What I’m Reading: Lately, Currently, and Next


Last Finished:

I Am Spock, Leonard Nimoy


Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson

Next up:

New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009, Teresa Carpenter (ed.)


My reading rotation, with my current category in bold and my last completed from each category in blue:

  1. Item suggested by and/or owned by my wife.
    (The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank)
  2. Suggestion from my local library, or its latest annual community-wide One Read selection.
    (The Big Door Prize, M.O. Walsh)
  3. My personal choice, which may be from any of the other categories or something entirely different.
    (A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, Stephen W. Hawking)
  4. Popular now and/or new release
    (Becoming, Michelle Obama)
  5.  Suggestion from a friend, family member, or book club.
    (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams)
  • Wild Card–a title that was an impulse or recommendation and moved ahead of my next book already in the queue.
    (I Am Spock, Leonard Nimoy)
  • I am also reading in between each category:
    • Something from US History, including memoir/biography (this category was previously ‘Biography of a US president’ until I finished at least one on each of the 46 presidencies)
      (To Be A Slave, Julius Lester)
    • Next item from my book list, 52 Great Books to Read from the New York Public Library, Lynn Gordon, Chronicle Books, 1998. I have now read 26 of the 52.
      (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis)

My collection as it was recently. I now own biographies of presidents 1-41, autobiography/memoirs written by 42, 43, and 44, and biographies of 45 and 46.

I believe 20-25 years between presidency and biography is the minimum history requires for a fair assessment, and I honestly believe it will be 100 years before anyone can offer an impartial cradle-to-grave biography of #45.

As I neared the end of my first run through the presidents, it finally struck me how white and male this agenda was, so I’m working on reading more books by and about women and people of other races. Among my collection, I now own 14 books by or about the first ladies.


Goodreads Review: Washington’s Monument And the Fascinating History of the Obelisk — John Steele Gordon

Washington's Monument: And the Fascinating History of the ObeliskWashington’s Monument: And the Fascinating History of the Obelisk by John Steele Gordon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Expecting a history of a specific obelisk, I found this short book packed with stories of several others as well, traced to their ancient Egyptian origins and followed through their relocations in Europe and America. Also included was an abundance of trivial facts in the footnotes (what did the death of John Quincy Adams have to do with the Washington Monument!?), which I must admit I absolutely loved. While the naval, mechanical, and architectural terms were sometimes out of my grasp, this was written plainly enough to understand what was happening and how it was happening. Gordon reveals the magnitude of the incredible feats accomplished in the making and erecting these monuments millennia ago, moving them in the nineteenth century, and the equally difficult challenge of getting assistance for Washington’s Monument from a burdened and weary Congress.

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Goodreads Review: American Indians/American Presidents — National Museum of the American Indian

American Indians/American Presidents: A HistoryAmerican Indians/American Presidents: A History by National Museum of the American Indian

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Multiple authors contributed to this educational book published by the National Museum of the American Indian. I would recommend it to all non-native Americans, as it sheds light on a people long ignored by the public and perpetually mistreated by the United States in general. The presidents’ roles in the atrocious story have varied, with some intentionally abusing the rights of American Indians, others reflecting indifference or misguided attitudes, and few doing much to right past wrongs. By no means a hateful assessment, it certainly holds no punches. The authors cover all presidents except one (Buchanan is not even in the index!), up to the book’s 2009 publication. The only other thing I would like to have read is a conclusion that returned to what was mentioned in the introduction: The giant faces carved into a mountain in the heart of Indian territory in South Dakota, one of which belongs to Thomas Jefferson, suggested in the intro to be the “planner of cultural genocide”–an accusation not without merit.

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Goodreads Review: The Help — Kathryn Stockett

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is hard, if you’ve seen the movie first, not to see the characters in your mind, as you read, as they were in the film. Especially Minny, but what a perfect fit for Octavia Spencer! I loved reading the darker details of this story that the movie glazes over, a history much more accurate, unfortunately. I never quite understood the naked man’s appearance, but I guess the irony is that the greatest threat to anyone’s health in this story came not from a black maid using a white lady’s toilet, but from a crazy white dude.

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Goodreads Review: Gentleman Boss — Thomas C. Reeves (President #21 Chester Arthur)

Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur (Signature)Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur by Thomas C. Reeves

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chester Arthur is one of those “neverheardofum” presidents, but not for his lack of an effort to be remembered. Long a New York political cog and boss, Arthur steered another direction when he came into the job he never wanted–President of the United States. Reeves painstakingly explores Arthur’s time in the New York City Customhouse, a patronage-hogging job which President Hayes removed him from less than two years before seeing him enter the White House. In the nation’s top post, Arthur pursued a grand agenda, internationally and domestically, but to little effect, leaving him largely an empty glass on the table of history. A biography packed with detail despite Arthur’s destruction of many of his papers, Gentleman Boss is a terrific ride from Lexington to Pennsylvania Avenues.

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Presidential Biographies

The Biographies I’ve Read of Each U.S. President

From three online “Best of” lists, and impulse pick-ups.

