The B&N Podcast: Michael Beschloss

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

Michael Beschloss is one of the most acclaimed writers on the American presidency, the author of multiple bestsellers including The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941-1945, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How they Changed America, 1789-1989, and Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. A frequent commentator on the PBS NewsHour and the NBC News Presidential Historian, Beschloss joined us in the studio to talk about his new book Presidents of War: The Epic Story from 1807 to Modern Times — and what his look at the most fraught aspect of presidential power can teach us today.


From a preeminent presidential historian comes a groundbreaking and often surprising saga of America’s wartime chief executives.

Ten years in the research and writing, Presidents of War is a fresh, magisterial, intimate look at a procession of American leaders as they took the nation into conflict and mobilized their country for victory. It brings us into the room as they make the most difficult decisions that face any President, at times sending hundreds of thousands of American men and women to their deaths.

From James Madison and the War of 1812 to recent times, we see them struggling with Congress, the courts, the press, their own advisors and antiwar protesters; seeking comfort from their spouses, families and friends; and dropping to their knees in prayer. We come to understand how these Presidents were able to withstand the pressures of war—both physically and emotionally—or were broken by them.

Beschloss’s interviews with surviving participants in the drama and his findings in original letters, diaries, once-classified national security documents, and other sources help him to tell this story in a way it has not been told before. Presidents of War combines the sense of being there with the overarching context of two centuries of American history. This important book shows how far we have traveled from the time of our Founders, who tried to constrain presidential power, to our modern day, when a single leader has the potential to launch nuclear weapons that can destroy much of the human race.

See more books by Michael Beschloss

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Author photo of Michael Beschloss (c) Stephen Voss.