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A selection of ten Presidents of the United States, ranging chronologically from Washington to Truman, who in the author's view made momentous decisions while in office. Mr. Tobin devotes an essay to each one which endeavors to recreate the circumstances and the importance of the decision involved. The Presidents included are Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Arthur, Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Truman. A great many sources have been used, the style is at once gossipy and admiring, and there are occasional references to Presidents previously discussed. The result is a sort of Reader's Digest view of American History: Jackson Invented the spoils system to get back at the men who had slandered his wife, and Chester Arthur becomes a good President in spite of his interest in clothes and possessions and his bad associates. There is one element in this book which is open to grave question. The impression is strongly conveyed that a ""great"" President is one who outsteps his constitutional limits. Of all the decisions made by Abraham Lincoln, for instance, the one picked for inclusion in this book is his suspension of habeas corpus, and although the author states that it was necessary, he falls to make clear the reasons why. Instead, he states: ""only great Presidents see ultimate goals and sweep all else aside to achieve them."" He also calls on his readers to admire the innovations of F.D.R. in his first days in office, ""though to accomplish the end meant asking for and being granted dangerous dictatorial powers no President had ever asked nor been granted before his time."" A discussion of our system of balance of powers might have counteracted this seeming power-worship; without it, the level of historical analysis is too superficial and the result is a dangerously inadequate book -- all the more dangerous for being vividly written.

Pub Date: April 6th, 1961
Publisher: World