of Congress in 1989 and, in 2006, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Politicians frequently claimed to have read his books, especially his biographies of Truman and Adams. Jimmy Carter cited “The Path Between the Seas” as a factor in pushing for the 1977 treaties which returned control of the Panama Canal to Panama, and politicians on both sides of the issue cited it during debate. Barack Obama included McCullough among a gathering of scholars who met at the White House soon after he was elected.

The historian was non-partisan for much of his life, but spoke out against Donald Trump in 2016, leading a group of historians that included Burns and Chernow in denouncing the Republican presidential nominee as a “monstrous clown with a monstrous ego.” McCullough also had one emphatic cause: education. He worried that Americans knew too little about history and didn’t appreciate the sacrifices of the Revolutionary era. He spoke often at campuses and before Congress, once telling a Senate Committee that because of the No Child Left Behind act “history is being put on the back burner or taken off the stove altogether in many or most schools, in favor of math and reading.”

McCullough also was active in the preservation of historical regions. He opposed the building of a residential tower near the Brooklyn Bridge and was among the historians and authors in the 1990s who criticized the Walt Disney Company’s planned Civil War theme park in a region of northern Virginia of particular historical significance.

“We have so little left that’s authentic and real,” McCullough said at the time. “To replace what we have with plastic, contrived history, mechanical history is almost sacrilege.”

McCullough took on a few rascals in his books, notably the conniving New York politicians involved with the Brooklyn Bridge, but he preferred to write about people he liked, comparing it to the choice of a roommate. Revulsion at the private life of Pablo Picasso drove him to abandon a planned book on the artist, while his biography on Adams was originally supposed to be on Adams and Thomas Jefferson, whose character also proved too flawed.

McCullough, whose father and grandfather founded the McCullough Electric Company, was born in Pittsburgh in 1933. He loved history as a child, recalling lively dinner conversations, portraits of Washington and Lincoln that seemed to hang in every home and the field trip to a nearby site where Washington fought one of his earliest battles. He majored in English at Yale University and met playwright Thornton Wilder, who encouraged the young student to write. McCullough worked at the United States Information Agency, Sports Illustrated and the American Heritage Publishing Company before deciding that he wanted to try a book about an event that took place in his home state in 1889 — the Johnstown Flood, which killed more than 2,000 people and was as much a disaster in its time as Hurricane Katrina was more than a century later.

McCullough researched the book in his spare time, and pleaded in vain with Little, Brown and Company to publish him. He ended up with Simon & Schuster, which released the book in 1968 — for an advance of $5,000 — and remained his publisher for the rest of his career.

“The Johnstown Flood” was successful enough that McCullough worried he would be typecast as an author of failure, “Bad News McCullough.” Publishers were asking him to write about the Chicago Fire and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. So for his next book, “The Great Bridge,” he told a story of success. “That I knew little or nothing about civil engineering, that I had never done well in math or physics or had much interest in things mechanical didn’t deter me in the least,” he later wrote. “I was too excited. There was so much I wanted to know.”

McCullough followed with “The Path Between the Seas”; and “Mornings on Horseback,” published in 1981 and praised by Gore Vidal as “part of a new and welcome genre: the biographical sketch.” “Mornings on Horseback” won the National Book Award, but, Vidal noted, was overshadowed by the release of Edmund Morris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.” It would be the last time a McCullough book received second billing.

He had considered a biography of Franklin Roosevelt, but instead related to Roosevelt’s less dynamic, more forthright successor, Harry Truman. McCullough spent the next decade writing the book, living for a time in Truman’s hometown, Independence, Missouri, and making a daily routine, as the former president did, of a morning walk.

“Truman,” published in 1992, was a million seller that capped and confirmed a long rise in the standing of a man who had left office 40 years earlier with an approval rating under 30% and now was virtually canonized as an honest and tenacious leader. Among the book’s fans were presidential hopeful Ross Perot, who bluntly compared himself to Truman, and the first President Bush, who even consulted with McCullough during his unsuccessful bid for re-election.

“John Adams,” published in 2001, was just as popular and just as helpful to its subject, with Congress passing legislation later that year to build a monument in honor of the second president. “1776” came out in 2005, followed by an illustrated edition two years later. An HBO miniseries based on “John Adams,” starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, aired in 2008. Tom Hanks was planning a miniseries based on McCullough’s book on the Wright brothers.

