Beyond the presidents

DiscussãoUS Presidents Challenge (USPC)

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Beyond the presidents

Ago 13, 2010, 7:25pm

As I read through presidential biographies, I notice there are other folks who have played equally important roles in American history. Though they never attained the presidency, I'm tempted to diverge from my reading list and check out their stories as well. So I was wondering, does anyone else have such a reading list in progress? After one finishes reading about the presidents, which other biographies would you recommend?

My short list, up through the Civil War, is:
Benjamin Franklin
Alexander Hamilton
Henry Clay
John C. Calhoun
Jefferson Davis

Ago 14, 2010, 8:36am

Gouveneur Morris
Thurlow Weed
Daniel Webster
Stephen Douglas
Aaron Burr

Ago 14, 2010, 10:32am

While I've been reading the Presidents I have been making a list of other Bios that I'd like to read or am planning to read as I go along or after I finish.

Last year, before I started I read Benjamin Franklin.
This year since I'm at the Civil War, I am reading Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. While I was reading Team of Rivals, I found William Seward very interesting, so I might try to find a bio of him after I finish all.

Eventually I want to go back and read Daniel Webster, Calhoun, and Clay.

Ago 14, 2010, 2:28pm

I would add Thomas Hart Benton, who was very much in the mix during the time of Webster, Calhoun and Clay. Shoot, the guy had a close range pistol fight with Andrew Jackson, but later they were political allies. That sounds interesting.

Ago 15, 2010, 12:17am

Someone I would like to read about later in history is Henry Cabot Lodge. There is a book by Merrill Peterson named the The Great Triumvirate which covers Clay, Webster and Calhoun which is very good. And Robert Remini has put out books about both Clay and Webster. I have read the one about Clay but not the Webster one.

Editado: Ago 15, 2010, 10:16am

Here's my list of Non-Presidents read to-date:

Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine – Craig Nelson
Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin – Walter Isaacson
Aaron Burr
Aaron Burr: The Years from Princeton to Vice President – Milton Lomask
Aaron Burr: The Conspiracy and Years of Exile – Milton Lomask
Duel – Thomas Fleming

(note not all the touchstones are accurate)

Editado: Dez 3, 2010, 4:38pm

I have read:

Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton: American by Richard Brookhiser
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

On my TBR pile:

General Lafayette
Memoirs of General Lafayette by Lafayette
Lafayette by Mary Foote Crow

Benjamin Franklin
8238296::Benjamin Franklin: A Picture of the Struggles of Our Infant Nation One Hundred Years Ago by abbotjohnsc::John S.C. Abbot
603721::The True Benjamin Franklin by Sydney George Fisher

Aaron Burr
8915938::Memoirs of Aaron Burr by davismatthewl::Matthew L. Davis

Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster by Henry Cabot Lodge

Stephen A. Douglas
9913134::Stephen A. Douglas: A Study in American Politics by johnsonallen::Allen Johnson
The Life of Stephen A. Douglas by William Gardner

General Sheridan
62259::Personal Memoirs of General Sheridan by sheridanph::Philip Henry Sheridan

General Sherman
137802::Memoirs of General William T. Sherman by shermanwilliamtecums::William Tecumseh Sherman

General Lee
1422007::A Life of Gen. Robert E. Lee by cookejohnesten::John Esten Cooke
Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee by Captian Robert E. Lee (the General's son)

Jefferson Davis
3613241::The Victim: A romance of the Real Jefferson Davis by thomasdixon::Thomas Dixon
The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government by Jefferson Davis

I don't have the book, nor have I read it, but I have read and enjoyed two others by him and will add it to my collection one day.

Gouverneur Morris
Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution by Richard Brookhiser

If you are interested in any of the books in my TBR pile above, let me know and I can direct you to where I downloaded them (free and legal). They are all Ebooks.

Bill Masom

Edited to see why the touchstones aren't working

Dez 9, 2010, 10:22am

As I'm reading the presidents, I have read some other bios (Ben Franklin for example) but found it was holding me back from progressing on the Presidents. So I've started making a list of bios and historical events that I want to read more about. The ist is getting pretty long but at least my presidents are progressing.

