10 Books, Movies & Documentaries for Presidents’ Day

Presidents Day

Of course we love Presidents’ Day at Mentor Public Library. A president lived right down the street from us! (And his son was the architect of our first branch.)

And we think one of the best ways we can celebrate Presidents’ Day is by staying open and making sure people can get books and documentaries about their favorite (or least favorite) president.

We’re also participating in Yours Truly’s annual Presidents’ Day dinner with the historical reenactors from We Made History.

And, as always, we have some seasonally appropriate reading suggestions:

1. The Trial of the Assassin Guiteau: Psychiatry & Law in the Gilded Age by Charles Rosenberg

We partner with James A. Garfield National Historic Site for a monthly book club dedicated to our hometown president. We meet at 6:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month at our Main Branch. On March 12, we’ll be discussing The Trial of the Assassin Guiteau. If you like American history, you’ll enjoy our book club.

2. Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy by David O. Stewart

The worst presidents make for some of the best biographies, and Andrew Johnson was objectively one of the worst. (Seriously, he was James Buchanan bad.) His inauguration began inauspiciously after he imbibed too much *cough* medicinal *cough* liquor. And his presidency devolved from there until he became the first president ever impeached.

3. In the Days of McKinley by Margaret Leech

This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography might be better remembered than its subject, President William McKinley. (The Ohio presidents are numerous but, unfortunately, also an oft-forgotten bunch.) Leech provides an exhaustive history of McKinley, as well as the life and times he inhabited. For some stories in this biography, McKinley is on the periphery or even absent; but this book is wonderful for those interested in both the president and his era.

4. John Adams by David McCullough

I can’t imagine the research that must have gone into this biography. McCullough unearthed fascinating details that help tell the story of this brilliant and contentious founding father. (The miniseries is pretty splendid too.)

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

There are hundreds of biographies and documentaries about Abraham Lincoln (and at least one film about him hunting vampires😉 but this one best demonstrates Lincoln’s counter-intuitive brilliance. The story focuses on Lincoln’s cabinet, which consisted of disparate and often conflicting opinions. (Lincoln named three of his presidential rivals to his cabinet.) By the way, this book “inspired” Steven Spielberg’s LincolnBoth the movie and book are good but they, in no way, resemble each other.

6. The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 by Douglas Brinkley and Luke A. Nichter

President Richard Nixon’s infamous tapes recorded about 3,700 hours of conversation between the president and some of the world’s most powerful people; but, until recently, only about five percent of those tapes were ever transcribed and available to read. But Brinkley and Nichter have pored through the tapes to highlight fascinating conversations about Nixon’s re-election campaign, arms agreements and opening relations with China.

7. One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev & Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs

Get new insight into one of the most dangerous moment’s in human history—the Cuban Missile Crisis. Dobbs’ research includes reading a draft of the Khrushchev Peace Initiative agreement (the final version of which was never committed to paper because of fear it might look Bobby Kennedy look less “tough.”) The author manages to add something new to one of the most discussed moments in one the most discussed president’s life.

8. The American President

The American President documentaries discuss every American president through George W. Bush and group them by themes (generals, those who reluctantly took office etc.) so we can see what our leaders—separated by era and even outlook—had in common.

9. The Real George Washington

The Revolutionary War, the Constitutional Convention, the first national administration—all likely would have failed had it not been for George Washington. But what do you know about him? Learn about Washington’s humble beginnings, his relationship with slavery and how he, in fact, could tell a lie, especially if that lie offered a military advantage.

10. All the Presidents’ Wives

Behind every president (except James Buchanan) was a strong woman. Learn more about these women and how they influenced our country’s history. And, if you like that, check out Women in the White House too.

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