Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote

“One of the best books on the American presidency to appear in recent years.” —Thomas Mallon, The Wall Street Journal

From the publisher: “Based on a decade of research and reporting, Author in Chief tells the story of America’s presidents as authors—and offers a delightful new window into the public and private lives of our highest leaders.”

I read a lot of presidential history. I mean, a lot. Knowing quite a bit about many of the presidents made me wonder what new information could be provided in a book about the presidents’ own books. Author in Chief is not just a history of books written by presidents, but also a history on publishing in America from colonial times to the present. In case you are wondering, the presidents garnering the most attention are:

  •  Jefferson
  • Adams
  • Washington, plus Jefferson / Madison / Monroe
  • Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams
  • Lincoln
  • Grant
  • Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
  • Coolidge
  • Theodore Roosevelt / Coolidge / FDR
  • Truman
  • JFK
  • Reagan
  • Obama

It is curious the presidents the author, Craig Fehrman, chose to gloss over, like Jimmy Carter, who has written at least a dozen books, or Richard Nixon, who was also prolific. Once Author in Chief gets to the modern age, there’s not much to like beyond Calvin Coolidge and Barack Obama, according to him, that is. He didn’t like Theodore Roosevelt or his works, the hate for John Kennedy just oozes off the page (as it should since Kennedy didn’t actually do much writing), he didn’t like Ronald Reagan’s blockbuster bestseller, didn’t like Truman’s memoirs but loved David McCullough’s biography of him. The critiques in Author in Chief are for both sides of the political aisle, so it is hard to tell how the author votes, which is praise indeed for a book that could be biased one way or another.

Many presidents wrote more than their autobiographies as mentioned in Author in Chief. There’s an appendix that highlights the presidents’ best works, and it isn’t always their autobiography. The list includes:

Author in Chief is well worth the read if you are interested in presidential history like me.

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