Jan 5, 2011, 12:12pm

This is a great thread, which of course is expanding everyone's TBR piles. I think it is going to be enormously helpful having book identified about important peripheral personnages. Many years from now, after I've finished the presidents, I can hope to get to some of these, but I think it is important to capture these here for others whose need is more pressing.

Jul 30, 2011, 11:44pm

I'm thinking I have to add James Blaine and perhaps Roscoe Conkling to the list.

Ago 2, 2011, 11:30am

I have read Jefferson Davis, American and enjoyed it. It somewhat fits in since he was the only President of the Confederate States of America. Also by the end of the war the South looked to Lee more for leadership than Jefferson Davis.

Editado: Jan 4, 2013, 8:45am

I just finished up The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. There are scads and scads of other books about other characters around the US Presidents that I'd like to read, but as slow as it's taking me to just get through the presidents themselves, I'm not sure I'll go read too many of them anytime soon. I guess the next one that I would want to read is on Hamilton.

Editado: Abr 3, 2013, 1:06pm

Richard Brookhiser has written excellent, brief biographies of George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Governeur Morris, and the Adams dynasty.

One of the best observers of early America was a young Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America. I recommend the translation by Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield. I don't expect people to read the whole thing. I know I haven't. If you want a shortcut, try Mansfield's Tocqueville: A Very Short Introduction.

Doug Wead has written about the lives of presidential children and their descendants in All The President's Children. The last Lincoln descendant, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, was Abraham Lincoln's great-grandson and died in 1985. Fun reading, though sometimes tragic stories.

There haven't been many American philosophers. The first was Jonathan Edwards, grandfather of Aaron Burr, who was a much more complex figure than his sermon "Sinners of in the Hands of an Angry God" would indicate. The Puritans have gotten a bad rap. Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden.

Henry Adams was an interesting figure but you might get tired of his pessimism in The Education of Henry Adams, sometimes regarded as one of the best non-fiction works by an American. If you want a biography, try the one-volume version of Henry Adams by Ernest Samuels. In this case, you can judge a book by it's cover—a nice illustration of Adams with his dog.

Some people consider Moby-Dick to be the great American novel. But many readers get impatient with Melville's long, digressive, baroque novel. I really enjoyed the concise Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick, especially the parts about the friendship between Melville and his neighbor and friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, to whom Moby-Dick was dedicated. This has become one of my favorite books. Consider it a primer to the big novel. If you want to know the true story behind Moby-Dick, read Philbrick's In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whale Ship Essex. It's a true American story about so much more than a shipwreck.

One of the biggest events in history was the discovery of nuclear energy and the use of it as a weapon. The story is told by Richard Rhodes in the extraordinary Making of the Atomic Bomb. Easily one of the best books of history and science that I've read. It doesn't skimp on either.

Abr 3, 2013, 10:52am


I have read The Education of Henry Adams and Henry Adams and the making of America by Garry Wills. I would read the first, then the other, to get the proper perspective.

I recommend both

Jun 2, 2013, 6:47pm

In tune with this topic, I just recently finished Chernow's Alexander Hamilton. Here is my review:

