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12 of the Best Presidential Biographies Ever Written

Dive into the biographies of American leaders to discover the triumphs, trials, and tribulations that shaped America through the eyes of its most influential figures.

12 of the Best Presidential Biographies Ever Written

Explore the lives of American leaders like never before with "12 of the Best Presidential Biographies Ever Written." From the heroic tales of George Washington to the complex narratives of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, these biographies offer an intimate glimpse into the personal and political journeys of the United States presidents. Each book provides a unique blend of historical data, personal anecdotes, and scholarly analysis, making history accessible and engaging. Dive into these pages to discover the triumphs, trials, and tribulations that shaped America through the eyes of its most influential figures.

1. "Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times" by David S. Reynolds

Abe Abraham Lincoln in His Times by David S Reynolds

Abraham Lincoln was one of the most impactful presidents in US history. His four-year stay at the White House saw the country transform on multiple fronts, from the Emancipation Proclamation to the expansion of civil rights. David S. Reynolds’ work is an expansive look into Lincoln’s life and legacy, painting a vivid portrait of the 16th president and his time. The author takes a deep dive into his role as the nation’s leader through the Civil War and the trials of Reconstruction. 

Reynolds looks beyond his politics and into the man behind it, exploring how Lincoln’s engagement with high and low culture in the antebellum period had such an effective influence on America’s development. "Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times" by David S. Reynolds is one of many books written about the famous president by Lincoln biographers, but it tells the man’s story with a context others don’t.

2. "Richard Nixon: The Life" by John A. Farrel

Richard Nixon The Life by John A Farrel

Another president with large historical significance, Richard Nixon, held office between 1969 and 1974. Over those roughly four years, he was a part of some of the most pivotal events in American history, from Vietnam to Watergate. In Richard Nixon: The Life, author John A. Farrell takes a deep look into how the 37th president developed and grew from his early political career to his resignation. 

The biography covers Nixon’s early life, his rise to power, and the events that made him famous (or infamous), like the domino theory, the 1972 election, and, of course, Watergate. Farrell even delves into unrevealed records of Nixon’s presidency that shed light on his manipulation of the Vietnam War peace deal and how he successfully fanned race and class divisions in the United States. Republican or Democrat, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in gaining insight into the events that shaped America in the mid-twentieth century.

3. "Theodore Rex" by Edmund Morris

Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

42-year-old Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th and youngest President in United States history after his predecessor William McKinley was assassinated in 1901. He spent two terms in office and left a lasting legacy in the nation, from his trust-busting to his conservationism and promotion of progressive labor laws. In Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris tells the story of this remarkable president with a unique perspective. This includes formal accomplishments like the resolution of the Russo-Japanese War (which won him a Nobel Peace Prize), construction of the Panama Canal, and creation of the National Park System. It also shines a light on his personal affairs, like a love for boxing and nude swims in the Potomac River. 

Theodore Rex is a sequel to Edmund Morris’s classic bestseller, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, and part of a greater trilogy of books written by the author about the president. It also achieved bestseller status with The New York Times after release and has been read by tens of thousands of people around the world.

4. "Grant" by Ron Chernow

Grant by Ron Chernow

Despite his leadership of the Union Army to victory in the American Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant’s legacy has long been construed as one of a drunken general and a corruption-plagued president. Historian and Alexander Hamilton author Chernow rewrites that reputation with his biography Grant. Here, the author paints a portrait of the 18th President focusing on his commitment to Reconstruction and his attempts to protect the newly freed African Americans from discrimination. This includes his controversial decision to send federal troops to suppress the Klu Klux Klan and his advocacy for civil rights and economic opportunities for African Americans.

5. "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House" by Jon Meacham

Andrew Jackson in the White House by Jon Meacham

Born in the Waxhaw settlement, a community of Scotch-Irish immigrants, Andrew Jackson was the first American president born into poverty. His path to the office was unlike any before him — a ‘common man,’ Jackson first worked as a lawyer and major general in the military before being elected in 1829.

In American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer and author Jon Meacham paints a picture of Jackson as an energetic and deeply influential leader who was not afraid to ruffle some feathers.

6. "John Adams" by David McCullough

John Adams by David McCullough

John Adams is known for his political philosophy and tenure as vice president under George Washington and later his two-term presidency. But this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography from David McCullough goes beyond simply chronicling Adams’ political career. John Adams follows the life of America’s 2nd President from the Boston Massacre to the court of King George II, where he represented American interests and ultimately the White House — making him the first president to reside there.

