Baptism by Fire: Eight Presidents Who Took Office in Times of Crisis

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Overview

Americans have long been defined by how they face adversity. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in how the nation’s chief executive has tackled myriad issues upon entering the White House. The ways that U.S. presidents handle the vast responsibilities of the Oval Office determine the fate of the nation—-and, in many cases, the fate of the world.

In this fascinating narrative, presidential historian Mark Updegrove looks at eight U.S. presidents who inherited unprecedented crises immediately upon assuming the reigns of power. George Washington led a fragile and fledgling nation while defining the very role of the presidency. When Thomas Jefferson entered the White House, he faced a nation bitterly divided by a two-party schism far more severe than anything encountered today. John Tyler stepped into the office of the presidency during the constitutional crisis left by the first death of a sitting president. Abraham Lincoln inherited a divided nation on the brink of war. Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to quell America’s fears during the depths of the Great Depression. His successor, Harry S. Truman, was sworn in as commander in chief at the close of World War II, and John F. Kennedy stepped into the increasingly heated atmosphere of the cold war. In the wake of Watergate, the first unelected president, Gerald R. Ford, aimed to end America’s “long national nightmare.”

As the forty-fourth president takes office, Updegrove presents a timely look at these chief executives and the challenges they faced. In examining the ways in which presidents have addressed crises, Baptism by Fire illustrates the importance of character in leadership—and in the resilience of America itself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Once again Mark Updegrove has written an incisive slice of U.S. presidential history. Fire ratchets up harrowing memories of our leaders from George Washington to Gerald Ford. A wonderful read."—Douglas Brinkley is Professor of History at Rice University

"Mark Updegrove's Baptism by Fire is a splendid companion to John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.” —Patricia O'Toole, author of When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House and The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends.

"At a moment of surpreme peril, Lincoln told us, 'The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.' As Mark Updegrove vividly demonstrates in this superbly written volume, Lincoln was hardly unique in meeting the test he set out. . . .I can't imagine a more timely or original way of seeing ourselves."—Richard Norton Smith, Scholar in Residence, George Mason University

Publishers Weekly
The newest presidential history from former Newsweek editor Updegrove (Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House) looks at eight presidents who took office at critical moments in U.S. history and shaped American notions of presidential authority and purview: Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Tyler, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Ford. Updegrove drafts short accounts of each administration, succinctly examining how each helped define and refine the office. By calling upon little known trivia and providing useful context, he weaves an engaging narrative; however, it isn't without its flaws. Updegrove can't seem to resist contrasting the decisions of these time-honored presidents with current President George W. Bush, and his liberal eye glosses over some of the uglier aspects of these Commanders-in-Chiefs-ironically deifying men who, by Updegrove's own account, wanted desperately to be viewed as men, not legends. Ultimately, this is a satisfying read for armchair historians with sympathetic politics, particularly in the attention it calls to aspects of the office (the assumption of power by the vice-president, term limits, etc.) now largely taken for granted.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Updegrove's (former publisher, Newsweek; Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House) latest book is a pertinent work as we welcome our 44th President. Eight chapters examine the turmoil surrounding eight American Presidents as they take office-Washington, Jefferson, Tyler, Lincoln, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Ford-and the leadership that ultimately helped them prevail over the unprecedented crises they faced. The author stresses the importance of rhetoric to set the tone of the incoming administration, as exemplified by each of these Presidents' inaugural speeches, such as "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," or "Our long national nightmare is over." Updegrove offers insightful lessons for our incoming President who will have his share of burdens to face, many inherited from President George W. Bush. At the very least, this book could offer President Obama hope that, as our history shows, endurance and hardship can be overcome, making us more resilient than ever before. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
—Rebecca Blakeley

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312388034
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 1/6/2009
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark K. Updegrove is the author of Second Acts: Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House, which won ForeWord Magazine’s Silver “Book of the Year” Award for Political Science. He served as publisher of Newsweek, Los Angeles manager of Time, and president of Time Canada, and has written for American Heritage, The Nation, Time, and Worth. Currently, he is an advertising executive and lives outside Charleston, South Carolina.

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