Biographies of every US president as audiobooks
I enjoy reading history, especially in the form of historical biographies. Over the years I've picked up books about several of the founding fathers of the USA, plus major historical figures like FDR, and eventually I realized that I'd covered a big chunk of all the presidents of the USA. So then I went back and decided to fill in all the gaps. I'm currently on president number 41, and I'll be stopping there at the entirely arbitrary line of "latest dead president".
As I've been reading I started tweeting about fun facts about the presidents as I encountered them. Slowly that evolved into longer and longer threads about each president, and some of those threads were quite popular.
So here for ease of consumption is the full list of presidents I've read, which biography I read, a single sentence on what I thought about that biography and if I recommend it, as well as (where available) a link to the tweet or thread about that president.
If this list format doesn't grab you, it's also available as a spreadsheet. I'll update the sheet and this post as I finish the remaining bios.
#1: George Washington
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
Recommended. Fantastic. Deeply researched, engaging, readable, well paced.
#2: John Adams
John Adams by David McCullough
Recommended. Does its very best with a dull as dishwater subject. Detailed and well-written but a slog.
#3: Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
Recommended. Brilliantly written, full of great detail, pulls its punches on some of his darker aspects but doesn't ignore them.
#4: James Madison
The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President by Noah Feldman
Recommended. Detailed and engaging, a little longer than its subject deserves.
#5: James Monroe
The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger
Recommended. Concise, about as long as this shitty dude deserved, but too nice to him.
#6: John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit by James Traub
Recommended. JQA was even duller than his dad. The bio is workmanlike with much less of the color of other bios.
#7: Andrew Jackson
Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H W Brands
Recommended. Military-focused, containing less personal detail than is probably warranted, but very readable.
#8: Martin Van Buren
Martin Van Buren: A Captivating Guide to the Man Who Served as the Eighth President of the United States by Captivating History
Not recommended. Short and cliff notes-y but with some fun details, and very engaging. Best of the cliff-notes bios.
#9: William Henry Harrison
William Henry Harrison: The Life and Legacy of the First American President to Die in Office by Charles River Editors
Not recommended. Just under 2 hours long, a cliff-notes bio. Not great.
#10: John Tyler
John Tyler by Robert J Spitzer
Not recommended. 28 minutes long, a shitty all-the-presidents entry.
#11: James K Polk
Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R Borneman
Recommended. Author wanted to write about Jackson and sort of accidentally wrote about Polk. Not good.
#12: Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor by Paul Finkelman
Not recommended. A 24-minute all-the-presidents entry. Taylor sucked but so does this bio.
#13: Millard Fillmore
Millard Fillmore by Joseph F Rishel
Not recommended. 17 minutes long! The shortest bio yet, a worthless all-the-presidents entry.
#14: Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce by Paul Finkelman
Not recommended. Another all-the-presidents entry. A few fun tidbits.
#15: James Buchanan
Worst. President. Ever. James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser Presidents by Robert Strauss
Recommended. A delightful treatment of a shitty subject, light-hearted but well researched, very engaging.
#16: Abraham Lincoln
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Recommended. DKG has a well-earned reputation as an excellent biographer and Lincoln is an amazing subject. 42 hours of material fly by.
#17: Andrew Johnson
Not recommended. Not really a bio of Johnson, but covers the aftermath of Lincoln so mostly about Johnson. Good but little personal detail about Johnson for that reason.
#18: Ulysses S Grant
American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C White
Recommended. Fantastic book of a truly great and under-rated president. Great details.
#19: Rutherford B Hayes
Rutherford B Hayes by Hans L Trefousse
Not recommended. 5 hours long which is 4 hours longer than its subject deserved. Yawnfest.
#20: James A Garfield
James A Garfield: The 20th President's 200 Days in Office by in60Learning
Recommended. An hour long but left me wanting much more.
#21: Chester A Arthur
The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur by Scott S Greenberger
Recommended. Recommended only for the excellent details of Julia Sand's letters.
#22: Grover Cleveland
An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by H Paul Jeffers
Not recommended. A mediocre bio of a mediocre guy.
#23: Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison by Allan B Spetter
Not recommended. An all-the-presidents series entry, just 22 minutes long, barely worth it.
Cleveland again! The only non-consecutive terms.
#25: William McKinley
William McKinley by Kevin Phillips, Arthur M Schlesinger
Not recommended. An all-the-presidents entry much longer than it needed to be.
#26: Theodore Roosevelt
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Recommended. The first of an epic 3-book series on TR of which I read 2. Definitive and captivating.
#27: William Howard Taft
William Howard Taft: The American Presidents Series: The 27th President, 1909-1913 by Jeffrey Rosen, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Sean Wilentz
Not recommended. Lacks compelling personal details that could have fit in 5 hours. Not compelling.
#28: Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by John Milton Cooper
Recommended. Way too long given how dull Wilson is but well-written.
#29: Warren G Harding
Warren G Harding by James D Robenalt
Not recommended. Short and dull but still not as bad as The Bloviator, which is awful and nobody should read.
#30: Calvin Coolidge
Coolidge by Amity Shlaes
Recommended. A concise and insightful look at an important transitional president.
#31: Herbert Hoover
Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times by Kenneth Whyte
Recommended. I could have read another 50% of this 27-hour book. Fascinating.
#32: Franklin D Roosevelt
FDR by Jean Edward Smith
Recommended. A gem of a book, full of amazing details, and a wonderful subject.
#33: Harry S Truman
Harry S Truman: A Life by Robert H Ferrell
Recommended. Well-written and detailed but insufficiently critical of its surprisingly crooked subject.
#34: Dwight D Eisenhower
Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith
Recommended. Sort of a side-effect of the FDR bio but well-written and workable.
#35: John F Kennedy
An Unfinished Life: John F Kennedy, 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek
Recommended. A good book but cruelly, pointlessly abridged, please release the full thing.
#36: Lyndon B Johnson
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream: The Most Revealing Portrait of a President and Presidential Power Ever Written by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Recommended. A mind-blowing book of amazing depth and quality of writing from an author incredibly close to her subject. Unmissable.
#37: Richard Nixon
Richard Nixon: The Life by John A Farrell
Recommended. Detailed and pulls few punches, full of great personal details.
#38: Gerald Ford
Recommended. Ford truly sucked, and this comprehensive but mercifully concise book covers it well.
#39: Jimmy Carter
President Carter: The White House Years by Stuart E. Eizenstat
Recommended. This bio is WAY TOO LONG for the amount of interest; a book half the length would be fine.
#40: Ronald Reagan
Reagan: The Life by H W Brands
Recommended. Solid and comprehensive; a better book will be written when more stuff is declassified.
- Still to come: George H W Bush.
- I will not be doing: Bill Clinton, George W Bush, Barack Obama or Trump, as they are all still too recent for biographies to have all the facts.