Presidential Portraits | Barbara’s Picks, Oct. 2017

Baime, A.J. The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2017. 464p. ISBN 9780544617346. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780544618480. HISTORY
Author of the New York Times best-selling The Arsenal of Democracy and Go Like Hell, veteran reporter Baime chronicles the first few months in office of the man no one had anticipated becoming president. In those months, Truman dealt with the founding of the United Nations, the Potsdam Conference, the Manhattan Project, the German surrender, the liberation of concentration camps, the decision to drop the bomb, and the end of World War II. Baime presents him as the emblematic ordinary man doing the extraordinary. With a five-city tour to New York, Washington, DC, Chicago, Kansas City, and San Francisco.

Chernow, Ron. Grant. Penguin Pr. Oct. 2017. 928p. ISBN 9781594204876. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780525521952. CD/downloadable: Penguin Audio. BIOGRAPHY
From the National Book Award–winning The House of Morgan to the Pulitzer Prize–winning chernowWashington: A Life, Chernow knows how to tell the story of outsize lives. Here he takes on the often-maligned Ulysses S. Grant, who’s come up for some scholarly reconsideration in recent years (see H.W. Brands’s The Man Who Saved the Union and Ronald C. White Jr.’s American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant). Chernow shows Grant coming into his own as a military leader and staying clean despite the oft-critiqued surrounding him while he was president. But Grant gets the highest marks for his steadfast concern for the treatment of African Americans; Frederick Douglass called him “the vigilant, firm, impartial, and wise protector of my race.”

Feldman, Noah. The Three Lives of James Madison: Genius, Partisan, President. Random. Oct. 2017. 816p. ISBN 9780812992755. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780679643845. Downloadable: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY
Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the author of seven books (most recently, Cool War), Feldman offers a refreshed view of Founding Father James Madison as ongoing rebel perpetually remaking America. First, Madison helped craft the Constitution and wrote the Bill of Rights. Then he cofounded the Democratic-Republican Party. Finally, he became the first wartime president, winning the fight while originating the idea of economic sanctions as a weapon. Nothing stuffy here.

Mandela, Nelson & Mandla Langa. Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years. Farrar. Oct. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780374134716. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374717735. CD: Macmillan Audio. AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Published in 1994, Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom was an international best seller detailing one extraordinary life and the transformation of a country. Mandela’s second volume of memoirs, left unfinished at his death, has now been completed by Commonwealth Prize–winning novelist/journalist Langa. Langa accomplished his task by drawing on the detailed notes Mandela made throughout his presidency, the speeches he gave, and previously unseen archival material. The title comes from Mandela himself, who noted, “With freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” Expect extensive publicity.

Whyte, Kenneth. Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. Knopf. Oct. 2017. 736p. ISBN 9780307597960. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781524732462. Downloadable: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY
Often ranked as one of our worst presidents—his very name evokes Depression-era shantytowns—Hoover gets a reconsideration here that sweeps over his entire career. Canadian author Whyte, whose The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst was a Washington Post and Toronto Globe and Mail Book of the Year, charts Hoover’s rise from childhood poverty to business mega-success, then reminds us of Hoover’s large-scale humanitarian works during World War I and after the 1927 Mississippi floods and his efforts (however thankless) to combat the Great Depression. And he was tasked by President Harry Truman himself with aiding European refugees after World War II, which not everyone knows. Get reading.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.


  1. Karl Helicher says:

    Some fascinating books. As nit-picker-in- chief, I point out to the good folks at Houghton Harcourt that there is no period following the “S” in Truman. He did not have a middle-name, only a middle initial. Perhaps, Truman’s parents were so poor, they couldn’t afford a whole middle name.

  2. Karl Helicher says:

    Well, I must eat humble pie; I made a yuge mistake! Seems for consistency sake, the US Government Printing Office Style Manual says a period should be used for the sake of consistency although Mr. T (Truman not Mr. Trump) did not have a middle name. Going back to being retired now. Sorry for making an “S” of myself.

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