Thumbnail sketches of America’s 43 presidents, highlighting the amusements, pastimes and hobbies that helped each shoulder the weight of office.
Grant and Harding appear never to have risked working too hard while in office, but most chief executives were type-A personalities who had to be coaxed by family and friends into taking time out for pleasure. Reagan, like Lincoln and FDR before him, took refuge in humorous storytelling, a talent foreign to the rigid Polk, Buchanan and both Adamses. For most of our presidents, their job’s all-consuming nature left little time for diversions. Accordingly, Boller (Presidential Campaigns, 2004, etc.) sometimes pads by relating how each man spent his leisure time before and after office. Eisenhower’s and Ford’s football days were long behind them by the time they entered the White House; Jimmy Carter started writing poetry and Bush I took up skydiving after their presidencies ended. Boller’s decision to include a chapter on each of the presidents occasionally leads to strained connections. It’s also a stretch to give each chief exec his very own adjective: “studious” Rutherford B. Hayes, “bookish” James A. Garfield, “doughty” Grover Cleveland, etc. Still, taken together, some interesting trends emerge. Presidential exercise? Watch horseback riding give way to walking, then to running and mountain biking. Presidential reading? See Greek and Roman classics replaced by Zane Grey and Ian Fleming. Swimming, fishing and golf emerge as the most popular presidential sports, cards the favorite game. Boller identifies still another constant: the inescapably political dimension to anything a president does, even how he chooses to spend his leisure. Benjamin Harrison was criticized for boating on Sundays; McKinley and Kennedy both hid their enthusiasm for golf (too “undignified” in 1896, too much like Ike in 1960); and Truman moved his poker games from the White House to the presidential yacht.
Perhaps better dipped into than read through. Still, an entertaining look at presidents at play.