Contemporarily Historian

I just read The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, a blunt instrument about the same size as another recent conquest.

As it contains every known fact about our presidents, with details on birth, death and extramarital affairs — it skims over Kennedy’s liasons, unfortunately — this was a fantastic and fascinating read. At least, it was, until its scope moved within the last 20 years.

The albeit solid 36-page chapter on one-term president George H.W. Bush is overlong with asides and what amounts to cleverness. (For comparison, the three-term-and-change Franklin Roosevelt also warranted 36 pages, much of it taken up by sections on his re-election campaigns.)

The most egregious example of superfluous, contextually inappropriate information comes while describing Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait:

But Saddam, having failed to win concessions from Iran to expand its narrow access to the Persian Gulf, saw in the rich coast of Kuwait the answer to all its problems.

So far so good. Then:

Saddam, whose favorite movie was The Godfather, made the emir of Kuwait an offer that was hard to refuse …

Surely, in describing such a high-tension scenario, listing the immediately relevant facts in chronological order would be far more effective. Saddam is — was — a naturally interesting character, but his actions will speak far louder than his favorite film.


  1. Just curious…as it looks more and more like the United States will elect Barack Obama president next month, does the book talk about any of the other “black” Presidents we have had?
    I’ve heard that Jefferson, Jackson, Harding, Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Clinton were black.

  2. As the most recent edition was published in early 2005, it does mention Toni Morrison’s comment that Clinton was the nation’s “first black president.” I don’t remember any other mention of anything else.

    I was personally surprised at how many presidents were atheist, only converting late in life or post-presidency to some breed of Christianity or another.

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  1. 1 Today, Wikipedia Wins « Off the Tenure Track

    […] in progress, and it won’t be readable for another generation — I write this because The Complete Book of Presidents was more completely a disaster once it reached the two latest […]




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