David Bruce's precise, perceptive coverage of America's first 16 presidents from Colonial Days to the Civil War has, strangely enough, some of Seutonius' flair for historical and psychological compression, though lacking, of course, his famed sexual paraphernalia. Anyway, Jefferson and Lincoln get the longest assessments, but John Adams and Washington, following the current revisionist trend, wind up with the brightest laurels. Others of note: Madison and religious freedom, Jackson and the rise of the common man, Van Buren and the beginnings of political bossism. Some startlers: Monroe was a ""mediocre man""; Taylor, who died from indigestion, was succeeded by Fillmore, a ""political corpse""; Buchanan was ""mild as milk"", Pierce ""lonely, despised"". Personalia: Adams detental Hamilton, his son Quincy abhorred Jackson and Johnson, old Andy was generally ""agin"" everybody and a Virginia belle, not Martha, was the great love of Washington's life. At times better names, bigger issues carry the tales (Franklin, Clay, Webster, Calhoun, Emerson; the Rio Grande and the Alamo, the Seminole War and New Orleans). In 16 essays the great, near-great and the small emerge intelligently, informatively, aptly reflecting the temper of the times and the public and private lives shaping it.