- Used Books
- Staff Picks
- Gifts & Gift Cards
- Sell Books
- Stores & Events
- Let's Talk Books
Special Offers see all
More at Powell's
Recently Viewed clear list
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989by Michael Beschloss
Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed bestselling author of The Conquerors, Michael Beschloss has brought us a brilliantly readable and inspiring saga about crucial times in America's history when a courageous President dramatically changed the future of the United States.
With surprising new sources and a dazzling command of history and human character, Beschloss brings to life these flawed, complex men — and their wives, families, friends and foes. Never have we had a more intimate, behind-the-scenes view of Presidents coping with the supreme dilemmas of their lives.
You will be in the room with the private George Washington, braving threats of impeachment and assassination to make peace with England. John Adams, incurring his party's "unrelenting hatred" by refusing to fight France and warning his enemies, "Great is the guilt of an unnecessary war." Andrew Jackson, in a death struggle against the corrupt Bank of the United States. Abraham Lincoln, risking his Presidency to insist that slaves be freed.
Beschloss also shows us Theodore Roosevelt, taunting J. P. Morgan and the Wall Street leaders who dominated his party. Franklin Roosevelt, defying the isolationists — and maybe the law — to stop Adolf Hitler. Harry Truman, risking a walkout by top officials to recognize a Jewish state. John Kennedy, the belated champion of civil rights, complaining that he has cost himself a second term. And finally, two hundred years after Washington, Ronald Reagan, irking some of his oldest backers to seek an end to the Cold War.
As Beschloss shows in this gripping and important book, none of these Presidents was eager to incur ridicule, vilification or threats of political destruction and even assassination. But in the end, bolstered by friends and family, hidden private beliefs and, sometimes, religious faith, each ultimately proved himself to be, in Andrew Jackson's words, "born for the storm."
"Don't be afraid!' was George Washington's near-to-last utterance, to the worried doctor at his bedside. The essential founding father's counsel is understood by well-known historian Beschloss (The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany) to set an example for future presidents. Beschloss outlines how several occupants of the Oval Office — including Jackson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, FDR, Truman, Kennedy and Reagan — combined courage with wisdom to change the future of the country, notwithstanding the slings and arrows they earned. Despite its unpopularity at the time, for instance, Reagan's 'strong beliefs combined with his optimism' led him to pursue the policy to abolish nuclear weapons, which helped bring down the Soviet empire peacefully. None of the author's heroes were saints, but rather flawed men sustained by friends, families, conviction and religious faith. With contenders for 2008 already lining up, this well-timed book might, the author hopes, persuade some to take the kinds of 'wise political risks that Presidents once did.'Perhaps. But knowledgeable readers should look elsewhere for genuine historical insight. The author's broad brushstrokes necessarily restrict him to painting nuanced individuals and complex times in only basic primary colors, and there is little that has not been said before — in some cases, many times." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It has become a cliche to point out that while academic historians write dense, imponderable tomes to get tenure, popular historians satisfy the public hunger with powerfully written and engaging narratives. This cliche could be disproved in two ways: Academics could write terrific histories, and popular historians could write dreadful ones. Michael Beschloss picks the second option.... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) 'Presidential Courage' is boring, repetitive and badly written. It tells us nothing we did not know before. And it substitutes melodrama for the actualities of history. The thesis of Beschloss' book is that presidents sometimes act courageously. Like one of his heroes, John F. Kennedy, Beschloss defines courage as the willingness to do the right thing rather than the popular thing. The rest of the book is devoted to offering examples of this not very stunning insight. Included are George Washington's support of the unpopular Jay Treaty, John Adams' willingness to break with extreme Federalists, Andrew Jackson's successful struggle with Nicholas Biddle and the Second National Bank, Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, Teddy Roosevelt's trust busting, FDR's leadership during America's entry into World War II, Harry Truman's support for a Jewish state, John F. Kennedy's fight for civil rights, and Ronald Reagan's decision to ignore the hard-line anti-communists in his party to find common ground with Mikhail Gorbachev. To tell his tale, Beschloss writes chapters that rarely exceed 10 pages. He is fond of paragraphs that contain only one sentence. With the possible exception of John Adams, none of the presidents he chooses is controversial or surprising. And what he says about each has been said many times before: Andrew Jackson was a man to whom honor was important, Teddy Roosevelt overcame his poor physical health, and Ronald Reagan liked to talk about his movie roles. It is as if Beschloss never wants to tax the minds of his readers. He taxes their attention span instead, for it is easier to read longer narratives