Being Nixon: A Man Divided – Evan Thomas


Lyndon Johnson – Charles Peter

Enjoyable, short and to the point biograph of LBJ. This book was just the right amount of depth for me.

Born in was born in 1908 in Texas. Not a good student. Mother was dominant force in his life. Went to a small teachers college in Texas. During college, worked as a teacher in a very poor town. Worked very hard, helped the students. Organized many activities for them such as sports leagues etc.

Was the editor of the school newspaper. Participated in debate club.

Got a job with a Texas Congressman, Richard Kleberg, a liberal. Used this first major connection to forward career. Became Congressman, served in military while in Congress, then Senator from Texas. Lost first run due to election fraud. Committed his own fraud to win the second time.

Extremely successful Senator. Very good at using rules to his advantage, building coalitions, and when that didn’t work, twisting arms. Very persuasive.

JFK made his his VP, mostly to help win the south. Bob Kennedy hated him. John was ok with him.

Worked hard to forward JFK’s agenda. Extraordinarily successful on the domestic side. Struggled with Vietnam.

(fill in details later)


Kennedy – Michael O’Brien


Dwight D. Eisenhower – Tom Wicker

DrBorn texas.
West point.good football player. Knee iinjury
Aide to MacArthur army.
Marshall thought well of him. Sent him to London. Churchill liked
Command of operation torch
Called himself a liberal Republican. But was really.
Was in favour of u n control of atomic weapons
President of Columbia
Beat Stevenson in 1952.
Nixon’s checkers speech
 “I will go to Korea”
 named dulle s as secretary of state
Nsc papers. Written by cabinet about issues around world. They became policy. Sometimes for too long, after they were outdated
End of Korean war. Voluntary reparation
Adop red policy of containment (from truman)
Truman gave aid to frenc h to help with Vietnam. Wanted to ensure France didn’t go commie
James McGovern. First U.S. Man to die in Vietnam. 1954
Domino theory
Eisenhower approved two secret wars. One in Iran and one in Guatemala. Started country down a slippery slope.
M. Nationalized Anglo-iranian oil comp in 1951. Eisenhower approved operation ajax.
Eisenhower cut off aid money. M. Started trade talks with russia. Ousted shah from head of army.  These moves sparked commie fears.
Operation success in Guatemala
Atoms for peace
Brown vs board of education. Eisenhower disagreed with the decision.
Eisenhower nominated earl Warren supreme court. Warren immediately voted for Brown
executive privilege
Irving preress
McCarthy hearings. “Have you no decency sir?”
Gop lost Congress in 1954
Changhi chec controlled Taiwan
Eisenhower signed mutual defense with Taiwan
Open skies proposal
Interstate highway system
Lawrence seaway opened (nothing to do with it)
Two years balanced budget
Suez canal war
Hungary crisis
Little rock governor faubus. Eisenhower Denton army
Egypt and Syria formed United Arab republic.
Arab union formed 1958. By Jordan and Iraq
Arms race in middle East
Eisenhower sent forces in at invitation of saudis
Successful. Weakened Russian influence
Curtailed spending and raised interest rates. Recession. Nixon fucked.
Disliked kennedy
Eisenhower didn’t like Nixon either. Didn’t really work for his election
Nixon didn’t aggressively use Eisenhower either. Petty.
Eisenhower suggested Nixon be replaced with Rockefeller
Eisenhower announced a unilateral ban on atmospheric nuclear testing. Soviets were then forced to follorsuit.
Powers U2 crash. Ended hopes of nuclear treaty.
Eisenhower tried to cover-up u2 incident. Didn’t know Soviets had proof
Military industrial complex was his farewell speech.

Citizen Solider: A Life of Harry Truman – Aida Donald

Born in Missouri. Mother was college educated. Big influence on his life. Truman was a mama’s boy.
Didn’t to college. No dough.
Worked at a bank. Did well.diligent worker.
Father lost most family money speculating on grain futures. Harry had to come home and help on the farm
Tried business venture in mining,and then in oil. Both failed.
Joined army in 1917. Net Harry Vaughn and Jim Pendergast during training. Very successful captain of a artillery brigade.
Married after the war. Open haberdashery store. Failed.
Got involved in the Pendergast politico underworld. Write the Pickwick papers describing his guilt.
Truman was a very energetic county judge. Spearheaded many initiatives. Write paper And Results of County Planning.
Won election to Senate. Called congressman from Pendergast.
WPA – works progress administration.
Supported FDR, especially land lease act.
Was not a strong new deal supporter but in general did support.
Headed special committee to investigate the national defense program. (Hilary Clinton wanted a similar committee to investigate Iraq Afghan wars. Republican s defeated it.)
Churchill coined “the iron curtain.”
 bombed killed thousands. Other hand Japanese killed many more in China Indochina Malaysia Thailand etc. Ruthless. Marshall thought would save 250k American. Not clear if anybody knew radiation would have been so bad. Japs had 115k American prisoners. We’re threatening to kill them. Bataan death March.
Book say MacArthur democratized japan.
Truman sent flotilla to Mediterranean to protect Turkey from Soviets. They had designs on Iran too.
Kennan memos about containing Russia
To err is Truman…
Lost Congress to hop
Established national science foundation. CIA.
Truman doctrine. Assist any nation threatened by Soviets
Piano player in a whore house was said by Truman
Balfour declaration = England agreement give Jewish own state after ww1
P. 185 1946 election. Formed Republican party as known today. Objective = remove new deal
Beat Dewey
Created NATO
Korean war
assassination attempt.

