10 Presidential Picks From The Funniest History Class Ever

"Presidents Are People Too!" hosts Alexis Coe and Elliott Kalan weren't born experts on the fascinating, complicated, and strange lives of U.S. presidents — they got there with the help of books like these.

Talk about a powerful ticket: American historian and author Alexis Coe and former Daily Show head writer Elliott Kalan have teamed up to co-host the Audible Original series Presidents Are People Too!, which, according to its website, “turns what was probably one of the least memorable stretches of your American History class into fascinating portraits of real-life people, complete with flaws, quirks, triumphs, scandals, and bodily ailments.”

You can bet this involves plenty of research, wit, snark, and more research, so it follows that they’ve got some phenomenal recommendations. These are the Audible books that they have found to be essential in working on Presidents Are People Too! episodes — including several written by guests on the show.

John Quincy Adams

If you’re most people, all you know about John Quincy Adams is that he was the son of John Adams. Kaplan does a great job of explaining why J.Q. deserves our appreciation and how, even if this cold, grouchy man wasn’t a great president, he was still a great American. And don’t be put off by the narrator pronouncing Quincy as “Quinzy”! As I found out firsthand, that’s just how they say it where J.Q.’s from. –Elliott

Louisa

Louisa Adams has been cast in the long shadow of her celebrated mother-in-law, Abigail, for far too long for such a vivacious, worldly, sharp-witted woman. Raised abroad by American parents during the American Revolution, Louisa was nothing like the New England stock she married into, but she proved essential to her husband’s political ascension, as much as John Quincy Adams' own pedigree. Thomas’ focus is on their passionate, stubborn, and intellectually stimulating marriage and how it fared as they traversed the globe, hobnobbing with Old and New World royalty. This is a master class in 19th-century gender dynamics and history, told in an inviting, novelistic tone. –Alexis

First Family

My life is such that I often find myself reading about our irascible, cantankerous second president, but until Ellis’ First Family, I found John Adams to be a respectable but often frustrating study. That changed when I began to see him through the lens of his relationship with Abigail, his closest personal and political adviser. I developed a genuine warmth towards Adams and a greater appreciation for how his family grew alongside the Republic they helped shape. –Alexis

Nixon in Winter

Richard Nixon is maybe the hardest president to just plain figure out, but this surprisingly intimate look at his final years by his former assistant goes a long way toward opening up that strange man’s head. What was it like to spend decades trying and failing to become a political force again? What did he make himself for dinner? How did he celebrate Halloween? Crowley answers it all. –Elliott

"Most Blessed of the Patriarchs"

Thomas Jefferson has been the subject of an abundance of studies, many of them done by the authors of this fine new book. Gordon-Reed and Onuf have published 18 historical or biographical works between the two of them, including Gordon-Reed's Pulitzer Prize-winning volume, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. And yet, this book, which focuses on Jefferson's rich interior life and set against the backdrop of “Monticello’s ambiguous moral geography,” feels somehow fresh and urgent. Across the country, college campuses are now struggling to find a way to reconcile reverence and reproach, but as the authors write, we must understand that Jefferson's “aspirations were inextricably linked to his limitations.” –Alexis

Ike's Bluff

Thomas takes the popular image of Eisenhower as a doddering, well-meaning but not particularly powerful chief executive and reveals Ike the secret master gamer, skillfully playing Cold War nuclear poker with the survival of humanity at stake. Prepare to stop thinking of Eisenhower as an elderly baby who somehow became president! Prepare to start thinking of Eisenhower as a brilliant elderly baby running the world! –Elliott

One Nation Under God

Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton, traces the idea of America as a Christian nation not to the founders or the Constitution but to corporate and religious players who fought for free enterprise and railed against the New Deal. The introduction of “one nation under God” is President Eisenhower’s doing, and his civic religion appealed to both liberals and conservatives -- until Richard Nixon. Since then, it’s proven divisive, but we as a nation will never be able to reconcile ourselves until we truly understand how the religious right and big business invented Christian America. –Alexis

American Colossus

H.W. Brands talked to us about Theodore Roosevelt, and his wide-ranging, intriguing, disorienting whirlwind of a book explains how America became the industry-ruled nation that needed a Theodore Roosevelt. Brands makes the politics of industrial development exciting and captivating, filling it with memorable characters and scenes. It will leave you feeling drunk on history. –Elliott

White House Diary

This isn’t a traditional biography or history; it’s literally President Jimmy Carter reading you his diary entries. Usually brief comments about the work of each day, this isn’t one to listen to from beginning to end without stopping. But sampled in pieces, it gives maybe the fullest idea of what it’s like to be the president from day to day, facing sudden crises and attempting (and often failing) to carry out painstaking, long-term plans. Plus, let’s face it — Jimmy Carter’s voice is just so soothing. –Elliott

