Review: Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought)


Lives of the PresidentsLives of the Presidents

Image: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In school we learn lots of dry facts about our presidents. We learn when they took office, if they were assassinated, major decisions they made, how they fought wars. But what of their personalities and home life? What did they do for fun? What did people think of them personally? If you’re lucky, you do learn a bit of this in school, but usually only if you seek the information.

Here’s a quick solution to the likely hole in your knowledge. Now updated with President Obama, Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought) shows what the men who have been president were really like as people: as men, husbands, fathers, neighbors. What their quirks were. What they were like at home. It’s a light-hearted and fun but very factual look at the many leaders of our country.

The Table of Contents lists each president, from Washington to Obama, along with how many terms they served and during what years. Then in chronological order, the presidents are profiled in the book. Each one is quite accurately depicted in a playful drawing, with the more recent and notable presidents having a full body view along with items that were somehow associated with them. Many also have drawings of their first lady. The notable presidents have a few pages of information on their lives and presidencies, and the less notable ones have a good paragraph about who they were as people. Each president has information on their birth and death, and many also have a sentence summing up their major lifetime contributions.

This book is a fun and uncommon look into who the presidents were as people, while mostly only touching on their presidencies. You’ll learn many facts that you’ve never heard before. The images of the presidents and their first ladies are so well done, you’ll probably come back to the book for them even more than for the excellent text. The quirky details in each image will drive you to the text to learn what they are in reference to. For example, Ulysses S. Grant’s cucumbers. Or Abraham Lincoln’s goat. Or Ike’s pancakes.

I know I’ll be reading this book again with my kids when we study presidents and American history. Though they may steal it from me before then.

If your idea of fascinating history is to find out what people were really like, not just names, dates and battles, then I highly recommend Lives of the Presidents. This American Studies major enjoyed it thoroughly. Other books in this series include Lives of the Pirates, Lives of the Musicians, Lives of the Writers, Lives of the Artists, Lives of the Athletes and Lives of Extraordinary Women. I can only imagine that they are just as interesting. While the Lives of… books are intended for children, anyone interested in the real people behind the names will enjoy them.

Lives of the Presidents: Fame, Shame (and What the Neighbors Thought) retails for $21.00.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review purposes.

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