Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989

by Michael R. Beschloss

Hardcover, 2007




Simon & Schuster (2007), Edition: First Edition, 448 pages


Presidential historian Beschloss has brought us a saga about crucial times in America's history when a courageous president dramatically changed the future of the United States. Beschloss brings to life these flawed, complex men--and their wives, families, friends and foes, in an intimate, behind-the-scenes view of presidents coping with the supreme dilemmas of their lives. As he shows, 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."--From publisher description.

User reviews

LibraryThing member loafhunter13
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
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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. The author plays up religion in all cases. While it was certainly a basis for the character of many presidents, the credence it is given in this book is a little unsettling. The book, while attempting to show men making tough, unpopular but necessary decisions, exposes our presidents as unsavory, selfish politicians bent on public opinion and reelection more than the welfare of the country. The narrative and history-lite presentation of the facts left me soured on this book. It did not live up to its title and was an exercise in annoyance.
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LibraryThing member zen_923
Very informative but the author's writing style is not that good. Random and unrelated (but informative) information(or trivia) suddenly appearing out of nowhere can be distracting to the reader. Informative book, but not that well-written. I still recommend it though to anyone interested in
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presidential history
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LibraryThing member rsplenda477
An set of interesting arguments for a select few presidents. Of course, the heavy hitters in presidential history are presented, but some of the decisions that are brought up and argued are not as well known. This adds to the overall effect of the book.
LibraryThing member rsubber
I heard Beschloss speak recently at a local college, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
He sounded just like his book: anecdotal, marginally interesting, uninspired.
If you're a serious student of history, you don't need this book on your shelf. For public school students, it
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could be an appealing way to start learning about presidential history.
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LibraryThing member rmagahiz
My review is for the abridged audiobook version read by the author. The author presents engaging profiles of nine American Presidents who persevered despite stiff opposition from either domestic or foreign adversaries (or both). He makes a special effort to show how the later executives were
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inspired or influenced by the example of earlier ones, giving the book a sense of unity despite the broad range of historical periods covered. I find his accounts to be mostly even-handed on the political spectrum, though "objective" isn't quite the word I would use to characterize them.

Such strong characters are easy to tell apart, and thinking about what might have happened if Adams served during the time of Lincoln or if one swapped Theodore and Franklin Roosevelts would make interesting speculations by enthusiasts of political history such as the ones who would most enjoy this book. Such readers would naturally be inclined to make comparisons between this book and other works covering the lives of those individuals who shaped history, not least of which the one John F. Kennedy wrote, Profiles in Courage. You can tell that Beschloss is aware of that famous work because he mentions it explicitly in the Kennedy section.

Drawing from the original documents and the accounts of eyewitnesses, he further fleshes out the inner workings of the Presidency by describing the influences of Cabinet members, financiers, First Ladies, and even celebrities. I would like to leaf through the hardcopy version of this book because of the way I suspect much of that might have had to be cut for this abridgment, though the one cameo appearance by Richard Nixon as ex-president does not go missing, fortunately. And as for the concluding section on how Ronald Reagan brought about an end to the Cold War, it is clear to me how much of a debt that man owes to his collaborator/adversary Mikhail Gorbachev for cementing his place in history.
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LibraryThing member
For me to like any political book is amazing in itself.


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