As I mentioned a few days ago I have started working on a goal of reading at least one book about each of our presidents. I enjoy biographies because of the personal perspective on history that they provide. If anyone reading this has suggestions of other good presidential books to read I would love to hear your suggestions.
I just finished reading His Excellency – George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It gives what appears to be a very balanced view of Washington’s life. In reading it I came to appreciate what an extraordinary man he was. He certainly earned the title Father of our Country. Both John Adams by David McCullough and this Ellis book talk about what a pragmatist and realist Washington was and how valuable that trait was both during the war of independence and then later as president.
The book goes into some depth about Washington’s attitudes and actions towards slaves
and American Indians. In both cases his practical and realistic view of the issues seem admirable for the time.
One of the things that has surprised me about this time period is how partisan and vicious the press were. Both McCullough and Ellis discuss this. I thought that commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Maureen Dowd and their slanted, one sided, mean views of the world were a new phenomenon but apparently the press in the late 1700s may even have been worse if that is possible.
Washington’s concern about how he would be viewed by history surprised me. He not only worried about it but he also tried to shape it.
The fact that Washington retired after two terms and allowed the democratic process to work is something we take for granted. Ellis points out that it was an extraordinary act. How many revolutionary leaders from other countries can you think of who have done the same?
I am excited about my presidential reading project. I have always loved books and reading and I am finding that one of the best things about retirement is having the time to read. I love these quotes from the McCullough book about John Adams our second president.
“Adams library numbered 3,200 volumes”
“Unable to sleep as long as Abigail he would be out of bed and reading by candlelight at 5 in the morning and later would read well into the night.”
“Your father’s zeal for books will be one of the last desires which will quit him.” Abigail observed to John Quincy in the spring of 1816 as the 81 year old Adams eagerly embarked on a sixteen volume French history.