Throughout the book, McCullough uses Adams’ rich trove of letters with his wife, Abigail, as well as his political rival Thomas Jefferson, to illustrate how these two central figures shaped America during its formative years. John Adams is a captivating story of a man whose brilliance and courage left an indelible mark on a new nation and was even used as the basis of an acclaimed HBO series

7. "The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama" by David Remnick

The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick

While Barack Obama’s presidency is still fairly recent, not many biographies have been written about him. After all, history is still being made. But as for his origins and path to the White House, this book is a great place to start.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama provides an engaging biography of the 44th President of the United States. Remnick offers a unique insight into Obama’s personal story, his family background, and his early days in Chicago. He also explores Obama’s time as a community organizer and state senator, eventually charting the course of his historic 2008 election.

8. "John Quincy Adams (The American Presidents Series)" by Robert V. Remini

John Quincy Adams (The American Presidents Series) by Robert V Remini

John Quincy Adams, the son of second President John Adams, followed in his father’s footsteps to become the sixth president of the United States. But unlike his father, Adams served one term of office and was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection.

This biography by Robert V. Remini explores Adams’s life and presidency, from his diplomatic missions as a young man to his staunch support of rights for African Americans. In this book, Remini paints a picture of Adams as a brilliant and determined statesman who was committed to upholding the principles of the United States Constitution. Adams was one of the most significant early leaders in American history, and his legacy continues to shape our nation today. 

This book is a must-read for those who want to learn more about this influential President. It is part of the American Presidents Series, which provides comprehensive biographies of US presidents since George Washington.

9. "Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President" by Robert J. Rayback

Biography of a President by Robert J. Rayback

While slightly lesser known when compared to other presidents on this list, Millard Fillmore had a lasting impact on US history. As the 13th president of the United States, Fillmore was instrumental in shaping America’s relationship with foreign countries during a pivotal time of growth and expansion.

In this biography, author Robert J. Rayback thoroughly examines Millard Fillmore’s life, including his early career, election to Congress, and eventual rise to the White House. The author illustrates the president’s untold story and how his decisions impacted the nation for years to come. This book is a great resource for historians, students of American History, and those looking for a comprehensive biography of this lesser-known president.

10. "President James Buchanan: A Biography" by Philip S. Klein

President James Buchanan: A Biography by Philip S. Klein

James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States and served from 1857 to 1861. While he is often remembered for his failure to ward off the Civil War, Buchanan was an accomplished politician who greatly impacted American history. This impact is explored in great detail throughout President James Buchanan: A Biography, as author Philip S. Klein takes readers through the life and times of this remarkable man. It was written in 1962 and contains a wealth of information about Buchanan’s significant accomplishments and legacy as president.

11. "A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House" by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

John F. Kennedy in the White House by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

From the Bay of Pigs Invasion to his civil rights initiatives, Kennedy’s presidency was far from uneventful. In A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, Schlesinger provides an intimate view of what he saw as a participant observer during Kennedy’s time in office. The book covers everything from the Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK’s economic policy to his efforts at racial justice, reflecting on how Kennedy’s presidency set the tone for America’s turbulent sixties. Schlesinger is critical but also honest and sympathetic, allowing readers a glimpse into the inner workings of one of the most pivotal presidencies in American history.

12. "The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House" by John F. Harris

The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris

John F. Harris, a former White House correspondent for The Washington Post and co-founder of Politico, wrote The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House as an intimate account of President Bill Clinton’s time at the helm of America between 1993 and 2001. He tells the story with unprecedented access to insiders and his own observations of the President and his team. The narrative centers around Clinton’s survival in the face of numerous scandals, from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky, as well as his legislative achievements, such as welfare reform and the creation of a budget surplus.

13. "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Biography of Abraham Lincoln

"Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln" by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a masterful examination of Abraham Lincoln's presidency and how he was able to turn former political adversaries into his closest advisors. The book primarily focuses on Lincoln's relationships with three men he defeated for the Republican nomination in 1860: William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. These men, initially his rivals, became part of his cabinet and integral in his leadership during the American Civil War.