McCullough had five children and an affinity for happily married politicians such as Truman and Adams that could be traced to his wife, Rosalee Barnes, whom he married in 1954 and who died in June. She was his editor, muse and closest friend. At his home in Martha’s Vineyard, McCullough would proudly show visiting reporters a photograph of their first meeting, at a spring dance, the two gazing upon each other.

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David McCullough: The Presidential Biographies

David McCullough: The Presidential Biographies

John adams, mornings on horseback, and truman.

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About the book, about the author.

David McCullough

David McCullough (1933–2022) twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams , and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback . His other acclaimed books include The Johnstown Flood , The Great Bridge , Brave Companions , 1776 , The Greater Journey ,  The American Spirit ,  The Wright Brothers , and  The Pioneers . He was the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Visit

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (November 7, 2017)
  • Length: 2352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501189029

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  • Biography & Autobiography > General
  • Biography & Autobiography > Presidents & Heads of State

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The best biographies of all 44 presidents — including Donald Trump!

author of presidential biographies

Happy President's Day! What better day to jump into the amazing world of presidential biographies. Our list of the best of the best for all 44 presidents -- culled entirely from reader suggestions is below. We initially compiled the list below in 2012. See a book released since then that merits inclusion on the list? Just email me at [email protected] and I will add it!

* George Washington:   Washington: A Life , by Ron Chernow;  His Excellency: George Washington , by Joseph J. Ellis.

* John Adams:   John Adams , by David McCullough;  Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams , by Joseph J. Ellis.

* Thomas Jefferson:   Jefferson and His Time , by Dumas Malone; American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson , by Joseph J. Ellis; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power , by Jon Meacham.

* James Madison: James Madison: A Biography , by Ralph Ketchem.

* James Monroe: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness , by Harlow Giles Unger.

* John Quincy Adams: John Quincy Adams (The American Presidents Series) , by Robert V. Remini.

* Andrew Jackson:   American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House , by Jon Meacham;  The Life of Andrew Jackson , by Robert V. Remini.

* Martin Van Buren:  Martin Van Buren (The American Presidents Series) , by Ted Widmer;  Martin Van Buren : The Romantic Age of American Politics , by John Niven.

* William Henry Harrison:  William Henry Harrison (The American Presidents Series) by Gail Collins;  Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Times , by Freeman Cleaves.

* John Tyler:  John Tyler (The American Presidents Series) , by Gary May; John Tyler: Champion of the Old South , by Oliver P. Chitwood.

* James K. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America , by Walter R. Borneman.

* Zachary Taylor: Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest , by K. Jack Bauer.

* Millard Fillmore:  Millard Fillmo re: Biography of a President , by Robert J. Rayback

* Franklin Pierce:  Franklin Pierce (The American Presidents Series) , by Michael Holt.

* James Buchanan:  President James Buchanan: A Biography , by Philip S. Klein.

* Abraham Lincoln:  Lincoln , by David Herbert Donald; Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln , by Doris Kearns Goodwin;  With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln , by Stephen B. Oates;  Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years , by Carl Sandburg; Abraham Lincoln , by Lord Charnwood.

* Andrew Johnson: Andrew Johnson (The American Presidents Series) , by Annette Gordon-Reed.

* Ulysses S. Grant:  Grant , by Jean Edward Smith; Grant: A Biography , by William S. McFeeley.

* Rutherford B. Hayes:   Rutherford B. Hayes , by Hans Trefousse (The American Presidents Series);  Rutherford B. Hayes, and his America , by Harry Barnard.

* James Garfield:   Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President , by Candice Millard.

*Chester Arthur:  Chester Alan Arthur (The American Presidents Series) , by Zachary Karabell;  Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur , by Thomas C. Reeves.

* Grover Cleveland (the 22nd and 24th president):  Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character , by Alyn Brodsky;  Grover Cleveland (The American Presidents Series) , by Henry F. Graff.

* Benjamin Harrison:  Benjamin Harrison (The American Presidents Series) , by Charles W. Calhoun;  Benjamin Harrison: Hoosier statesman , by Harry Joseph Sievers.

* William McKinley:  Presidency of William McKinley , by Lewis. L. Gould.

* Theodore Roosevelt:  Edmund Morris's Theodore Roosevelt Trilogy ; Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt , by David McCullough.

