The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency

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9780395788899: The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency

What makes some presidents triumphant leaders and others disastrous failures? How has the presidency evolved from the institution established by the Founding Fathers? Which president was the first to be elected with no previous political experience? In this wonderfully engaging book, readers will discover the answers to such questions and gain a rich understanding of the personalities, policies, and tragic flaws of our nation's chief executives. With forty-one essays in all, by such eminent historians as Eric Foner, Joyce Appleby, James Henretta, Alan Taylor, Jean Baker, Robert Dallek, Drew McCoy, and Karen Orren, THE READER'S COMPANION showcases some of the most provocative interpretive history being written today. Was Madison, for example, an indecisive bungler who led his country to war or a principled politician whose leadership was appropriate to his time? Ranging from the tragedy of Hoover's administration to Johnson's Great Society, from Carter's human rights agenda to the current administration's challenges, these engagingly written pieces shed light on the hubris, and sometimes the brilliance, of our leaders. Fully illustrated with timelines, data boxes, and short essays on presidential families, this book is an indispensable resource for the serious historian and the curious reader alike.

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Review:

Editors Alan Brinkley and Davis Dyer have compiled an excellent reference volume with The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency, a set of intelligent minibiographies on the commanders in chief. Everyone gets his due, from George Washington to Bill Clinton (whose entry is current enough to cover his impeachment in 1998 and Senate trial in 1999). Even William Henry Harrison, the man who served for only a month--he reportedly caught a fatal cold at his inauguration--receives seven pages of attention. "If Harrison's presidency was insignificant," writes Marc W. Kruman, "his pursuit of the office transformed the history of American presidential elections." Several of the contributors offer reduced versions of full-length biographies they have already written, such as William McFeely on Ulysses S. Grant and Robert Dallek on Lyndon B. Johnson. Some of the authors editorialize only casually, while others come down hard on their subjects, such as Roger Morris on Richard Nixon: "There was also something dark and ugly about his long and never peaceful public career, in which muck and money were inescapable, inseparable from politics or policy." By and large, however, the entries are respectful each is a good summary of its man, and all include a brief bibliographic note suggesting to readers where they can go to learn more. The Reader's Companion to the American Presidency is a welcome addition to any personal library on U.S. history. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Alan Brinkley has been a professor of American history at Columbia University since 1991. During the past academic year, he has held the position of Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University. He is the author of, among other books, Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, and The Great Depression, which won the American Book Award for history. Brinkley currently resides in New York. Davis Dyer is a founding partner of the Winthrop Group, Inc., a consulting company of historians and archivists, with offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and New York City. He is a widely published author in business and exonomic history and management studies. Recent publications include TRW: Pioneering Technology and Innovation Since 1900 (Boston: Harvard Buiness School Press, 1998); (with Daniel Gross) The Generations of Corning: The Life and Times of an American Company (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2001); and (with Nitin Nohria and Frederick A. B. Dalzell), Falling Fortunes: The Waning of the Industrial Corporation at the End of the American Century (New York: Wiley, forthcoming 2001). Dyer earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in history at Harvard University, taught at Boston College, and served as an associate editor of the Harvard Business Review before joining Winthrop Group in 1986.

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Alan Brinkley Professor (Editor), Davis Dyer Founding Director (Editor)
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