If it takes me forever to read a thick, heavy tome comprised of hundreds and hundreds of pages of small-font text, I tend to think of it as a “brick,” even as I persevere to work my through it. I must say that I never thought of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton that way, although it shared much of these characteristics, including a daunting 737 pages of small print. I had been reading Chernow’s magisterial biography of Hamilton on and off for over a year before I completed it, largely because I was reading several other massive books at the same time – but I kept coming back!
While the level of detail devoted to Hamilton’s life and endeavors is virtually encyclopedic -- and can at times be intimidating to the general reader – his biography of this, one of the most critical Founders, is truly magnificent. If any such work deserves the notable appellation “best one-volume biography,” then Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton should be the model it is measured against. As others have noted, it is this work that has rescued Hamilton from -- if not the dustbin of history -- then the dusty back stacks, long overshadowed by the founding deities of Washington and Jefferson and the rest. Many Americans know only of Hamilton that he adorns the ten dollar bill, and perhaps that he was killed in a duel by Burr. Most are entirely unaware that he was responsible for the economic foundation of the early Republic that largely still endures, and even more significantly, that in this and other arenas he was a central player in creating the nation that is the United States.
Chernow, like most biographers, clearly favors his subject, although as a fine historical craftsman he does not hesitate to describe Hamilton’s many weaknesses and foibles, especially his enormous ego, self-righteousness and sensitivity to slights, real and perceived. In his fondness for Hamilton, Chernow can perhaps to be more forgiving of these flaws than I would be, but he nevertheless reveals them unhesitatingly in fleshing out the many contradictions inherent in this vain, arrogant, brilliant intellect who towered over many of his peers even in the company of giants.
It’s a long book, but it is a great ride, especially as it becomes increasingly clear that despite his genius and devotion and work ethic in creating the new nation, Hamilton alienates nearly every other major figure – with the exception of Washington – that he works alongside. And, tragically, it is not simply alienation – his personality and approach seem to provoke hatred that is outsize to the various clashes in philosophy and ideology that set him apart from his rivals and peers. It is clear that the accomplished Hamilton is not merely disliked but actively reviled by much of the founding generation. Events combine with his flawed character to exacerbate his often childish temperament, such that in his pique he not only self-destructs his own political career but apparently is singly most responsible for annihilating the viability of the Federalist Party that he once led in his attempt to destroy John Adams and prevent his re-election to the Presidency. Jefferson and Adams, once bitter enemies, later reconciled and became again good friends, but long after Hamilton’s death Adams still excoriated him in his writings, as did other survivors of that generation. To my mind, it is this more than anything else which explains how it was that his former colleague and the sitting Vice-President Aaron Burr could shoot him to death in that duel in Weehawken in 1804.
Ironically, it is that pathetic end that resurrected Hamilton from an otherwise ignominious exile from public life; at his death the formerly illustrious political figure who once might have contemplated the Presidency was virtuously detached from every hemisphere of government of the nation that he helped create, a largely despised outcast on the margins of political life. The duel that was his martyrdom turned him into a hero again in the public imagination and he was restored to the pantheon of the nation’s Founders. It took this great biography by Chernow to resurrect him once again for a new generation.

Jan 4, 2015, 11:35am

Henry Clay and the War of 1812 by Quentin Scott King

It took me quite a while to complete my reading of this book but that had nothing to do with the books story or the telling of it. In all my previous reading of biographies of our Presidents, Mr. Clay turned up frequently and with gravitas. I have wanted to know him better. Although this book is more about the War of 1812 (sometimes referred to as Madison's war) and the Treaty of Ghent, there was some of his early life presented in it's pages. I would have liked to read more about his work after the Treaty was signed but I can get that elsewhere if I look hard enough. Meanwhile, I recommend this treatment of the times to history buffs. Much research went into it's writing and there is a very strong bibliography appended to it. I thank McFarland and Company, the publishers, for making it available to some of us members of LibraryThing.

Jan 4, 2015, 12:17pm

I have so many side books on a list to read, but keep thinking if I get sidetracked I'll never get through this. Just bought a biography of General Le after reading Grant. Too many good books to read!

Jun 21, 2019, 12:48am

Add Frederick Douglass to my list. I just finished an incredible biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight. I got a lot of insight into the abolitionist movement and what it was like for an African American in 19th Century America.

Jun 28, 2019, 12:12pm

>18 Hamburgerclan: Thanks for reviving this thread, which I am just now seeing for the first time.

I read the Richard Brookhiser biography of Hamilton mentioned above and enjoyed it. I'll have to go back over my reading lists of recent years to see if anything else would be appropriate for this conversation.

Mar 21, 12:07pm

Currently reading Lion of Liberty by Harlow Giles Unger
This author has a interesting style to his writing as he seems to have the ability to shorted some of the details of history to make for a quick read. With some subjects I am fine with this but on the other hand it can be disappointing. I am enjoying this one a lot.