…a sweeping overview of presidents leading the United States through almost two centuries of conflict. Presidents of War is a marvelous narrative…Along the way, we see presidents plotting strategy, maneuvering with Congress…and conferring with confidants, while their families weigh in on critical decisions. We see presidents leading great public debatesor failing to. And we see presidents exhibiting a myriad of emotions, depressed or elated, pugnacious or regretful, wise or foolish…Beschloss's writing is clean and concise, and he admirably draws upon new documents…There are fascinating nuggets on virtually every page of Presidents of War. It is a superb and important book, superbly rendered.
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.
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Presidential historian Beschloss (Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789–1989) offers a sweeping history of American presidents seeking and waging war from the War of 1812—the first major conflict conducted by the executive office under the Constitution—through the conclusion of the Vietnam War. He provides insight into the motivations of American leaders; presidents’ battles with other branches of government; their degree of respect for civil liberties; and the role of personality, emotion, and the general political climate as American commanders-in-chief executed the power of the country’s military forces. Beschloss reviews the historical record from an American-expansionist yet not necessarily prowar perspective; he writes, for example, that President Polk “deserves credit for adding almost a million square miles to the United States,” referring to the U.S. conquest of much of Mexico during the Mexican–American War, but that “a major, bloody war... should have been his last resort,” in keeping with the founders’ intentions. With ample detail and enticing storytelling, this readable work will be enjoyed by students and American history buffs. Agent: Esther Newberg, Curtis Brown. (Oct.)
"In this brilliant work, Michael Beschloss burnishes his already bright reputation. He tells a gripping tale of courage and mendacity as well as recurring defiance of the constitutional requirement to seek congressional approval for making war. A monumental and profoundly important achievement.”—Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Grant
“A deep history of how chief executives since the early nineteenth century have waged war . . . Most of the wars described here were grounded in deception and, arguably, were unjust wars of choice. Beschloss drives this point home in his disquieting study.” —Matthew Dallek, The Washington Post
“Beschloss’s broad scope lets you draw important cross-cutting lessons about presidential leadership. . . . Presidents of War is worth reading, whether you are one of the nation’s leaders or just an armchair historian.”—Bill Gates
“Conflict and war played an essential role in the accumulation of presidential power, as Michael Beschloss explains in his magisterial book. . . . Presidents of War, 10 years in the making, is on an epic scale. It looks at leadership from every angle: communication, the critical relationship with Congress, the treatment of civil liberties and the role of the (often formidable) presidential spouse.”—Lionel Barber, Financial Times
“In this monumental book, the incomparable Michael Beschloss tells the riveting story of how, through history, our Presidents came to be so powerful and to lead Americans into waging major wars. With his new research discoveries and unerring eye for human detail, Beschloss has brought us an unforgettable narrative. Presidents of War is a landmark book about power, leadership and human nature itself.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of America
“Once again, Beschloss captures our Presidents in terms both historic and human, showing that whoever holds the office will fearlessly—or fearfully—impact our world.”—Tom Hanks, author of Uncommon Type
“Michael Beschloss guides us on a fascinating and sobering journey from the War of 1812 to the present, illuminating a steady expansion in presidential war powers and consequent abandonment of the constitutional restraints the Founders crafted to prevent despotism. It is a powerful and troubling story, essential reading for our time.” —Drew Gilpin Faust, author of This Republic of Suffering, President Emerita and Lincoln Professor of History, Harvard University
"There is no more serious task a President can undertake than leading our nation in war time. With Presidents of War, Michael Beschloss, our leading historian of the American presidency, presents a deeply researched and elegantly written chronicle of how presidents from the early nineteenth century through modern time have handled this most daunting and important responsibility. Revealing both the high points and the low, and using newly available material, Beschloss tells us much we did not know about important events and gives a different perspective on things we thought we knew." —Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello and Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History, Harvard Law School
"With his historian’s eye for the telling detail and a novelist’s appreciation for the quirks and crotchets of individual personalities, Michael Beschloss has crafted a sweeping chronicle of presidential war-making from the birth of the republic to the twenty-first century. Throughout this compelling story runs a question of ever-more clamorous urgency: have the Constitutional safeguards against war as the dread spawn of presidential ambition, whim, or ignorance been eroded to the point of irrelevance in our own day?"—David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Freedom from Fear and Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University