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure- Matthew Algeo

Fun little book about Harry and Bess’ drive from from Independence, Missouri to D.C. after his presidency was over. Back in the day a president didn’t get a pension, secret service, or anything. Truman was basically just another guy, albeit another guy that was a president. He wanted to take a cross-country trip as just another guy, but of course it didn’t workout quite that way.  Author made the story interesting,  weaving a bit of history, Truman’s  backstory, his own story, and geography into the narrative.


Steve Forbert: My Life in Folk Rock

Autobiograph of Steve Forbert, on of my favorite lesser-known singer songwriters. Steve Forbert fans should read this book. Lots of great background information on his recordings.

He give the best definition of folk music I’ve heard. If at least 20% of a song is similar to what Woody Guthrie did, then it’s folk music.

Enjoyed hearing his thoughts on fathering twin boys.


FDR – Jean Smith


Homesick for Another World – Otessa Moshfegh










Short stories by an American-Iranian writer. Very dark, very quirky. I  particularly like the very first story, Bettering Myself. Need to read that one again.

Sometimes her stories seem just weird, but not weird in a good way. Just kind of too far out there.


Herbert Hoover: Extraordinary Man in Extraordinary Times – Ken Whyte


Coolidge – Amity Shales

Born and raised in Vermont.  Father held many positions, including farmer, storekeeper, state senator.

Attended Amherst. Struggled early, found his way late as a member of debate team. Excelled, won awards.

Read law. Moved to Massachusetts. Married in 1905. Elected to state House of Representatives. Elected governor in 1915.

Vice President to Harding. Becomes President when Harding died of heart attack.

Biggest achievements centered around fiscal matters. He shrank the size of the federal government. Significantly reduced the national debt. He also was an early supply side amateur economist. He cut taxes which according to the author reduced the deficit (I am deeply sckepital.)

He refused to run for a second terms even though he was very likely to win.

Was known as “Silent Cal.”

Died of a heart attack at 60.













Grandma Gatewood – Ben Montgomery

Inspiring story of Emma Gatewood, the first woman to to hike the  entire Appalachian Trail. She did it for the first time at age 67.  She did it two more times (one of these was in sections).  She also hiked the Oregon Trail, and did many others. When asked why she did it, she said “Because I wanted to.”. Love that.




A Mighty Forest: A New History of the German People – Steven Ozment

Fairly short history of Germany.  Complicated story.


Warren G. Harding – John Dean

Yes, that John Dean, of Watergate fame.

Dean grew up in the same Ohio small town as Harding.

Harding was a very good student, could do well without a lot of effort.  Roommate in college said he would read his textbook through while facing the wall and when finished, would throw it against the wall and say “God darn, I got you!” Then ace the test.

The woman he eventually married had illegitimate child. She was a maverick.  Author suggests she had the relationship with her child’s ne’er- do-well father as a way of rebelling against her own father.

Her father was a very successful businessman in town. He was very active in his daughter’s life, but very controlling. He forced her out of the house after she became pregnant. She moved in with a friend’s family and taught piano lessons to survive.

He also did not like Harding. Tried to drive him away. Spread rumors that he was part black.

After college, Harding got a job with a newspaper, and eventually became the owner/editor of the hometown paper. He eventually became a state senator, then a federal senator. Republican.

Very much a “people person”.  Very well-liked in the Senate.

Elected president in 1920.  His wife was first first-lady to vote for husband. Won in landslide over Cox.

Had, at best, a mediocre administration. It seems most historians rate him very low, although Dean makes the case that he did reasonably well.  Dean says he had nothing to do with the scandals (Teapot Dome), nor did he father an illegitimate child as was alleged, or commit adultery while  he was married.

Among his achievements:

  • Some excellent cabinet appointees – Hughes at State and Hoover at Commerce (and some really bad ones –> teapot dome)
  • Vocal supporter of civil rights for blacks
  • Led successful conference to reduce arms race
  • Increased tariffs
  • Created the General Accounting office (GAO)
  • Supported various pro-business acts that arguable helped pull the economy out of crisis

A series of scandals that erupted after his death in office (heart attack) stained his administration. Teapot Dome was the biggest. He also backed immigration laws that discriminated against those that would likely vote for  democrats. Reduced taxes, but mostly on the wealthy.

A more negative take:


How to Live or A Life of Montaigne – Sarah Bakewell

Pretty interesting. Original idea to break the  philosopher’s work down into maxims on how to live a life.  I  felt it got bogged down a lot towards the end, then picked up again at the very end.


