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Publisher's Summary

Worst. President. Ever. flips the great presidential biography on its head, offering an enlightening - and highly entertaining - account of poor James Buchanan's presidency to prove once and for all that, well, few leaders could have done worse.

But author Robert Strauss does much more, leading listeners out of Buchanan's terrible term in office - meddling in the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, exacerbating the Panic of 1857, helping foment the John Brown uprisings and "Bloody Kansas", virtually inviting a half-dozen states to secede from the Union as a lame duck, and on and on - to explore with insight and humor his own obsession with presidents, and ultimately the entire notion of ranking our presidents. He guides us through the POTUS rating game of historians and others who have made their own Mount Rushmores - or Marianas Trenches - of presidential achievement, showing why Buchanan easily loses to any of the others, but also offering insights into presidential history buffs like himself, the forgotten "lesser" presidential sites, sex and the presidency, the presidency itself, and how and why it can often take the best measures out of even the most dedicated men.

©2016 Robert Strauss (P)2016 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Strauss maintains a light tone, but doesn't sacrifice substance in offering solid historic detail and insights into American politics as the country careened toward civil war." ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about Worst. President. Ever.

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Rambling randomness, dubious opinions

I have read many biographies, both good and bad, but this has got to be the "WORST. BIOGRAPHY. EVER." The author spills at least as much ink talking about himself and other irrelevant topics as he does about James Buchanan. The writing rambles around throwing in some facts about James Buchanan while talking about his adventures in tourism, being a gym rat, and other things that I frankly don't care to know about the author. This book wanders aimlessly through time going back and forth enough to give whiplash to someone with historical knowledge and leave someone less knowledgeable confused. Perhaps it is fitting that the "WORST. BIOGRAPHY. EVER." is as much an autobiography as it is a biography of Buchanan.

I give the book 2 stars instead of one because I did learn a few things about James Buchanan after sifting through all of the other garbage. Still, this relatively short biography is very short on detail and the parts about Buchanan could have fit in a thick brochure or pamphlet.

As another reviewer noted, the phrase ‘WORST. PRESIDENT. EVER.’ is thrown around so frequently it becomes annoying. It is evident that the title was written long before the book and the book attempted to fit the book to the title. This contributes to this book being the "WORST. BIOGRAPHY. EVER."

I am always disappointed when a biographer's political biases are apparent. A few biographers are good at keeping their opinions to themselves (e.g. David McCullough, Ron Chernow) while most others are more obvious in their biases (e.g. Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Barton[at least Barton is honest about his bias]). Robert Strauss lets his bias shine through a warped portrayal of history. Strauss goes through acrobatic contortions to conflate 19th century democrats (especially Buchanan) with modern day conservatives and 19th century Republicans with modern day leftist progressives. He even referred to early to mid 20th century movements towards socialism as moves "to the right". He also pounds the term "Strict Constructionist" (more modern phraseology) as an epithet about Buchanan without giving any context or contrast. I guess the implication is that everyone else more righteously took the "Living, Breathing constitution" view (which as absolute hogwash regarding 19th century politicians). This book is definitely the "WORST. BIOGRAPHY. EVER."

12 people found this helpful

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Intriguing

James Buchanan (1791-1868) the 15th President was a Pennsylvanian and a Southern Democrat. According to author, Robert Strauss, he was the worst president ever. Strauss states he meddled in the Supreme Court decision in the matter of a runaway slave Dred Scott. Strauss states Buchanan managed to trash almost everything he touched most of all setting the Civil War into motion.

Strauss states Buchanan was arrogant, misaligned, indecisive, misread current events and was a self-styled strict constructionist. Apparently, he also refused to listen to or seek good counsel. Strauss states his two closes rivals for the worst president are Warren G. Harding and Franklin Pierce.

The writing is average but the book is well researched. The book is written in an entertaining and humorous fashion. This is not a scholarly academic book. The author has overstated and simplified situations to make his point. The factors leading to the Civil War were years in the making and far more complex than indicated by the author. But the book was fun to read and highlighted a lesser known president.

Tom Perkins did a good job narrating the book. Perkins is an award-winning audiobook narrator.

23 people found this helpful

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Worst presidential biography ever!

