Borrowing the “dream team” trope from superhero comics, O’Brien invites readers to evaluate each of 39 dead presidents (George Washington through Ronald Reagan, excepting Jimmy Carter) on his merits.
Claiming that “every good team needs Brains, Brawn, a Loose Cannon, a Moral Compass, and a Roosevelt,” the author first presents his own picks. (His Roosevelt is TR.) Each chapter begins with a crowning epithet, important dates, family information, and a “Fun Fact.” Franklin Pierce “Is Handsome but Ultimately Useless”; FDR is “Rolling Thunder.” Black-and-white illustrations riff on the superhero and comics motifs. O’Brien’s essays are a rambling mix of fact, opinion, and jokey bluster. Andrew Jackson’s exploits as a soldier and compulsive duelist crowd out much mention of his actual presidency. Woodrow Wilson, “The Half-Dead President,” is cast as highly accomplished but wracked with physical ailments. Post–World War I, as he stumped relentlessly, promoting his unpopular League of Nations idea, “his body started falling apart in a really bizarre way.…morphing so that his appearance began to match his inner anger/craziness.” O’Brien unequivocally condemns Wilson’s racism, claiming of presidents who owned slaves, “Most of those guys were less racist than Wilson.”
These portraits, while mightily jaundiced by the author’s selectivity and perspective, do offer readers a warts-and-all look at two centuries of presidential leadership and politics. (further reading, websites, bibliography, source notes) (Collective biography. 10-13)