"Michael Beschloss...is clearly the most widely recognized Presidential historian in the nation.... Most Presidential historians...content themselves with writing biographies of individual Presidents.... And Beschloss has done that too.... But if any book can be said to epitomize the genre of Presidential history, Presidential Courage does." Mary Beth Norton, The New York Times Book Review
With books like The Conquerors and Taking Charge, NBC presidential historian Michael Beschloss has established himself as one of the premier authorities on Oval Office leadership. This major study focuses on the attribute that Beschloss calls "presidential courage": "the willingness to confront, sometimes even to challenge big issues and the daring, sometimes the eagerness, to make the big decisions that change and alter American destiny." To crystallize his points, he describes how great U.S. leaders faced moments of crises in their administrations. His examples include both early presidents (Washington, John Adams, Jackson, Lincoln) and 20th-century chief executives, including FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan.
Don't be afraid!" was George Washington's near-to-last utterance, to the worried doctor at his bedside. The essential founding father's counsel is understood by well-known historian Beschloss (The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany) to set an example for future presidents. Beschloss outlines how several occupants of the Oval Office—including Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Reagan—combined courage with wisdom to change the future of the country, notwithstanding the slings and arrows they earned. Despite its unpopularity at the time, for instance, Reagan's "strong beliefs combined with his optimism" led him to pursue the policy to abolish nuclear weapons, which helped bring down the Soviet empire peacefully. None of the author's heroes were saints, but rather flawed men sustained by friends, families, conviction and religious faith. With contenders for 2008 already lining up, this well-timed book might, the author hopes, persuade some to take the kinds of "wise political risks that Presidents once did."Perhaps. But knowledgeable readers should look elsewhere for genuine historical insight. The author's broad brushstrokes necessarily restrict him to painting nuanced individuals and complex times in only basic primary colors, and there is little that has not been said before—in some cases, many times. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The high-profile Beschloss pays a visit to all 43 Presidents, considering how they faced their biggest challenges. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Historian Beschloss (The Conquerors, 2002, etc.) pens a vivid account of how nine U.S. presidents withstood political firestorms. Inevitably, his lively narrative will be compared to John F. Kennedy's homage to Senate bravery, Profiles in Courage. But Beschloss views his subjects not as saints but as "worried, self-protective politicians" not above vacillation, arrogance and evasion as they steered between national and electoral interests. Recent presidents have not been the only ones who required sentence-parsing. FDR justified breaking his promise, "your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars," by claiming a loophole: It did not apply in case of attack. A few of these figures relished political combat; Theodore Roosevelt aptly styled himself a "rough-and-tumble man." Most, however, abhorred their struggles. Convinced that he would lose his bid for a second term, Abraham Lincoln wrote a private memo pledging cooperation with opponent George McClellan to save the Union between the election and the next inauguration. All of the chief executives profiled here subscribed to John Adams's belief that a president must incur "people's displeasure sometimes, or he will never do them any good in the long run." Some found strength in the examples of heroic predecessors, others in their wives, all in some manner of religious belief. Beschloss recognizes that even the best policy choices come freighted with mixed motives and adverse consequences. In particular, he appraises Andrew Jackson with exquisite balance, noting that Old Hickory's assault on the Second National Bank destroyed a corrupting political influence but also "peddled the dubious notion that America did not need a centralbank," leaving Americans to suffer 80 years of boom-and-bust before the Federal Reserve was established. Readers might question some episodes chosen, but it's impossible to fault Beschloss's engrossing characterizations, marvelous scene-setting and judicious assessments. History written with subtlety, verve and an almost novelistic appreciation for the complexities of human nature and presidential politics.