The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game

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Overview

Rating the presidents remains a perennial pastime of historians, pundits, and presidency buffs. Most surveys place presidents into categories such as "Great," "Near-Great," and "Failure." Their originators seldom, however, inform readers what lay behind those designations. In The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't), Alvin S. Felzenberg assigns the presidents separate grades in each of six categories (character, vision, competence, among others). He offers a fresh look at "old favorites" and rescues others from obscurity and ridicule. Most importantly, he supplies evidence in support of his conclusions.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Felzenberg (political science, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Governor Tom Kean) attacks the historians' rankings of U.S. Presidents conducted by Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. (1948, 1962) and by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (1996). The author argues that these rankings used no precise criteria, were never entirely explained, and relied on experts who tended to be politically liberal. Felzenberg's approach is sound. He attempts to rectify the situation by newly systematizing such rankings into six different categories, e.g., character, vision, competence, economic soundness, the protection and expansion of liberties, and handling of defense and foreign policy. These categories and his in-depth discussions of their meaning, together with his selected top-, middle-, and bottom-ranked Presidents for each category, are the book's strength. Unfortunately, Craig's execution is flawed; like his predecessors, he gives no explanation of how he used these categories to obtain his own rankings of selected Presidents, and some Presidents are neither ranked nor discussed. But his criteria remain sound and carefully considered, and their consistent application would add depth to the ever-popular practice of ranking our Presidents. For public and academic libraries.
—Bryan Craig

From the Publisher

Wall Street Journal
“Written in a breezy style, "The Leaders We Deserved" is clearly intended for anyone who wants to learn something about U.S. history while observing presidents compete with one another for top rankings.”

Washington Times
“In this election year, anyone interested in the future of the nation's leadership will find this examination of the past a useful guide.”

Star-Ledger
“Felzenberg has crafted a very interesting and worthwhile read.”

James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom and This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War
“Alvin Felzenberg has written an incisive, readable book in which he offers detailed evaluations of presidents according to several key criteria. His rankings contain some surprises, with which not everyone will agree, but all readers will be stimulated and will come away better informed than before.”

Harold Holzer, Co-chairman, U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission
“Alvin Felzenberg puts Lincoln and several other presidents in the full context of their times and ours, shedding much new light on those we thought we knew well, and taking a fresh look at some we need to know better. The sections on Abraham Lincoln, the most elusive of all presidents, adds much to the field of Lincoln studies and should not be missed."

Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of Einstein: His Life and Universe
“This book goes beyond the parlor game of rating presidents and digs deeply into what qualities truly matter. By doing so, Al Felzenberg has produced a smart and fascinating look at the impact our great presidents have had.”

John J. DiIulio Jr., Frederic Fox Leadership Professor, University of Pennsylvania
“This book sets a new standard, not only for presidential studies but for leadership studies generally. In an enlightening and entertaining fashion, Felzenberg lays bare how and why some presidents have translated vision into transformational and sustainable action while others have not. For political scientists and anyone else who thinks understanding leadership matters, this book is not only must-reading but must-knowledge.”

National Review
“Felzenberg is to be credited with bringing to the presidential-ratings game a quality that had been sorely lacking: an opportunity to debate.”

Roanoke Times
“This book should be regarded as a ‘must read’ for its remarkable and thought-provoking insights as to how all of us as responsible citizens should evaluate our leaders -- past, present and future.”

Renew America
“Alvin Stephen Felzenberg has brought forward so much impeccable scholarship that The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn’t) merits the Gold Star Seal for rating presidents. As of now, it is the yardstick.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465018901
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Alvin S. Felzenberg teaches at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Felzenberg was the principal spokesman for the 9/11 Commission, an advisor to the Department of Defense and the Voice of America, and served in several senior staff positions at the U.S. House of Representatives, and as New Jersey’s Assistant Secretary of State. His most recent book is Governor Tom Kean. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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Table of Contents

Preface vii

1 The Rating Game 1

2 Character 11

3 Vision 79

4 Competence 109

5 Economic Policy 171

6 Preserving and Extending Liberty 255

7 Defense, National Security, and Foreign Policy 331

8 What Does It All Mean? 365

The Presidential Scorecard 378

Afterword-George W. Bush: An Early Assessment 379

Acknowledgments 421

Economic Data Sources 423

Notes 427

Index 467

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Customer Reviews

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