Go to Homepage   Phillip B. Kunhardt Jr, Phillip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt:
The American President

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Three and one half moon gifRiverhead Books ISBN 157322149X
In the light of the current election there couldn't be a more engrossing read than The American President. This companion book to the PBS television series proved to be a total fascination, particularly to a British national who knows very little about the presidency or American history.

Book: Kunhardt, The American PresidentThe Kunhardts present their choice personal histories of American presidents in an unusual manner, organizing their subjects according to types rather than chronologically. This unusual sorting works incredibly well. Dealing with small groups of presidents compelled to cope with same sort of demanding situations or who came from similar backgrounds (e.g. military heroes) allows the reader to see the real differences between successful and not-so successful presidents.

The book's breezy style adds to its appeal. The brevity of the individual biographies kept the size of the book manageable, though still impressive. But the small vignettes that appear as windows in the main text prove the book's most enjoyable feature. These snippets of information that add a personal touch and some surprising insights about the various presidents. I enjoyed the tidbit about President Abraham Lincoln which revealed the erstwhile "country boy" to be a very shrewd business man who knew where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do at a very young age -- and planned accordingly.

Video: PBS, The American PresidentHundreds of never-before-seen portraits and photos make the book a visual pleasure as well as a gentle history lesson. You never feel forced to continue reading. Rather the combination of photographs, vignettes and block text sparks the reader's interest and makes reading The American President a joy.

The faults I found lie more in personal taste than with the book itself. I wanted more details about each of the presidents, particularly of their youth or on how they dealt with particular issues that occurred during their respective terms. But neither of these requirements suit a book of such wide scope and, indeed, should be relegated to individual biographies.

Would I recommend this book? Well, as an Englishman living in America I would not only buy this book, I would leave it prominently on the coffee table, ready for easy perusal in the few spare moments that occur every day. In fact, I did.

Stephen John Smith

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