Goodwin's narrative details how Lincoln's empathy, humility, and understanding of human behavior enabled him to manage a cabinet composed of his competitors, who were once more experienced in national politics than he was.

14. "Washington: A Life" by Ron Chernow

top presidential biographies

"Washington: A Life" by Ron Chernow is a comprehensive biography of George Washington, the first President of the United States. The book explores Washington's entire life, from his early years and military career during the French and Indian War through his leadership role in the American Revolution to his two terms as president. The author explores Washington’s character, motivations, and the personal and political challenges he faced. The biography also pays particular attention to Washington's views on slavery and his relationship with his slaves, providing a nuanced view of his moral complexities.

The book stands out for its thorough research and ability to present Washington not just as a figure of American legend, but as a flesh-and-blood man, with all the conflicts and contradictions that entailed. Chernow's engaging narrative brings to life the man behind the icon, including his temper, ambitions, and insecurities.

15. "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush" by Robert Draper

The Presidency of George W. Bush

"Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush" by Robert Draper is an in-depth look at the presidency of George W. Bush, focusing particularly on his two terms from 2001 to 2009. The book offers a detailed portrayal of Bush's management style, decision-making processes, and key moments of his administration, such as the September 11 attacks, the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and his domestic policies. Draper utilizes extensive interviews with Bush himself, as well as with his closest aides and family members, to provide a comprehensive view of his leadership and personal dynamics.

The narrative presents a nuanced picture of Bush, portraying him as decisive and confident in his convictions, yet also showing moments of doubt and the challenges he faced while navigating complex global and domestic issues.

16. "Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President" by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher

The Definitive Biography of the 45th President Trump

"Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President" by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher is an exhaustive exploration of Donald Trump's life and career leading up to his presidency. Compiled by a team of Washington Post reporters and researchers, the biography draws on interviews, legal documents, financial records, and other sources to map out Trump's journey from his upbringing in Queens, New York, to his development into a real estate mogul and reality TV star, and finally to his ascendance to the U.S. presidency.

The book examines various facets of Trump's life, including his business dealings, personal relationships, and unique approach to the entertainment world. It also analyzes his political views, campaign strategies, and controversies surrounding him over the years. By providing a detailed background and context, the authors aim to give readers a fuller picture of the man who became one of the most polarizing figures in American political history.

Learn on the go with Headway

From George Washington’s battle-tested leadership to Barack Obama’s boldness in historical change, each American president to ever hold office has left a mark on the country in one way or another. These 12 books paint fascinating portrayals of their legacies and personal lives, offering readers an in-depth look at the moments that shaped their time in office. Whether you’re a fan of a particular president’s policy or not, taking the time to flip through one of these biographies is something everyone with a connection to America can benefit from.

If you’re interested in presidential biographies, there’s no doubt that you’re ambitious, driven, and passionate about learning and self-development. Did we get this right? Then you’re our kind of person, and you will definitely love the Headway app. It boasts an extensive collection of bite-sized lessons and key takeaways from the world’s most popular books. From presidential life stories to best-selling books about self-development and growth, there’s so much to discover. And the best part is that each book takes only 15 minutes to read! Why not give it a try and download the app today?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best Lincoln biography?

The title of ’best Lincoln biography’ is highly contested among readers. Many have differing opinions on books written about the president, making it hard to unilaterally agree that one is better than the other. But as the most popular, Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times by David S. Reynolds, Lincoln’s Virtues by William Lee Miller, and Lincoln by David Herbert Donald are all potential contenders.

What presidential biographies are the most worth reading?

Books — whether they’ve been written about presidents or any other topic — are highly subjective. One person’s favorite might be another’s snooze-fest, so it’s important to consider your preferences and interests before settling on a biography.

With that being said, there are definitely some prominent presidential autobiographies and biographies that have been praised by readers. Notable titles include:

  • Master Of The Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert A. Caro;

  • Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard ("account of James Garfield's rise to the American presidency”);

  • Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith;

  • An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy by Robert Dallek;

  • Reagan: The Life by H. W. Brands;

  • An American Life by Ronald Reagan;

  • My Life (Clinton autobiography) by Bill Clinton.

Which American president has the most biographies written about them?

Abraham Lincoln is considered to be the most biographied American president in history, with an estimated 15,000 titles published about his life and time in office. This greatly surpasses the number of books about George Washington, who comes in second place.

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