filled with fascinating twists and turns than to work one's way through Beschloss' choppy, disconnected stories. Once one of these stories has been told, moreover, one gets the point of them all. Where does courage come from? Let's try God. So despite the fact that America's presidents vary greatly in their faith commitments, Beschloss' presidents invariably turn to religion for reassurance. Jackson 'drew strength from his religious belief and Bible reading.' Lincoln was able to face possible political defeat because he 'drew in part on his religious faith.' Harry Truman 'tried to be a serious Christian.' Ronald Reagan 'was in fact a determined Christian.' Life rarely follows a script. Beschloss' lives of the presidents always do. One of America's greatest historians, academic and popular at the same time, was Richard Hofstadter, and he turned to historical figures to teach his readers about the ironic and the unexpected. But Beschloss is not only predictable in the presidents he chooses, he is also completely conventional in choosing the acts of courage that define them. Harry Truman offers one example. Truman defended the Jewish right to a homeland, even though he was warned by Secretary of State George Marshall about the potential strategic importance of the Arabs. As much as I am glad that Truman gave his support to Israel, how courageous was his action? It helped him raise money for his 1948 campaign, and he thought it might help him win New York, which in the event he did not. Given what we now know, it would have been more courageous if Truman had taken Marshall's advice more seriously. Greater balance in American foreign policy then might have led to greater security in the Middle East now. Then there is the Ronald Reagan question. Reagan was once dismissed as an ignoramus, but now a significant number of historians have come to accept his greatness. No challenge to that conventional wisdom can be found here. Beschloss puts Reagan in his pantheon because he showed the courage to deal with the Russians. But Reagan's insistence on America's innocence prepared the way for the wild-eyed neo-conservative fantasy that became America's humiliation in Iraq. A more courageous president might have tried to teach his people about the complexities of the world. Whatever else he did, Reagan never did that. Beschloss concludes his book by saying that some of his courageous presidents learned the art of leadership by reading about the past. Let us hope that no future presidents turn to this book in search of insights about how to lead. For if they did, they would learn more about how presidents can be turned into myths than about the actual decisions they had to make. Alan Wolfe is director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College and is writing a book about why liberalism matters." Reviewed by Carlos LozadaAlan Wolfe, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"History written with subtlety, verve and an almost novelistic appreciation for the complexities of human nature and presidential politics." Kirkus Reviews
"One could quarrel with [Beschloss'] choice of presidents and critical issues, but his point is well taken." Kansas City Star
"History buffs will find a lot here to love....Beschloss has sprinkled his accounts with delightful trivia and newly discovered source material that enliven the peeks we get into the struggles inside the Oval Office — even before there was an Oval Office." Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
"Presidential Courage alternates neatly between seedy stories of mudslinging and bloated campaign budgets to almost mythical tales of personal sacrifices. This impressive range remains the book's real strength." Rocky Mountain News
"[An] engaging reminder that unpopular presidential acts are not necessarily wrong-headed ones." Boston Globe
"Beschloss' claims for presidential courage are not credible....Courage is a morally loaded term. We tend to forget that when it's exercised in behalf of causes we don't like, we call it stubbornness." Baltimore Sun
"In some cases, Beschloss' choices are obvious and familiar, but he does an admirable job of portraying them dramatically." Providence Journal
From the author Newsweek called "the nation's leading presidential historian" comes an inspiring narrative chronicling the crucial moments when a courageous president has dramatically changed the future of the United States.
About the Author
Michael Beschloss has been called "the nation's leading Presidential historian" by Newsweek. He has written eight books on American Presidents and is NBC News Presidential Historian, as well as contributor to PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and two sons.
Table of Contents
a speedy death to general washington!
kick this treaty to hell!
the damnedest liar
he may retire with undiminish'd glory
rivalries irritated to madness
oh, that i was a soldier!
rocks and quicksands on all sides
the most splendid diamond in my crown
i will kill it!
not a man to be forced
i was born for the storm
who would have had the courage?
i am going to be beaten
too angelic for this devilish rebellion
a well-meaning baboon
the country will be saved
i see dynamite
a rough-and-tumble man
i upset them all
we must protect the chief!
salute your caesar?
we have avoided a putsch
no people except the hebrews
the right place at the right time
how could this have happened?
i am cyrus!
they never show their passion
go get him, johnny boy!
it's going to be a civil war
a man has to take a stand
we win and they lose!
it left me greatly depressed
don't worry that i've lost my bearings
a miracle has taken place
What Our Readers Are Saying
Other books you might like