The Presidents: A Reference History

ISBN 13: 9780684804712

The Presidents: A Reference History

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9780684804712: The Presidents: A Reference History

An essential resource for all American history buffs, this monumental work offers a comprehensive narrative history of the American presidency from the institution of the office in 1789 to the election of Bill Clinton to his second term in 1996. Each chapter is essentially a biography of an administration, not just the man. Also included is a chapter surveying the many roles the First Ladies have played on the national stage. 43 photos.

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Review:

In The Presidents: A Reference History United States presidents from George Washington to William Jefferson Clinton are profiled in depth. A quick browse through John A. Garraty's piece on Grover Cleveland reveals that not only was Cleveland the 22nd and the 24th president of the United States, but also that he had a popular plurality of 100,000 votes in the election he lost to Benjamin Harrison. In 1881, three years before he became president, Cleveland was but a Buffalo lawyer, stating "No amount of money would tempt me to add to or increase my present work." One further learns that he ran with a coarse crowd, hired a substitute to fight for him in the Civil War, and was the father of an illegitimate child. When you tire of present-day scandals, it's educational to learn about the skeletons that past presidents kept in their closets. Excellently indexed, Henry Graff's work makes for a reliable presidential reference as well as an absorbing and enlightening read.

From Booklist:

Twelve years and three administrations since the first edition (1984), this second edition is a welcome updating of a standard work. Editor Graff (professor emeritus of history at Columbia University) notes in his introduction that "the original essays [were] freshly reviewed and vetted for accuracy and up-to-dateness, in almost every instance by the author." All entries from the first edition have the same authors here, though the entry for Lincoln has an additional contributor. The essays are basically unchanged, although we noted some significant updating to the entry for Eisenhower as well as some subtle changes to various other essays, such as the introductory portion to Theodore Roosevelt's entry. All bibliographies have been updated substantially with noteworthy works added. The three new essays, devoted to the administrations of Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, likewise have excellent annotated bibliographies.

This second edition also features three new appendixes. The first, "The Role of the First Lady," is a 21-page essay that is particularly timely, given the impact recent first ladies have had on the office of the presidency. The second, "Table of Biographical, Political, and Historical Data," features tables on each president, giving basic information on children, religion, term dates, etc., as well as electoral vote totals, appointments, and key events in the administration. The final appendix is a three-page outline of the executive office of the president. The other noteworthy change to this edition is the addition of a black-and-white portrait at the beginning of each entry.

A minor question is why this volume was issued before the end of the Clinton administration. When the first edition was released, the final entry (on Carter) ended with the election of Ronald Reagan. In this edition, the entry on Clinton is obviously left unfinished. David Maraniss' essay acknowledges that the answers to the Whitewater affair "remained unclear as the 1996 presidential race began." Nevertheless, it remains an excellent reference work with readable yet detailed entries. All public and academic libraries will want this exceptionally well-written and reasonably priced volume in their collection.

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Henry F. Graff (Editor)
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