The Ones Ahead

  1. Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow
  2. John Adams, David McCullough
  3. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Jon Meacham
  4. James Madison: A Biography, Ralph Louis Ketcham
  5. James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, Harry Amon
  6. John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life, Paul C. Nagel
  7. The Life of Andrew Jackson (abridged), Robert V. Remini
  8. Martin Van Buren, The Romantic Age of American Politics, John Niven
  9. Old Tippecanoe: William Henry Harrison and His Time, Freeman Cleaves
  10. John Tyler: Champion of the Old South, Oliver P. Chitwood
  11. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America, Walter Bornemann
  12. Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest,  K. Jack Bauer
  13. Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President, Robert J. Rayback
  14. Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills, Roy F. Nichols
  15. President James Buchanan: A Biography,  Philip S. Klein
  16. A. Lincoln: A Biography, Ronald C. White, Jr.
  17. Andrew Johnson: A Biography, Hans L. Trefousse
  18. American Ulysses, Ronald C. White, Jr.
  19. Rutherford B. Hayes and His America, Harry Barnard
  20. Garfield: A Biography, Allan Peskin
  21. Gentleman Boss: The Life and Times of Chester Alan Arthur, Thomas C. Reeves
  22. Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage, To the Loss of the Presidency, Allan Nevins
  23. Benjamin Harrison, Charles Calhoun
  24. Grover Cleveland, A Study in Courage, To the End of a Career, Allan Nevins
  25. William McKinley and His America, H. Wayne Morgan
  26. Mornings on Horseback, David McCullough [Theodore Roosevelt]
  27. The Life and Times of William Howard Taft, Henry F. Pringle
  28. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, John Milton Cooper, Jr.
  29. The Harding Era: Warren G. Harding and His Administration, Robert H. Murray
  30. Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President, Donald R. McCoy
  31. Herbert Hoover: A Public Life, David Burner
  32. FDR, Jean Edward Smith
  33. Truman, David McCullough
  34. Eisenhower in War and Peace, Jean Edward Smith
  35. An Unfinished Life, Robert Dallek [John F. Kennedy]
  36. Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, Robert Dallek
  37. Richard Nixon: The Life, John A. Farrell
  38. Gerald Ford, Douglas Brinkley
Biographies I plan to read later.
  • 39. Jimmy Carter: A Comprehensive Biography, Peter Bourne
  • 40. President Reagan, Lou Cannon
  • 41. George H.W. Bush, Timothy Naftali
  • 42. First in His Class, David Maraniss [Bill Clinton]
  • 43. To be determined [George W. Bush]
  • 44. To be determined [Barack Obama]
  • 45. To be determined [Donald Trump]
  •  7. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, John Meacham
  • 18. Grant: A Biography, William S. McFeeley
  • 18. Personal Memoirs, Ulysses S. Grant
  • 32. No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearnes Goodwin [Franklin Roosevelt]
  • 34. Eisenhower: Soldier and President, Stephen E. Ambrose
  • 42. My Life, Bill Clinton

The Plus-Ones

Additional biographies I’ve read of presidents already covered.
  • 16. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • 26. Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theordore Roosevelt, William Henry Harbaugh
  • 33. The Autobiography of Harry S. Truman, Harry Truman and Robert H. Ferrell*
  • 41. 41: A Portrait of My Father, George W. Bush

The Supplementals

Biographies I’ve read of other significant people in American history.
  • Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson
  • Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
  • Santa Anna of Mexico, Will Fowler
  • Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker, Stacy Cordery
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X, Alex Haley

* The first presidential biography I ever read.

Special Thanks to Steve at BestPresidentialBios.com for his hard work and inspiration.

Friend Suggestion

The Books I’ve Read Since 2013 That Were Suggested by a Friend or Family Member

Solicted from Facebook, and in person.
  1. Last Days of Summer, Steve Kluger
  2. Ramona, Helen Hunt Jackson
  3. Room with a View, E.M. Forster
  4. Killing Kennedy, Bill O’Reilly
  5. Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
  6. Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK,                                       Gerald Posner
  7. Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut

Wild Card

The Books I’ve Chosen to Read Since 2013 That Were Not Part of My List Rotation

Impulse purchases, library pickups, or plucked from my own shelves, read out of order from my designated category list.
  1. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
  2. Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
  3. The Boys in the Boat, Daniel J. Brown
  4. Bettyville, George Hodgman
  5. The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay
  6. Old Tippecanoe, Freeman Cleaves
  7. The Princess Diarist, Carrie Fisher
  8. Santa Anna of Mexico, Will Fowler
  9. A. Lincoln, Ronald C. White, Jr.
  10. The Turner House, Angela Flournoy
  11. The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
  12. The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, Slavomir Rawicz
  13. Washington’s Monument: And the Fascinating History of the Obelisk, John Steele Gordon

My Choice

The Books I’ve Read Since 2013 Just Because I Wanted To

Impulse purchases, library pickups, or plucked from my own shelves, read at the designated time on my list.
  1. The Green Mile, Stephen King
  2. Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust,                                       Sarah Ogilvie and Scott Miller
  3. The Small Rain, Madeleine L’Engle
  4. Zoo, James Patterson
  5. The Autobiography of Harry S. Truman, Harry S. Truman (Robert H. Ferrell, ed.)
  6. I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
  7. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Walter Isaacson
  8. Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
  9. The Human Age, Diane Ackerman
  10. American Indians/American Presidents, National Museum of the American Indian