Don't Know Much About the American Presidents

( 6 )


Which president broke the law to prevent enslaved people from being freed? Who said, "When the president does it,that means it's not illegal"? Why does America have a president?

From the heated debates among the framers of the Constitution in 1787 over an "elected king," to the creation of the presidency, and on through rich profiles of each man who has held the office, New York Times bestselling author Kenneth C. Davis takes readers on a guided tour of American history. ...

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Which president broke the law to prevent enslaved people from being freed? Who said, "When the president does it,that means it's not illegal"? Why does America have a president?

From the heated debates among the framers of the Constitution in 1787 over an "elected king," to the creation of the presidency, and on through rich profiles of each man who has held the office, New York Times bestselling author Kenneth C. Davis takes readers on a guided tour of American history. Examining each chief executive, from the low lights to the bright lights, the memorable to the forgettable and the forgotten, Davis tells all the stories, offering rich anecdotes about real people. He also charts the history of the presidency itself, debunking myths and grading the presidents from A+ to F.

For history buffs and history-phobes alike, this entertaining book may change your understanding of the highest office in the land throughout more than two hundred years of history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this presidential election year, bestselling author Davis (Don't Know Much About History) returns with an absorbing take on the American presidency. Like his previous works, this hefty but breezy compendium offers brief assessments of America's chief executives, accompanied here by quotes (often clipped from inauguration speeches), a timeline featuring key moments of their life and term(s) as president, and miscellaneous trivia about each commander-in-chief, concluding with a "final judgment" of their legacy complete with a letter grade. Of course some presidents (e.g., Washington, Lincoln, and FDR) get more in-depth coverage than others. (e.g., William Henry Harrison, Grover Cleveland) and Davis, not one to mince words writes in his assessment of Franklin Pierce: "Good looks, breeding, brains and piety do not a good president make." Davis's bipartisan analysis offers a refreshingly agnostic look at the fumbles, foibles and victories large and small that make up a presidential term. Loaded with dishy trivia (Gerald Ford was a male model, FDR tried to have "In God We Trust" removed from currency) and succinct analysis of pivotal events like Watergate, the election of Lincoln ("he most momentous in American history") and America's involvement in WWI, Davis remains a highly informed, observant student of history eager to share his discoveries and knowledge. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
The author of Don't Know Much About History and similar titles returns with a sometimes-saucy handbook on the American presidency. As is the case with other formulaic volumes, this one can weary readers determined to journey through its many pages. After his introductory material on the Founding Fathers' debates about the nature of the presidency, Davis focuses on each of the presidents, in order, offering subsections like "Fast Facts," "Administration Milestones" and "Must Reads" (including online sources). He also awards an old-fashioned letter grade to each man. Scoring well are Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Reagan; scoring poorly, an assortment of pre– and post–Civil War executives (Pierce, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson--all get failing grades). Davis gives Incompletes to those who served briefly for various reasons (William Henry Harrison, Garfield). In recent times: Clinton gets a B; Bush II, F. The author has found interesting nuggets to scatter along the trail--Buchanan was the first to publish a memoir; Hayes established the White House Easter Egg Roll; McKinley was the last president to have served in the Civil War--and he takes time to explain key historical issues, from Teapot Dome to Watergate to Whitewater to Obamacare. Davis occasionally flashes an attitude, taking a shot at one of Michelle Bachmann's campaign claims about the Founding Fathers and slavery, noting several historical antecedents for our recent financial meltdown, blasting Bush II for Iraq and other messes, and reminding us that President Obama came into office facing problems equaled only by those greeting Lincoln and FDR. These are not positions that will prompt waves of Republicans to purchase the book, but substantive appendixes add both heft and interest. The tedious format only occasionally dulls the author's sharp descriptive and analytical skills.
From the Publisher

"Fun, engrossing, and significant ... History in Davis's hands is loud, course, painful, funny, irreverent-and memorable."—San Francisco Chronicle


"Don't Know Much About the American Presidents by Kenneth C. Davis contains a plethora of information about the men who have held our nation's highest office. If you read it you will be enriched."—Dayton Daily News

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401324087
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 9/18/2012
  • Pages: 752
  • Sales rank: 311,057
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.20 (d)

Meet the Author

After giving rise to the Don't Know Much About series, Ken Davis has been dubbed "The King of Knowing" by because he becomes a subject expert in all of the areas he writes about: the Bible, mythology, the universe, the Civil War, for example. Ken Davis is a frequent media guest and has appeared on hundreds of television and radio shows, including NPR, The Today Show, Fox and Friends, CNN, and The Discovery Channel. He has been a commentator for All Things Considered, has written for the New York Times,, and Smithsonian magazine, and serves as an educator for TED-ED, a new division of TED that share free "lessons worth sharing" via brief animated videos. In addition to his adult titles, he writes the Don't Know Much About Children's series published by HarperCollins. He lives in New York with his wife. They have two grown children.
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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Author's Note xix

Part I The Making of the President-1787

Part II Presidential Profiles: The Life and Times of Americas Chief Executives from George Washington to Barack Obama 33

1 George Washington 35

2 John Adams 63

3 Thomas Jefferson 82

4 James Madison 104

5 James Monroe 123

6 John Quincy Adams 140

7 Andrew Jackson 150

8 Martin Van Buren 170

9 William Henry Harrison 181

10 John Tyler 186

11 James K. Polk 195

12 Zachary Taylor 206

13 Millard Fillmore 213

14 Franklin Pierce 223

15 James Buchanan 233

16 Abraham Lincoln 247

17 Andrew Johnson 268

18 Ulysses S. Grant 279

19 Rutherford Birchard Hayes 294

20 James Abram Garfield 303

21 Chester A. Arthur 311

22 Grover Cleveland 320

23 Benjamin Harrison 330

24 Grover Cleveland 339

25 William McKinley 347

26 Theodore Roosevelt 359

27 William Howard Taft 375

28 Woodrow Wilson 384

29 Warren Gamaliel Harding 397

30 Calvin Coolidge 405

31 Herbert Clark Hoover 415

32 Franklin Delano Roosevelt 425

33 Harry S. Truman 447

34 Dwight David Eisenhower 464

35 John Fitzgerald Kennedy 478

36 Lyndon Baines Johnson 495

37 Richard Milhous Nixon 510

38 Gerald Rudolph Ford 527

39 James Earl Carter, Jr. 536

40 Ronald Wilson Reagan 545

41 George Herbert Walker Bush 561

42 William Jefferson Clinton 573

43 George Walker Bush 589

44 Barack Hussein Obama 607

Part III What Should We Do with the President? 619

Appendices 633

Appendix I The United States Constitution: Article II 635

Appendix II Constitutional Amendments Affecting the Presidency, Presidential Elections, and Voting Rights 641

Appendix III The Order of Presidential Succession 653

Appendix IV "It's All About the Benjamins" Presidents on Coins and Currency 655

Acknowledgments 659

Notes 661

Bibliography 687

Index 705

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2012

    Really Good overview

    I always wanted to know more about our past presidents without having to be "scholarly".
    Davis provides an easy to read summary of each president. It"s like a one-volume encyclopedia. Seems to be unbiased.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 13, 2015

    If you want to really know the presidents - read this book!

    Everyone knows a little bit about the more famous presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, etc., but what about those we don't hear about very often? This book gives an excellent account of each president's tenure in the highest office in the country, AND gives them a grade for the way they ran the country while in office! I totally enjoyed this book and recommend it highly!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2015


    Author glosses over events. Rather like reading an encyclopedia. Not the good , interesting read I was expecting. Author's political agenda comes into play far more than one would expect. Disappointing!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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