Wilson – A. Scott Berg

The 28th president of the United States. Born in Staunton, Virginia, but grow up mostly in Georgia and South Carolina. Father was a Presbyterian preacher. Ancestors were Scottish.



Biography of John Fremont, intrepid explorer of the Western territories. Led several expeditions, discovered and documented the features of many new areas. Over 200 places are named after him. Senator (very briefly), military commander, territorial governor, anti-slavery advocate, author, presidential candidate. Habitually broke, poor businessman, wildly impetuous, cavalier sense of ethics.




Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance – Angela Duckworth

The title says it all really. Basic argument is that perseverance (i.e.  “grit”) is  the most  important factor in “success”. I would debate that her measurement of  success is too conventional.  Based on my personal experience and child-raising experience, I think her idea is valid.

Duckworth is  a  social scientist. Her thoughts are backed-up to a degree by science.


The Presidency of William Taft – Paolo Coletta

William Taft was born in Cincinnati, to a upper-middle class family (his father was Attorney General under Ulysses Grant), attended Yale(finishing second in his class),  then the Cincinnati Law School.

He was appointed to the Superior Court of Cincinnati, and subsequently was reelected five times to that  position. Later appointed the US Solicitor General. Next became a federal judge.

He became the governor of the Philippines, then Secretary  of War under Roosevelt. In 1908 he was elected President, benefiting greatly from the endorsement of Roosevelt, whose progressive policies were popular with the public.

Taft’s presidency was a mixed-bag. On the one hand, he was a man a great integrity. He tried to do what was he believed was right, often in disregard of the political consequences. To a large degree, that was also his downfall.

Taft had some successes, among them the revision of tariffs, shoring up the legal status of Roosevelt’s conservation initiatives, new railroad regulations, postal banks, parcel posts, two new states, two new amendments, establishment of the  Department of  Labor, and six new Supreme Court justices who served well.

On the other hand, Taft was not politically adroit. He managed to antagonize both the  progressives and the conservatives at various times, and ended up losing the 1912 election by a very large margin.

Roosevelt also played a large role in his problems. First, Roosevelt helped  him get elected by vigorously claiming  that he would  champion Roosevelt’s progressive policies. However, deep-down Taft was a conservative. He simply did not always agree with Roosevelt, and as a man of integrity instead of expediency, he often took actions that infuriated the progressives. Roosevelt ended-up running against Taft in 1912 for the Republican nomination, and although he lost, he  managed to make the  general election for Taft nigh-on impossible.

Taft was appointed to the Supreme Court  later in life, the job he  always wanted.

I’m not a big fan of this book. It’s part of the Presidential Series, but unlike most of the others, is not written for a reader looking for just a  quick summary.  This book goes into much greater detail than I  was looking  for and contains little biographical information.

Fun facts… The  cherry trees on the Mall were planted during Taft’s time. Taft loved to play golf. Didn’t read. Liked to dance. Was very fat. Got stuck in the White  House bathtub.








Book of John

Same basic story, perhaps a  bit  more  readable than the  others.


How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie

While Dale Carnegie’s most famous and enduring book is How to Win Friends and Influence People ( check out this excellent summary) this somewhat overlooked gem is one of his most important works.

Life inevitably brings with it problems and stress. When this book was written,Carnegie’s generation had been through the Great Depression, World War II, and the post-war boom. Nowadays in these advanced times people still go through, much like before, times of business setbacks, illness, family troubles, and many other hardships.

This book’s ultimate message is that the worry and anxiety created by all of life’s challenges can be controlled. Not only that, worry is optional. If we wish to live with happiness, and peace of mind, we must first deal with worry before we tackle our problems.


John Burroughs: An American Naturalists – Edward J. Renehan, Jr.

Biography of John Burroughs. Few have heard of him now, but Burroughs was once very well-known. “For several decades he may have been the most popular writer of any kind in the country — when he and President Theodore Roosevelt traveled across the U.S. by train in 1903, observers said the writer often drew more admirers at their whistle stops than the politician, soon to be returned to the White House.”  His fame was deserved; his work is worth checking out.


Book of Luke

Basically the same stories as the other book. I would say this book was a bit more eloquent. A bit longer.


John James Audubon – John Burroughs

A short biography of John James Audubon by John Burroughs.  Written in 1902.  I didn’t know anything  about Audubon.  He was a naturalist.  After spending many years in various businesses, mostly failing, decided to follow his talent for drawing animals. Worked out well.


Notes on Whitman – As Poet and Person – John Burroughs

The book is divided into two parts. In the first part Burroughs defends Leaves of Grass against academic, conventional-minded critics that objected to Whitman’s very unconventional style and often highly sensual themes. He also commends Whitman as a true lover and interpreter of nature, Burroughs favorite theme. The second, more interesting to the average reader section is a short biography of Whitman. It describes his early childhood life, his  time working in D.C., (including his getting fired from the Treasury Department for the crime of being the  author of Leaves of Grass), and his experience volunteering as a nurse during the Civil War, including several remarkable letters written by Whitman about his experiences. Whitman himself lended a hand in the books writing.