12 of the Best Presidential Biographies Ever Written
1. 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
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
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
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
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 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
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 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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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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 Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times by David S. Reynolds, The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris, and John Adams by David McCullough.
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.