* William Howard Taft:  The Life & Times of William Howard Taft , by Harry F. Pringle.

* Woodrow Wilson: Woodrow Wilson: A Biography , by John Milton Cooper Jr.

* Warren G. Harding: The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times , by Francis Russell; Warren G. Harding (The American Presidents Series) , by John W. Dean.

* Calvin Coolidge: Coolidge, An American Enigma , by Robert Sobel.

* Herbert Hoover: Herbert Hoover (The American Presidents Series) , by William E. Leuchtenburg.

*Franklin Roosevelt: Franklin D. Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom , by Conrad Black; No Ordinary Time , by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

*Harry S. Truman: Truman , by David McCullough; Harry S. Truman (The American Presidents Series) , by Robert Dallek.

*Dwight D. Eisenhower: Eisenhower: Soldier and President , by Stephen E. Ambrose; Eisenhower in War and Peace , by Jean Edward Smith.

*John F. Kennedy: A Thousand Days , by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.; An Unfinished Life , by Robert Dallek.

*Lyndon B. Johnson: Robert Caro 's multi-volume set; Robert Dallek 's two-volume set.

*Richard Nixon: The three-volume set by Steven Ambrose; Nixonland , by Richard Perlstein.

*Gerald Ford: Gerald R. Ford (The American Presidents Series) by Douglas Brinkley.

*Jimmy Carter:   Jimmy Carter, by Julian E. Zelizer (The American Presidents Series).

*Ronald Reagan: President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime , by Lou Cannon; My Father at 100 , by Ron Reagan, Jr.

*George H.W. Bush: George H.W. Bush (The American Presidents Series) , by Timothy Naftali; D estiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham

*Bill Clinton: First in His Class , by David Maraniss; The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House , by John F. Harris.

*George W. Bush:   Days of Fire by Peter Baker; Bush by Jean Edward Smith

*Barack Obama: Barack Obama: The Story , by David Maraniss; The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama , by David Remnick.

* Donald Trump : Trump Revealed by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher

author of presidential biographies

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8 Captivating Presidential Biographies

Brush up on your american history with these riveting reads.

Lauren Vespoli​,

washington adams jackson lincoln grant roosevelt roosevelt nixon bios

In February we commemorate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on President's Day — an ideal time to remember those two legendary leaders as well as other influential American presidents. The following eight books are some of the best presidential biographies to come out in the past 30 years. They offer absorbing portraits of men faced with daunting challenges, usually both personal and political, and frank analyses of their often-complicated legacies.

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You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington 

by Alexis Coe (2020)

This is a clear-eyed and occasionally playful portrayal of an American icon by Coe, a historian and cohost of the Presidents Are People Too! podcast. She debunks myths big and small, like the narrative that Washington's mother, Mary, was an obstruction to George's success and the oft-repeated story of his wooden teeth (they were actually made of ivory and teeth from other humans or animals, or sometimes built with a mix of metals). Rather than detailing all of his Revolutionary War battles, the book focuses on Washington's skills as a diplomat and spy. Coe breaks up the narrative with creative formatting, such as a timeline of diseases he survived (including malaria, smallpox and tuberculosis).




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by David McCullough (2001)

This Pulitzer Prize winner portrays the founding father and second president as a straight-talking, modest Yankee who was also one of the most influential architects of a young America. We follow Adams from the Boston Massacre and on to the Continental Congress, the court of King George II, where he represented American interests, and the White House (he was the first president to reside there). Throughout, McCullough incorporates Adams’ rich trove of correspondence with his beloved wife, Abigail, and with his friend and political rival Thomas Jefferson, to show how these two central relationships shaped his extraordinary life.

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Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times

by David S. Reynolds (2020)

More than 16,000 books have been published about President Lincoln, but Abe manages to add a new dimension to the conversation with a focus on how Lincoln's engagement with the high and low culture of the antebellum period shaped the way he steered the country through the Civil War. As a cultural historian, Reynolds is able to introduce a cast of colorful characters, currently obscure but well known at the time, such as Charles Blondin, a tightrope performer who crossed Niagara Falls in 1859 with his agent on his back. Lincoln was often compared to Blondin, as he attempted to balance between liberals and conservatives in order to lead the country to emancipation.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

by Jon Meacham (2008)

