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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning..., 13 Dec. 2006
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This review is from: The Presidents: The Transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush (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
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible in its scope, but flawed, 18 Jun. 2012
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Christian Walker (Bristol, England) - See all my reviews
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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.

The tone of the book is mostly quite moderate, with the authors arguments generally well-reasoned, as one would expect from an academic of Graubard's repute, and grounded in fact. The aforementioned themes are expanded upon, and the overall argument is persuasive.

But there are a couple of issues. Firstly, the scope of the book means - necessarily - that a lot is left out. With around 20-40 pages per President, what you have is very much a whistle-stop tour of four-eight years of foreign and domestic policy. As such, I think this is a great book for anyone just starting out, who wants to know more about 'the Presidency' and its office-holders during the twentieth-century, but isn't quite sure where to start in terms of the great tomes you can buy which focus on individual Presidents. This book provides an excellent intellectual overview, of both the office and the men who have held it. For me at least, it has given me some much-needed focus in determining which specific Presidents and aspects of policy I want to know more about, in greater detail.

The second issue is that whilst the book is generally critical of all the Presidents, it is clear that Graubard comes at this topic as a Democrat or, at least, sympathetic to traditional Democrat-Party values. Republican Presidents are often especially incompetent, whilst Democrats such as Clinton are often chastised for abandoning their Party values. Given the book's necessary brevity, this allows for Graubard to cherry-pick facts he wishes to include, to paint a picture more to his own liking. For instance, we get pages dedicated to Lyndon Johnson's domestic programme, with the conclusion that he was a much misunderstood man who accomplished a great deal, whilst Nixon was an irrevocably poor President owing to Watergate (10+ pages), in spite of everything he achieved in foreign policy terms (1 page, at the beginning). I don't necessarily disagree with these conclusions, but given that Graubard presents his book as an intellectualised account of the Office and its holders during the 20th Century, it can be a little surprising when it dawns on you (about half-way through) that whilst he doesn't like Democrats, he REALLY doesn't like Republicans.

That said, this is a good book. It is an excellent starting-point for anyone interested in American politics of the last century and how they continue to drive the politics of the 21st Century. Whilst the bias can, at times, be a little... irksome, the book is by no means polemical, and should be enjoyable to those of any political persuasion.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Graubard's analysis: cool, calm and collective.. Brilliant!, 6 Nov. 2010
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Less than immortals, 13 Dec. 2014
By 
H. Rogers - See all my reviews
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More to each President than meets the eye, 19 July 2013
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This is a big book, but it covers big personalities.
This is the course book for a study module that I am undertaking for undergrdauate study.
If the book is anything to go by the course will be a roller coaster of peronalities and their achievements and failures.
Everyone knows about 'trickie Dickie' but what of ' Peanuts Carter '.
A good read..
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dipping Your Toe in the Water, 26 Nov. 2007
This review is from: The Presidents: The Transformation of the American Presidency from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush (Paperback)
A general interest in 20th century American history and a desire to understand better the Office of the President prompted me to buy the book. As a good read it is a good book but do not expect too much scholarly detail. It is however a book that will create interest where none existed before and other authors with more exhaustive assessments of the individuals lurking between the covers should be grateful for the increase in sales which will come about as a result of this well written and informative addition to the genre.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good HIstory, 20 Nov. 2014
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Avery illuminating summary of the changes in the constitutional scope of the Presidency in the 20th century.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great book about US Presidents, 16 Nov. 2014
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This is one of the best book about US President I ever read.
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