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Hail to the Chief: Presidential Biographies

Updated: June 2, 2018

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Abraham Lincoln
McGovern, George S. (George Stanley), 1922-2012.
Call Number: 92 L736Mc

Pressed for time? The late George McGovern wrote a concise 208 page biography of Lincoln as part of the Times Books American Presidents Series. McGovern hits the high points in Lincoln’s career, each of which was marked by a famous speech. The author is not afraid to point out some of the short cuts Lincoln took with civil liberties during the Civil War, however.

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The fiery trial : Abraham Lincoln and American slavery
Foner, Eric.
Call Number: 973.7 F673-1

Foner won a Pulitzer Prize in History for this book. He writes about Lincoln’s changing stances on slavery, one of the most hotly debated topics among historians. Was Lincoln “The Great Emancipator” or was it much more complex? The answer: it’s complicated....

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Final freedom : the Civil War, the abolition of slavery, and the Thirteenth Amendment
Vorenberg, Michael, 1964-
Call Number: 973.714 V953

If you are curious as to how faithful the film Lincoln was to the actual Congressional battles over the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment, this is the book to read. Vorenberg covers all the details and more about how Lincoln got the Congress to take what was an extraordinary step: amending the Constitution to abolish slavery. Prior to 1865, the Constitution was considered so sacred and unchangeable, some in Congress argued that amending the Constitution was unconstitutional.

James Buchanan
Baker, Jean H.
Call Number: 92 B919Ba
A brief, yet potent, eviscerating of perhaps America's worst president ever.

John Adams
McCullough, David G.
Call Number: 92 A214Mc
The source for the HBO miniseries. Long, but easily readable book.

The life of Andrew Jackson
Remini, Robert Vincent, 1921-
Call Number: 92 J123Re-5 2001
Condensation of the three-volume epic about the guy whose face we see at ATMs all the time.

Donald, David Herbert, 1920-2009.
Call Number: 92 L736Dona 1996
The definitive one-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln is crammed with factual detail.

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Lincoln at Cooper Union : the speech that made Abraham Lincoln president
Holzer, Harold.
Call Number: 973.7 H762
The title of this book may make you think that the author is trying to oversell the importance of one speech in Lincoln’s career, but it is not. In February of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was not widely known outside of Illinois. However, people supporting his presidential candidacy arranged for Lincoln to address the Cooper Union, at the time a new college in New York City looking for a more prominent profile. Lincoln gave a well-received speech opposing the extension of slavery into Federal territories, which was THE hot button issue of the time. Lincoln’s notoriety soared, eventually winning him the Republican nomination in 1860 and then the White House.

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Lincoln at Gettysburg : the words that remade America
Wills, Garry, 1934-
Call Number: 973.7 W741

The Gettysburg Address is 272 words long. Wills wrote a 317 page long book about the speech (which includes several appendices and notes). You can decide if that is too much or too little. The book is not just about one speech, but how the Gettysburg Address compares to other famous speeches in history.

No ordinary time : Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt : the home front in World War II
Goodwin, Doris Kearns.
Call Number: 92 R7792Goo
No Ordinary Time exhaustively covers the war years, the most tumultuous time in FDR's presidency and the Roosevelts's marriage. This is the only dual biography of the Roosevelts that fully acknowledges Eleanor's commitment to the war effort.

Polk : the man who transformed the presidency and America
Borneman, Walter R., 1952-
Call Number: 92 P768Bo
The obscure, yet powerful president who expanded the nation and also set it on the path to Civil War.

President Reagan : the role of a lifetime
Cannon, Lou.
Call Number: 92 R2879Ca-1
Conclusion of a long series about the 40th President by a man who followed his political career from the outset.

Team of rivals : the political genius of Abraham Lincoln
Goodwin, Doris Kearns.
Call Number: 92 L736Goo

Officially, the screenplay for Lincoln is adapted from this very popular work. While it does not deal very much with the battle to adopt the 13th Amendment, you can learn about how Lincoln dealt with his contentious Cabinet. Lincoln needed a strong group to help him through the crisis that awaited him.

Theodore Rex
Morris, Edmund.
Call Number: 92 R781Morr-1
Part of a series examining a transformational figure in American history.

An unfinished life : John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
Dallek, Robert.
Call Number: 92 K35Dal
The author was given unprecedented access to Kennedy's medical records, and reveals a disquieting and sometimes disturbing look at how sick the 35th President was during his entire life.

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Year of meteors : Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the election that brought on the Civil War
Egerton, Douglas R.
Call Number: 973.711 E29

When Lincoln was elected President in 1860, he won with just 39.8% of the vote, the lowest percentage in American history. Why did this happen? For starters, Lincoln and the Republicans were not on the ballot in the South. And there were four major candidates running. The Democrats held five different conventions and nominated two different tickets. This confusion made it easy for a relatively unknown, but extremely ambitious, lawyer from Illinois to claim the Presidency.