Reading List: Presidents’ Day

A nonfiction book list for suggested reading this Presidents’ Day. 

Affection and Trust is a riveting collection that follows Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson, two giants of the post–World War II period who were primarily responsible for the Marshall Plan and NATO, among other world-shaping initiatives, as they move from an official relationship to one of candor, humor, and personal expression. In these letters, spanning the years from when both were newly out of office until Acheson’s death at the age of seventy-eight, we find them sharing the often surprising and always illuminating opinions, ideas, and feelings that the strictures of their offices had previously kept them from revealing.

A Lincoln Dialogue cross-examines Lincoln’s major statements, papers, and initiatives in light of the comments and criticism of his supporters and detractors. Drawn from letters and newspapers, pamphlets and reports, these statements and responses constitute a unique documentary examination of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

George H.W. Bush shows how Bush’s courtesy and belief in work, religion, and American exceptionalism helped the patrician connect with Middle America and take his place among the most revered statesmen of his time. Author Curt Smith worked with Bush for more than twenty years, including during his presidency, when Smith wrote more speeches for Bush than anyone else. Smith’s exploration of Bush’s service includes in-depth narratives on the invasion of Panama, the first Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain.

Inside the White House in War Times is the memoir of William O. Stoddard’s time in the Executive Mansion. Of the three secretaries who assisted President Abraham Lincoln—John G. Nicolay, John Hay, and Stoddard—only Stoddard wrote an extended memoir. First published in 1890, the book vividly depicts the president’s agonizing reaction to the defeats at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the difficulties encountered (and presented) by Mary Lincoln, the president’s relations with George B. McClellan and other generals, and the anxiety preceding the Merrimack’s epic battle with the Monitor.

John F. Kennedy takes a look at Kennedy’s wide-ranging efforts to change the world, author Stephen Rabe devotes chapters to U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, Cuba, Latin America, and Vietnam. Rabe also evaluates Kennedy’s approach to India, China, Egypt, and Israel and such African nations as Algeria, Angola, and South Africa. The author concludes by exploring whether Kennedy was contemplating a new approach toward the Soviet Union, one that, had Kennedy lived to see reelection, might have soon ushered in the era of détente.

Upstairs at the Roosevelts’ (Potomac Books, July 2017) offers anecdotes and revelations from the perspective of Curtis Roosevelt (1930-2016), a grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. From Eleanor’s shocking role in the remarriage of Curtis’s mother to visits from naughty cousins and trips to the “Home Farm,” this book provides an intimate perspective on the dynamics of one of America’s most famous families and those who visited, were friends, and sometimes even enemies.