"Beschloss offers a sweeping history of American presidents seeking and waging war. . . . He provides insight into the motivations of American leaders; presidents’ battles with other branches of government; their degree of respect for civil liberties; and the role of personality, emotion, and the general political climate as American commanders-in-chief executed the power of the country’s military forces. . . . Ample detail and enticing storytelling.”—Publishers Weekly
“This spirited account, reminiscent of The Oxford History of the United States, will captivate history buffs and interest scholars of the institutional presidency and the Constitution.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“Exceptional storytelling. . . . Beschloss sweeps across more than 160 years, delving into presidential decision-making in eight wars from the early 19th century to Vietnam. Along the way, he paints rich portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and other larger-than-life leaders whose choices determined the fates of millions and redirected the flow of history.”—Mark Atwood Lawrence, The Boston Globe
"Filled with fascinating insights. . . . A compelling work on the necessary qualities and dangers for wartime presidents."—Albert R. Hunt, Bloomberg
“Beschloss sounds the alarm about the president’s power to drag the nation into war. . . . Well-crafted. . . . Excellent.”—NPR
“A fascinating look at US presidential history and how leaders from James Madison to present times have dealt with the pressures and difficult decisions of war.”—The New York Post
"A monumental cautionary tale. . . . Vividly written, Presidents of War is a sobering and timely look at our commander-in-chief’s awesome war-making powers, and how those powers can so easily circumvent our Constitution.” —Chris Patsielis, Philadelphia Inquirer
Beschloss (Presidential Courage), NBC's presidential historian, returns with his ninth book on the American presidency, this time investigating eight presidents who served during wartime and how they interpreted their constitutional authority. The author reveals James Madison, James Polk, Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson as strong leaders who expanded their command, often resulting in the loss of congressional support and public confidence. All of these presidents—George H.W. Bush and George Bush are not included because the author considers their terms too recent to be judged historically—are thoroughly and skillfully vetted with mixed results. The worst excesses include Polk's lying to ignite the 1848 Mexican War, Roosevelt's incarceration of Japanese Americans, and Johnson's politics that made the Vietnam War fought mostly by the poor and minorities. Notable examples of statesmanship include Lincoln's openness with Congress, Madison's support of civil liberties during the War of 1812, and McKinley's transforming the United States into a world power. VERDICT This spirited account, reminiscent of The Oxford History of the United States, will captivate history buffs and interest scholars of the institutional presidency and the Constitution. [See Prepub Alert, 4/9/18.]—Karl Helicher, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
The renowned historian explores America's wars through its presidents.
In another masterful work of research, NBC News presidential historian Beschloss (Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989, 2007, etc.) demonstrates his erudite grasp of the history of the executive branch. The Founders gave Congress the power to "declare" (not make) war; the executive has power only to repel attacks. The author begins with the War of 1812 and notes that it was the most unpopular war ever, including Vietnam. As Beschloss writes, "the 1812 conflict proved to be the first major test of this constitutional system for waging war. The Mexican-American War, under James Polk, began after the Thornton Affair in 1846, when American troops actually provoked an attack. That gave Polk the excuse to pursue Manifest Destiny and seize land all the way to the Pacific Ocean; he also expanded slavery. Again, this went against the Founders' wish to end the monarchical habit of waging war for secret reasons under false pretenses. In all American wars, opponents have been marginalized as unpatriotic, but Lincoln and the Civil War were different. He wouldn't ask Congress for a declaration of war because he would never accept the legality of secession. He did, however, wait patiently for the attack on Fort Sumter, and his extraordinary authority was affirmed by Congress and the courts. The Spanish-American War was triggered by the explosion of the Maine in Havana Harbor. While he didn't necessarily want Cuba, it gave President William McKinley the chance to annex Hawaii and, in a clear case of mission creep, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. On another tack, Woodrow Wilson did all he could to avoid war. Beschloss goes on to skillfully cover World War II and Vietnam. As he clearly shows throughout this illuminating narrative, during every war, the president has received extraordinary powers; some used it well, while others abused it.
The author's highly readable style and ability to pinpoint the most relevant facts make this a perfect book for any student of American history and its presidents.
|Publisher:||Penguin Random House|
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