This lively biography — another Pulitzer Prize winner — looks at how Andrew Jackson's stormy presidency shaped the country's highest office, for better and, quite often, worse. Meacham makes the case that Jackson was responsible for the expansion of the executive branch and shows how he pioneered what we think of as modern politics, including campaigning directly to the American people and contentious partisanship. The book also looks at the political repercussions of scandals within Jackson's inner circle, such as the Petticoat Affair, which roiled his cabinet and led to the rise of his successor, Martin Van Buren. Meacham presents this controversial president as embodying the best and worst sides of America, in his unwavering belief in the common man and his vicious policy of Native American removal and support of the slave trade.

by Ron Chernow (2017)

Ulysses S. Grant was long cast as a drunken Civil War general and corruption-plagued president, despite his leadership of the Union Army to victory. Historian and Alexander Hamilton author Chernow repudiates that reputation, painting Grant as a brilliant military tactician, and focuses on his commitment to Reconstruction. As president, Grant passed legislation and sent federal troops to suppress the Klu Klux Klan and earned the admiration of Frederick Douglass, who called him “the vigilant, firm and wise protector of our race.” But Chernow also explores in great detail the man's flaws, such as his struggles with alcoholism and overly trusting nature.

Theodore Rex

by Edmund Morris (2001)

This is book two in Morris’ masterful trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt, published 21 years after the Pulitzer Prize–winning first book. Just as fascinating, Theodore Rex focuses on Roosevelt's two-term presidency, beginning in 1901, when at age 42 he became the youngest person to ever become president. Morris captures the man's energy and charisma, traits that helped him broker an end to the Russo-Japanese War (which won him a Nobel Peace Prize), maneuver the construction of the Panama Canal and lay the foundation for the National Park System — and that informed his proclivity for naked swims in the Potomac and rounds of boxing with his cabinet members — as well as his missteps on race relations.

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in WWII

by Doris Kearns Goodwin (1994)

Goodwin weaves together the domestic lives of the Roosevelts and the nation during the upheaval during and after World War II in, yes, another Pulitzer Prize winner and a huge best seller. Drawing from 86 interviews with people who knew the president and first lady personally, the famed historian includes a wonderful level of personal detail — during the war years, for instance, Franklin would help himself fall asleep by imagining that he was sledding at his childhood home in Hyde Park, New York. She also describes how, as Franklin focused on winning the war, the remarkable Eleanor battled her husband to secure the home front and preserve New Deal gains , as well as make progress in civil rights, housing, and welfare.

Richard Nixon: The Life

by John Farrell (2017)

This unsparing and insightful bio includes new evidence of Nixon's meddling in Lyndon B. Johnson's attempt at a Vietnam War peace deal, substantiated by a cache of newly unearthed notes written by Nixon's chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. Farrell, a former political journalist, draws on interviews with Nixon's friends, family and associates, which were only unsealed in 2012, in order to show how Nixon created his political persona as a champion of “the forgotten man” and successfully fanned race and class divisions in the country — and also how the Watergate scandal that forced Nixon's resignation wasn't an anomaly but the last act in a decade-long pattern of illegal activity that left a dark legacy.

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Presidential Chronicles

David Fisher's


Presidential Chronicles is the series of books and videos on American history as seen through the lives of the Presidents of the United States.

Presidential Chronicles

Full Volumes

Presidential Chronicles

Author David Fisher provides robust yet concise biographies of every U.S. President in this unique multi-volume collection. 

Presidential Chronicles

David Fisher offers the stories of the lives of the American Presidents in multiple formats.  First there are the individual biographies, which are available as E-Books .  The first 29 of these have been released (George Washington to Calvin Coolidge), with more to come over time.

Then there are the Printed Volumes , which comprise four or five biographies each.  The first six volumes

which have been released include: The Founders, Democracy Expands, The Path to National Fracture,

War and Its Aftermath, Dawn of a New Century and Progressivism and Prosperity.

Finally, there is the companion video series of Presidential Chronicles which was launched on YouTube

in January 2022.  With each President’s story being told over the course of approximately ten videos (10-12 minutes each in length), the lives of Presidents Washington through Theodore Roosevelt were covered in the 255 episodes released in 2022.  With the launch of Volume VI in September 2023, new videos will be released each weekday, capturing the essence of the lives of William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge.