The Man He Became

“Had he ever been unnerved, even seriously frightened?” James Tobin wonders at FDR before 1921. After that, a polio diagnosis forced him to turn away from public ambition and test his own mettle. Through this physical, emotional, and mental struggle, the privileged son of Hyde Park discovered an untapped well of empathy, one that connected and endeared him to the American people. Without polio, Tobin argues persuasively, FDR may never have made it to the Oval Office. –Alexis

John Quincy Adams

If you’re most people, all you know about John Quincy Adams is that he was the son of John Adams. Kaplan does a great job of explaining why J.Q. deserves our appreciation and how, even if this cold, grouchy man wasn’t a great president, he was still a great American. And don’t be put off by the narrator pronouncing Quincy as “Quinzy”! As I found out firsthand, that’s just how they say it where J.Q.’s from. –Elliott

Louisa

Louisa Adams has been cast in the long shadow of her celebrated mother-in-law, Abigail, for far too long for such a vivacious, worldly, sharp-witted woman. Raised abroad by American parents during the American Revolution, Louisa was nothing like the New England stock she married into, but she proved essential to her husband’s political ascension, as much as John Quincy Adams' own pedigree. Thomas’ focus is on their passionate, stubborn, and intellectually stimulating marriage and how it fared as they traversed the globe, hobnobbing with Old and New World royalty. This is a master class in 19th-century gender dynamics and history, told in an inviting, novelistic tone. –Alexis

First Family

My life is such that I often find myself reading about our irascible, cantankerous second president, but until Ellis’ First Family, I found John Adams to be a respectable but often frustrating study. That changed when I began to see him through the lens of his relationship with Abigail, his closest personal and political adviser. I developed a genuine warmth towards Adams and a greater appreciation for how his family grew alongside the Republic they helped shape. –Alexis

Nixon in Winter

Richard Nixon is maybe the hardest president to just plain figure out, but this surprisingly intimate look at his final years by his former assistant goes a long way toward opening up that strange man’s head. What was it like to spend decades trying and failing to become a political force again? What did he make himself for dinner? How did he celebrate Halloween? Crowley answers it all. –Elliott

"Most Blessed of the Patriarchs"

Thomas Jefferson has been the subject of an abundance of studies, many of them done by the authors of this fine new book. Gordon-Reed and Onuf have published 18 historical or biographical works between the two of them, including Gordon-Reed's Pulitzer Prize-winning volume, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. And yet, this book, which focuses on Jefferson's rich interior life and set against the backdrop of “Monticello’s ambiguous moral geography,” feels somehow fresh and urgent. Across the country, college campuses are now struggling to find a way to reconcile reverence and reproach, but as the authors write, we must understand that Jefferson's “aspirations were inextricably linked to his limitations.” –Alexis

Ike's Bluff

Thomas takes the popular image of Eisenhower as a doddering, well-meaning but not particularly powerful chief executive and reveals Ike the secret master gamer, skillfully playing Cold War nuclear poker with the survival of humanity at stake. Prepare to stop thinking of Eisenhower as an elderly baby who somehow became president! Prepare to start thinking of Eisenhower as a brilliant elderly baby running the world! –Elliott

One Nation Under God

Kruse, a professor of history at Princeton, traces the idea of America as a Christian nation not to the founders or the Constitution but to corporate and religious players who fought for free enterprise and railed against the New Deal. The introduction of “one nation under God” is President Eisenhower’s doing, and his civic religion appealed to both liberals and conservatives -- until Richard Nixon. Since then, it’s proven divisive, but we as a nation will never be able to reconcile ourselves until we truly understand how the religious right and big business invented Christian America. –Alexis

American Colossus

H.W. Brands talked to us about Theodore Roosevelt, and his wide-ranging, intriguing, disorienting whirlwind of a book explains how America became the industry-ruled nation that needed a Theodore Roosevelt. Brands makes the politics of industrial development exciting and captivating, filling it with memorable characters and scenes. It will leave you feeling drunk on history. –Elliott

White House Diary

This isn’t a traditional biography or history; it’s literally President Jimmy Carter reading you his diary entries. Usually brief comments about the work of each day, this isn’t one to listen to from beginning to end without stopping. But sampled in pieces, it gives maybe the fullest idea of what it’s like to be the president from day to day, facing sudden crises and attempting (and often failing) to carry out painstaking, long-term plans. Plus, let’s face it — Jimmy Carter’s voice is just so soothing. –Elliott

The Man He Became

“Had he ever been unnerved, even seriously frightened?” James Tobin wonders at FDR before 1921. After that, a polio diagnosis forced him to turn away from public ambition and test his own mettle. Through this physical, emotional, and mental struggle, the privileged son of Hyde Park discovered an untapped well of empathy, one that connected and endeared him to the American people. Without polio, Tobin argues persuasively, FDR may never have made it to the Oval Office. –Alexis

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