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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best seller

From a preeminent presidential historian comes a “superb and important” (The New York Times Book Review) saga of America’s wartime chief executives 

“Fascinating and heartbreaking...timely...Beschloss’s broad scope lets you draw important crosscutting lessons about presidential leadership.” (Bill Gates) 

Widely acclaimed and 10 years in the making, Michael Beschloss’ Presidents of War is an intimate and irresistibly readable chronicle of the chief executives who took the United States into conflict and mobilized it for victory. From the War of 1812 to Vietnam, we see these leaders considering the difficult decision to send hundreds of thousands of Americans to their deaths; struggling with Congress, the courts, the press, and antiwar protesters; seeking comfort from their spouses and friends; and dropping to their knees in prayer. Through Beschloss’ interviews with surviving participants and findings in original letters and once-classified national security documents, we come to understand how these presidents were able to withstand the pressures of war - or were broken by them. 

Presidents of War combines this sense of immediacy with the overarching context of two centuries of American history, traveling from the time of our founders, who tried to constrain presidential power, to our modern day, when a single leader has the potential to launch nuclear weapons that can destroy much of the human race.

Praise for Presidents of War:

"A marvelous narrative.... As Beschloss explains, the greatest wartime presidents successfully leaven military action with moral concerns.... Beschloss’s writing is clean and concise, and he admirably draws upon new documents. Some of the more titillating tidbits in the book are in the footnotes.... There are fascinating nuggets on virtually every page of Presidents of War. It is a superb and important book, superbly rendered.” (Jay Winik, The New York Times Book Review)

"Sparkle and bite.... Valuable and engrossing study of how our chief executives have discharged the most significant of all their duties.... Excellent.... A fluent narrative that covers two centuries of national conflict.” (Richard Snow, The Wall Street Journal

©2018 Michael Beschloss (P)2018 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“This spirited account, reminiscent of The Oxford History of the United States, will captivate history buffs and interest scholars of the institutional presidency and the Constitution.” (Library Journal, starred review)

"The renowned historian explores America's wars through its presidents. In another masterful work of research, Beschloss demonstrates his erudite grasp of the history of the executive branch. The Founders gave Congress the power to 'declare' (not make) war; the executive has power only to repel attacks.... As he clearly shows throughout this illuminating narrative, during every war, the president has received extraordinary powers; some used it well, while others abused it. The author's highly readable style and ability to pinpoint the most relevant facts make this a perfect book for any student of American history and its presidents." (Kirkus, starred review) 

"Beschloss offers a sweeping history of American presidents seeking and waging war.... He provides insight into the motivations of American leaders; presidents’ battles with other branches of government; their degree of respect for civil liberties; and the role of personality, emotion, and the general political climate as American commanders-in-chief executed the power of the country’s military forces.... Ample detail and enticing storytelling.” (Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about Presidents of War

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Good Book; Muffled Sound

There was so much interesting content in this book that I was especially disappointed in the recording. I have many other Audible books that are clear and easy to understand. But this one sounded muffled, as if it were being recorded into a pillow. I don’t think the problem was with the narrator either. I think perhaps the recording environment may have been the problem.

12 people found this helpful

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Heads up: Chapters are out of order

The recording starts with Chapter 7 starting with the civil war. Half way through, it jumps back to Chapter 1. Luckily, this is a history so it's not crucial to be in order but it is annoying.

32 people found this helpful

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Learned things I didn't know.

I have appreciated Michael Beschloss's historical perspective on MSNBC. This is the first of his books that I have read. Will definitely read others. One learns presidential mythology in school. Beschloss expands on what we think we know with insights and details into the men, the circumstances, and the times yielding a fleshed out image of each president.

4 people found this helpful

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Extremely ambitious and It Accomplished its Goals

it is hard to believe that I just finished a book of such breadth and relatively substantial depth. Kudosvto Beschloss for having the stamina and vision to even undertake such a work.

So what did I learn? Politics and politicians are messy and when you are the boss, critics are a dime a dozen . . . and should often be listened to. Obviously, war is a horrible undertaking and it is amazing how frequently it takes on a life of its own. Of all the tragedies, Vietnam is the most painful. Practicallt every motherf**ker responsible knew from the earliest moments that it was a mistake, we were lilely backing the wrong side and that it was unwinable through ground conbat. Anyway, that is a tangent. Most interesting was the intimate sense Beschloss gives of being in the room and head of the decisionmakers throughout our history post-Washington. Much food for thought on decisionmaking and leadership.

3 people found this helpful

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An Amazing Book about a very Important Subject!!

A great survey of WH management of wars. It is a recommended read/listen for any serious student of the military and political history of the world, not just the US.

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Disappointing at times

I expected a more objective treatment here. Some sections were fairly well done and even-handed, but the author’s clear disdain for Polk and Madison in particular really colored his assessment to my mind. I expected better from a historian of Mr. Beschloss’ character.

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Excellent presidential history

I enjoyed the story of each wartime president with all of the background and the eventual consequences.

Performance wise, Fred did a great job narrating the book clearly; however, the...pauses before reading a quoted passage were super distracting at first, and tiresome later in the book.

Overall a great overview and one I would recommend to anyone interested in presidential history.

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Discussion

It seems like Mr. Beschloss cleaned out his research files of all the odds and ends he hadn’t used in his previous works — much of it either common knowledge or historical trivia — and framed it in an uneven selection of several US Presidents who presided over wars. There is a biased tone throughout. He praises FDR, pummels Nixon, and writes nothing at all about JFK and Vietnam. I was hoping to add this book to the readings for a course on ‘Undeclared Wars,’ but after hearing it, I don’t recommend it to anyone.

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AWFUL

Writing is ponderous. Performance is monotone. Author's agenda is clear. Far, far too hard on Truman for Korea. Too easy on Wilson. FDR escapes any serious criticism for failing to see the dangers of Nazism with American no military preparedness. The interment of innocent Japanese-Americans. The cluster of the fleet at Pearl Harbor; he was warned against. His failure to bomb the concentration camps rail lines. The disaster of the Yalta conference.

5 people found this helpful

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Excellent book

I really enjoyed the story telling by the author and look forward to reading more about our American history.