Biographies of every US president as audiobooks

posted 27 September 2019, updated 31 October 2019

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 stopped at George HW Bush 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.

  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

    After Lincoln: How the North Won the Civil War and Lost the Peace by A J Langguth

    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 more 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.

  24. [Cleveland again]

  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

    Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford by Scott Kaufman

    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.

  41. George H W Bush

    Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham

    Recommended. Comprehensive, hagiographic, far too long.

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.