A C-SPAN publication that employs surveys of historians to rank the American presidents, featuring lightly edited transcripts of interviews with historians who have published about each POTUS.
Because Donald Trump has not yet completed his term, he is not included in the rankings, but near the end, there is a transcript of a conversation among three historians about him—a fairly moderate, mostly nonjudgmental conversation. The pieces about each president are generally uniform in length (a dozen pages or so) and include basic biographical information with a justification for the reason that he has achieved his status. Unsurprisingly, Lincoln is at the top and James Buchanan at the bottom. Among the pleasures of the texts are the little-known—and sometimes quirky—details about the presidents: George Washington didn’t like to be touched; Teddy Roosevelt saw the last live passenger pigeon; James Monroe nearly fought a duel with Alexander Hamilton; John Quincy Adams loved the work of Lord Byron. Also intriguing are the factoids that do not appear—e.g., the chapter on Franklin Pierce doesn’t mention that Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his campaign biography and that Pierce was with the author of The Scarlet Letter when he died. The issue of slavery comes up continually—no surprise since many of the early presidents owned slaves—and some writers try to soften this by mentioning how this was another time. Some of the contributors who deal with the low-ranking presidents (Harding, Pierce, Buchanan, and others) manage to find some things to admire: Harding appointed a great Cabinet; Buchanan was highly qualified. The contributor list is impressive: Douglas Brinkley, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Harold Holzer, David Maraniss, Robert Caro, Amity Shlaes, Evan Thomas, and Edna Greene Medford, among many others.
A text that will serve both as a solid reference work and as a milepost in the evolving and ever changing reputations of our presidents.