Thursday, November 5, 2020

Author in Chief: The Untold Stories of the Presidents and the Books They Wrote (Craig Fehrman)

Craig Fehrman’s Author In Chief details a selection of America’s presidents and the evolution of book writing style over America’s history. Our nation’s past presidents have long written books for various reasons - Thomas Jefferson wrote a first person review of Virginia as a way to share his views of the state to the wider (European) audience, with the shift to books for campaigning taking place with the use of the Lincoln-Douglas debates by Abraham Lincoln in the run-up to 1860. The nation’s thirst for learning more about the person in the office (not necessarily the gunk of the political process), combined with the country’s increasing economic and marketing machine, has changed the game for presidential writing arguably more than the men who have occupied the office.

Fehrman’s book captures the transformation in great detail, including first-person letters and dialogue from presidents and those close to them. Not every president is covered in this book, but a large swath of attention is given to those whose book or books has changed the course of how presidents wrote...and ultimately wrote about themselves. If you ever wanted to know more about the man known as “Silent Cal” (Calvin Coolidge) for being a man of few words, this book will show how much his writing changed the game for the presidential memoir.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and students of history - and presidential history - will find it well worth their time to read.