It's hard to write an interesting biography of a dull person. One approach is to do a "Life and Times" which would have worked especially well her, because the events of the 1920's are fascinating in themselves. I was left with no idea whatsoever why Calvin Coolidge wanted to be president, except, perhaps, to shave a few nickles off the national debt through what is now called supply-side economics. I am curious why Amity Shlaes thought this biography worth writing.
I've learned that I prefer biographies of great, or at least interesting, people. A president is not worth an exhaustive biography simply because our political system happened to cough him up.
I believe this was my first experience with Terence Aselford. His reading was excellent.
I'm an insomniac, and the book succeeded in putting me to sleep several times.
1) I had a higher opinion of Calvin Coolidge before I listened to this than I do now.
2) I would suggest avoiding biographies of Franklin Pierce as well.
A unique history of the first months of the Civil War, told mainly in selected, highly detailed, and richly textured vignettes emblematic of the issues looming over the country at large. Mr. Goodheart by limiting his focus to this narrow but pivotal time period has given us a feel for the perplexing, frightening challenges facing the United States as it stumbled into an unknowable internecine war. These were history-shaping, ethos-changing months for our country, months that standard Civil War surveys pass over too quickly on their way to the "real" war.
More narrative than history. Read it once, but don't use it as a history reference book. Manchester relies too often on contemporary popular journalism, and a lot of the material has been contradicted by more recent and more scholarly research. After reading the book 20 years ago, I felt I "knew" a lot of things that are now considered just plain wrong. Further, as the book approaches the end-point of 1973 it becomes myopic. (For example, the phony Howard Hughes biography seemed far more important in '73 than it does now.) The Watergate onion was just starting to be unpeeled when the book closes and Nixon is reelected, so we're left hanging, feeling like we've lost the last pages of a mystery novel. Had Manchester known the conclusion of the Watergate scandal, the part of the story he did write about would need to be reshaped.
That said, the book has a great narrative sweep, and a sort of elegant architecture. Forgotten trivia, fads, and cultural artifacts are exhumed and examined. Astonishingly fatuous political utterances and marmoreal editorial pronouncements from the past are trotted out and given the raspberries they deserve. Moreover, Manchester is a lucid storyteller, and refreshingly, his political tendencies (left) give the whole enterprise some spine and forward motion. He successfully shows how, and why, the United States went from point A to point B over 40 event-filled years, and I came away feeling I understood my grandparents, my parents, and my country a little better.
Theodore Roosevelt comes to life, largely through his words and those of people who knew him. It's biography as good as it gets.
Morris unearths and culls an ocean of original data and molds it into a page-turning narrative. TR was a voluminous reader, a polished published author of popular books, a gripping orator, and he kept exhaustive diaries. (The same cannot be said for many interesting historical figures, who, as a result, inspire dreary, lifeless biographies.) We get a sense of who he was from boyhood, a highly intelligent, energetic workaholic with the power to focus on any issue or challenge he tackled.. Though we can't experience TR's charisma first-hand, with this biography we have come closer.
I don't share all Roosevelt's passions, but I always envy his doggedly focused energy, ethics, attention to detail, and almost pugnacious readiness to confront his opponents. Whatever he chose to do he did with his whole soul, with a kind of joyful combativeness. And, remarkably, he was able to juggle a tricky political climate, while maintaining his personal integrity.
This is an enriching, animated portrait befitting our most dynamic, driven, and perhaps manic, president.
Just when I thought I knew everything there was to dislike about Nixon, along comes this book. Intriguing insights about the roots of the current political divide. Leftish point of view, but honest about the left's dropping the ball when the field seemed wide open after 1964. I found the book exceptionally well read, though, as others have commented, the mispronunciation of familiar names almost made me jump out of my shoes.
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