Wow! After listening to the beautiful and entertaining biography by Ron Chernow on US Grant , I tried to follow up with this turkey. Written for what seems to be a 10 year old’s reading level, the first chapter intones the phrase ‘Worst President Ever’ so frequently it becomes annoying. The dissertation on on how rankings work using college sports as a metaphor was useless and distracting. Such a shame considering Buchanan’s pivotal role in the start of the civil war. Thank goodness Audible gives refunds.

7 people found this helpful

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The Least of the Lesser Presidents

I've read that it is folly to rate an "ex-president" until about 20 years since the end of (to this point) his administration. As one who has been voting for president for 30+ years, I think this is sound advice.

Buchanan was certainly an ambitious man. His time in Polk's cabinet, among other actions, demonstrated he seemed to follow a pattern of putting his own interests ahead of the team's. He was not afraid of a little gamesmanship or double dealing to permit his own star to rise. This may be, in part, how (and why) he ran - and won- in 1856.

His tenure preceded the Civil War. The manner in which he ran the government indicated he was going to do nothing to stop it. No matter what partisans may say about POTUS 44 or 45, Buchanan's place at the bottom of the rankings seems secure. Whether either joins him in the bottom quartile . . . I'll leave for historians in 2040 to decide.

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4 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable But Lightweight

What did you like best about Worst. President. Ever.? What did you like least?

Breezy overview of a disastrous presidency. Little insight as to larger factors leading to the Civil War. The Impending Crisis by Potter & Fehrenbacher covers Buchanan's term with more insight and depth.

9 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Lacking Focus

This book seems to be both about Buchanan’s life and the author Robert Strauss. I prefer my biographies to be strictly about the subject matter without the authors private experiences interjected throughout the book.

2 people found this helpful

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Shuttup About Yourself Already

This is a flawed but overall acceptable book. The flaws come when Mr. Strauss periodically interjects his own self into its narrative. It’s irritating. Football scores are not a good parallel to how people calculate a president’s worthiness. Searching for silver coins for a wedding anniversary, for a wife who got an academic Fellowship, is meant to illustrate the reduction of U.S. coinage size due to the Panic of 1857—but it’s too much of a stretch. Strauss could have just explained it. In another section the author compares Barak Obama to President Grant and that is genuinely bizarre. There follow quotes from establishment “scholars” about the general hatred in the country for Obama due to his race. For many of us non-scholarly types the impression was just the opposite. He states some historians already evaluate George W Bush as a bad president, yet reconstitute Jimmy Carter and Herbert Hoover as more effectual than they were given credit for. (Jimmy was seen by someone Strauss knows in a cafeteria line, eating his lunch and not bothering anybody. Who cares?) Straus should have left himself out of it. And comparing distant events to recent ones is often proved wrong. When Strauss sticks to his narrative—which is most of the time—the book is engaging to listen to. At such times he fulfills the promise of his biography. Be warned, however: you can skip 20% of the book with the fast-forward button and not miss much that’s germane.

1 person found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Good, Not Great

This is a tough review to write because this book is greater than the sum of its parts. I think the title gives the impression it’s a lighter work than it actually is. Strauss does an admirable job of taking a deep dive into the life of James Buchanan, however I would have preferred a focus on other aspects of his biography.

The book doesn’t really get to Buchanan’s election until around chapter 7 (out of 10) and the majority of his presidency is discussed far more in terms of politics than policy. A couple of other presidents get a bit too much focus and Strauss’ spartan style of writing makes the book seem quite dry in parts- this isn’t helped by the incredibly slow reading from the narrator. I honestly think so much (but certainly not all) of Buchanan’s presidency was so inconsequential, there just wasn’t much more that could be done with it.

That said, I did quite enjoy this book overall. I’ve developed an odd curiosity about lesser US presidents lately and I feel I know far more about the one often cited as our worst than I did before I started the book- so in that way, it was a rewarding listen.

1 person found this helpful

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Delightful!

This book is fantastic. It is exactly what the description says. It's entertaining and insightful. I enjoyed this book immensely.

1 person found this helpful

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Good overview of many presidents and US history

This book is more than a biography of Buchanan. The author covers many presidents and their standings and historians view of many presidents. It also provides insights into the pre civil war era. His arguments on Buchanan truly occupying last place among presidents is well presented. I enjoyed his inclusion of how he came to be involved in presidential history. Well presented history.