Over the years, I've read roughly 60 presidential biographies and a handful of other books on the presidency. While I'm happy to discuss any of those in detail with anyone interested enough to ask, I wanted to call out a few of my favorites.
David McCullough's John Adams
If you're reading this, you don't need me to tell you why McCullough is one of the better historians working today. Along with his usual masterful storytelling, he helped me see why Adams is one of the least understood of the founders. More than anything else, he made the second president deeply relatable in his anxiety and self doubt. It would be difficult to say I walked away liking Adams, but I certainly felt like I knew what made him such a complicated, irascible man.
Edmund Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
While all three books in Morris's trilogy are exceptional reads, the first volume is by far my favorite. This was one of the first presidential bios I read and I'd credit Morris's depiction of a young Roosevelt with setting me on the road to my current obsession. I would challenge anyone to follow TR as he made a man of himself and rebuilt his life after some genuinely crippling tragedies and not walk away impressed.
Peter Baker's Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House
While not a traditional biography, Baker's account of the George W. Bush administration is revelatory and helped me see what a great book on the presidency could accomplish. I was in my 20s during the Bush years and felt nothing but contempt for the man and his people. I thought Bush was an incompetent empty suit and that Cheney was pure evil. I certainly didn't close Baker's book thinking that these men were saints or great leaders. What I did discover, however, was the humanity of Bush. To take me from despising him and leave me feeling something other than disdain is a tremendous accomplishment.
I could keep listing great reads, but this is a good start for now. Let me know what you think and feel free to share some of your favorites as well!