All videos are accessible via this web site and on the Presidential Chronicles channel on YouTube .

author of presidential biographies

Presidential Chronicles E-Book and Full Volume Series

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  2. The 10 Best Biographies of American Presidents

    In 2017, I embarked on a project of reading a biography of every American president. Forty-five men and over 25,000 pages later, I finally finished just before Joe Biden assumed the helm. It wasn't an easy task, and certainly sometimes dull (especially through long parts of the 1800s), but always intriguing and unendingly fascinating. As […]

  3. Doris Kearns Goodwin

    Doris Helen Kearns Goodwin (born January 4, 1943) is an American biographer, historian, former sports journalist, and political commentator.She has written biographies of numerous U.S. presidents. Goodwin's book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995. Goodwin produced the American television miniseries Washington.

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  5. The Best Biography for Every Single President

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  7. 44 Presidential Biographies to Add to Your Reading List

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  8. David McCullough: The Presidential Biographies: John Adams, Mornings on

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  10. Jon Meacham

    Jon Ellis Meacham (/ ˈ m iː tʃ ə m /; born May 20, 1969) is an American writer, reviewer, historian and presidential biographer who is serving as the Canon Historian of the Washington National Cathedral since November 7, 2021. A former executive editor and executive vice president at Random House, he is a contributing writer to The New York Times Book Review, a contributing editor to Time ...

  11. David McCullough, author of acclaimed presidential biographies, dies

    The Pulitzer Prize-winning author's bibliography included works on Presidents John Adams and Harry Truman, as well as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. His voice also was heard often on PBS.

  12. David McCullough: The Presidential Biographies

    From "one of our most gifted living writers" (The Washington Post), this collection includes David McCullough's masterful biographies of three great presidents: John Adams, Harry S. Truman, and Theodore Roosevelt.Both John Adams and Truman won the Pulitzer Prize for biography. This boxed set will include the following three volumes: John Adams The Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling ...

  13. The best biographies of all 44 presidents

    Advertisement. * James Madison: James Madison: A Biography, by Ralph Ketchem. * James Monroe: The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness, by Harlow Giles Unger. * John ...

  14. 20 Best Presidential Biographies to Read This President's Day

    The Best Presidential Biographies. Below are 20 fascinating reads about the lives of some of America's most admired (and controversial) leaders. 1. George Washington. Author Ron Chernow is also the man behind Alexander Hamilton, the bestselling biography that inspired the hit Broadway musical.

  15. Best Presidential Authors (46 books)

    I am compiling a library of books written about United States Presidents and I want to have only the best written biographies. 46 books based on 13 votes: 1776 by David McCullough, The Triumph of Improvisation: Gorbachev's Adaptability, Reagan's Engagement, and the End of the Col...

  16. The Best Presidential Memoirs & Biographies

    Looking for a deep dive into a president's life? We've rounded up some of the best president biographies and memoirs just for you. These US President bios delve into the history and politics that have shaped our country. Read up on the lives of Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, Jefferson, and more. 1.

  17. The best presidential biographies

    One of Time's Top 10 Nonfiction Books of the Year In this revelatory biography, Evan Thomas delivers a radical, unique portrait of America's thirty-seventh president, Richard Nixon, a contradictory figure who was both determinedly optimistic and tragically flawed. One of the principal architects of the modern Republican Party… show more.

  18. 8 Compelling Presidential Biographies We Recommend

    8 Captivating Presidential Biographies. In February we commemorate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on President's Day — an ideal time to remember those two legendary leaders as well as other influential American presidents. The following eight books are some of the best presidential biographies to come out in the past ...

  19. Presidential Chronicles

    David Fisher offers the stories of the lives of the American Presidents in multiple formats. First there are the individual biographies, which are available as E-Books . The first 29 of these have been released (George Washington to Calvin Coolidge), with more to come over time. Then there are the Printed Volumes, which comprise four or five ...

  20. Recent Biographies of American Presidents

    Biographies of presidents have even more to offer. Biographers will often mine source material to find obscure information that provides a more complete context for well-known historical incidents. ... Author immersed himself for seven years in Johnson's life to recreate the early life of Lyndon Johnson. Provides anecdotes of his childhood ...

  21. Ask an expert

    Hinsdale Central student body President Will Kusak will perform his final duty in that role - and as a Red Devil - serving as an emcee of tonight's commencement ceremony. The roughly 600-strong class of 2024 had no in-person eighth-grade graduation due to COVID, and embarked on its high school journey split in halves to promote social ...