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The Presidents: The Transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama Paperback – 7 May 2009


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Product details

  • Paperback: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Edition edition (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141042451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141042459
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 14 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 177,736 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Graubard takes us to the heart of the hidden nexus of power at the White House' Sunday Telegraph 'A magesterial tour d'horizon of the changing 20th-century presidency ... lucid and provocative' Sunday Times

About the Author

Stephen Graubard was editor of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences from 1961 to 1999. He taught for many years at Brown and Harvard Universities. He first visited the White House in 1944 at the invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt, and has known many US Presidents and their main advisors since.

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mike on 13 Dec. 2006
Format: Paperback
You know this is going to be something special as soon as you set eyes on the delightfully subtle cover, which depicts the back of a chair over which one can see a tuft of Presidential hair. Theoretically it could be any of the Twentieth Century Presidents (barring the more follically challenged individuals to have held the office). But on closer inspection, a tiny plaque on the back of the chair reveals the identity of said President. It reads 'Jan.20th 1961'.

The cover is just one telling example of Stephen Graubard's deftness that is on show in this seminal work. He charts the office of President from Theodore Roosevelt right through to the incumbent, George W. Bush, devoting a chapter to each. These chapters are often more revealing and provide greater detail than many full biographical accounts that have been published of the most powerful men of the last century.

But this isn't simply a chronological timeline of each administration. Graubard begins and ends the book with chapters examining the office of President, its influences, its controversies, its ambiguities and its virtues. He informs his analysis with an excellent reading of the work of Tocqueville and of the Founding Fathers. Clearly, Graubard believes that the Twentieth and Twenty-first Century Presidencies can not be understood without a grounding in American history as a whole.

But make no mistake. This book does not require the reader to have an all-encompassing knowledge of US history and politics. Far from it. Graubard's writing illuminates every Presidency and will educate all who choose to read it. Anybody, from the swottiest Graduate Student to the layman in US history and politics, will take something from devoting time to reading and digesting this work. If you're going to by one book on the United States, make it this remarkable volume. You won't be let down.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Christian Walker on 18 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book seeks to provide an overarching narrative for the American Presidency over the course of the 'long' 20th Century - from the start of Teddy Roosevelt's Presidency in 1901 to the conclusion of the George W. Bush Presidency, in 2008. Whilst the title mentions Barack Obama, I think this is more of a marketing ploy than an indication of what's in the book - given that it was written before Obama began his Presidency, he is mentioned in a concluding chapter, in terms of what his Presidency might herald; he is not dealt with on the same terms as every other President.

Graubard has a couple of interweaving threads running through the book. The first is that Presidents are, for a variety of reasons, fundamentally mediocre individuals. This provides a somewhat refreshing history, as the author goes out of his way to explain the flaws of, for example, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan - men not necessarily prone to especially critical appraisals of their character and Presidency. The second theme running through the book concerns the growing prominence of the Presidency in relation to the other facets of the Federal Government, and its steady monopolization of power, specifically concerning foreign and security policy. This is done with great aplomb, interspersed with facts and humour which both demonstrate the author's deep well of knowledge as well as help the reader digest what might otherwise be a fairly dry, academic tract. And the third theme, not so forcefully made as the others but still present all the same, concerns the importance of 'courtiers' in determining the success or failure of a Presidency - that is, the individuals, be they Cabinet members or advisors, who surround the President.
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Format: Hardcover
When I first laid eyes on this book I flicked through from cover to cover quickly coming to the conclusion that it would be 'hard going' and on the whole, unnecessary - much like this review. Despite this I bought it because I had need to do some background reading on civil rights in America 1860-1980, and this book seemed the most coprehensive as from a presidential perspective. Due to the fact that I was doing background research and mostly skim reading, when my project was complete the book sat on the shelf for months largely untouched.

A little while after Obama's inauguration that I seized the oppurtunity to read up on his predecessors. Reading with little knowledge of T. Roosevelt or those who followed him up to JFK (shamefully I must add I had forgotten William Taft had held office), this lacking knowledge didn't seem to shadow my understanding at all. Many academic works of this nature expect a comprehensive knowledge of the subject. Graubard writes at a distance that keeps his work clear, concise and interesting. Furthermore, what overwhelms is Graubard's depth of knowledge with great analysis throughout and more references and sources than I dare count.

Overall, it's a great book to read and if you've any interest in the Presidency then this book deserves it's place on your bookshelf!
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By H. Rogers on 13 Dec. 2014
Format: Paperback
An excellant potted history and commentary on the US presidents from the beginning of the twentieth century. From a non American point of view what makes this history even more fascinating is the the views of the relevant foreign leaders - very few thought highly of Eisenhower or Carter, never mind Bush junior - which the author has researched to give a more balanced domestic and foreign view of each president. What is equally fascinating is that the author has striped away the mythology surrounding each leader to reveal a surprising number of unremarkable individuals- no one every accused Eisenhower, Ford, Carter, Regan or the two Bushes of being intellectuals. Two criticisms of the book are that the author is perhaps too diplomatic in his assessments and one has to read between the lines and also (perhaps given his background) at times he gives too much weight to foreign affairs and not sufficent attention to the domestic economy. In addition there is the assumption that readers are already well versed in the politics of the era, making the book inappropriate for someone who is not. On the whole, however,an excellent commentary on the differing individuals who have inhabited the White House.
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