|Nathan Miller: Star Spangled Men|
Miller, a five-time Pulitzer nominee and author of ten other historical titles, simply refuses to bore. His 10 presidential portraits are loaded with lively detail:
Beyond that, the book does a great job of dealing with the women behind the men, exploring the often fatal role of wifely ambition in bringing unqualified men to highest office.
In addition to engaging detail, Miller invests the book with a historian's perspective on larger issues. He minces no words in pinpointing the failings of his nominees for odium:
Discussing Jimmy Carter, Miller moves closest to the present. The book reveals surprising details about Carter's personal qualities, notably his deification of Admiral Hyman Rickover and Carter's personal supervision of the White House tennis schedules. Miller concedes Carter was among the brightest of all presidents (60th in his class at Annapolis without cracking a book) and something of a saint as an ex-President. However, in Miller's view Carter left office a failure, having failed to communicate a vision to a confused nation and unable to control Congress.
While acknowledging Carter's successes, Miller points out strange contradictions in Carter's reign. These include Carter's pro-segregationist campaign to defeat the ex-governor of Georgia and his creation of bureaucratic elephants -- Department of Energy and the Department of Education -- after having been elected on a promise to trim government. Miller closes Carter's segment with a frustrated Carter trying to cope with the Iranian hostage crisis.
Over all, Miller's nominations for the worst 10 presidents offer no particular surprises -- until one reaches the epilogue where he nominates his two most over-rated presidents. Too bad the book was published in 1998. One wonders if our current commander-in-chief would have made Miller's bottom 10 had the book been written a year later. Bottom line? Not for everyone, but a must-read for American history buffs.
H. Turnip Smith
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