Don't Know Much About the American Presidents

Don't Know Much About the American Presidents

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by Kenneth C. Davis

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- Which president broke the laws to keep his slaves from being freed?
- How did a president help save college football from early extinction?
- Who said, "When the president does it that means it's not illegal"?
- If the framers of the Constitution didn't mention an "electoral college," how come it picks the president?
- Who was the "Negro


- Which president broke the laws to keep his slaves from being freed?
- How did a president help save college football from early extinction?
- Who said, "When the president does it that means it's not illegal"?
- If the framers of the Constitution didn't mention an "electoral college," how come it picks the president?
- Who was the "Negro President?"

You have questions. Kenneth C. Davis has answers.

For more than twenty years since his New York Times bestseller Don't Know Much About History: Everything You Need to Know About American History but Never Learned first appeared, Davis has shown that Americans don't hate history, just the dull version dished out in school. An instant classic, his first work of American history has sold more than 1.6 million copies.

Now Davis turns his attention to what is arguably the most important and most fascinating subject in American history: our presidents. From the heated debates over executive powers when those framers improvised the office in the steamy summer of 1787 though the curious election of George Washington in 1789 and, for more than 200 years, up through the meteoric rise of Barack Obama, the first African-American commander in chief, the presidency has been at the heart of American history.

From the low lights to the bright lights, from the intellectuals to the disasters, from the memorable to the forgettable and forgotten, Davis tells all the stories. He uses his entertaining question-and-answer style to chart the history of the presidency itself as well as debunk the myths of America's leaders and tell the real stories of these very real people. Here's the young Lincoln building his mother's coffin and dragging a tragic burden through the snow to the burial; Theodore Roosevelt, America's youngest president, shockingly pushed into the presidency--with greatness thrust upon him; FDR, the only man elected four times, concealing his crippling disability from the American public as he led the nation through depression and world war; and Lyndon Johnson, reelected in a landslide, then crushed by the weight of the Vietnam War.

For history buffs and history-phobes alike, this entertaining book is packed with memorable facts that will change your understanding of the highest office in the land and the men who have occupied it.

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

Product Details

Hachette Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.60(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.20(d)
Age Range:
18 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Kenneth C. Davis is the author of Don't Know Much About® History, which spent 35 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and gave rise to his phenomenal Don't Know Much About® series of books and audiotapes for adults and children. Davis, who is also the author of A Nation Rising and the New York Times bestseller America's Hidden History, has appeared on national television and radio, written for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, and been a commentator on NPR's All Things Considered. He posts regularly at and makes "virtual visits" to schools, libraries, and other groups around the country to talk about American history, the presidents, the Bible, the Civil War, and mythology, all subjects of his work. Kenneth C. Davis lives in New York City with his wife.

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Don't Know Much About the American Presidents 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Sandragon More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
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