I was reading Best Presidential Bios for recommendations and loved some of the descriptions!
William Henry Harrison:
"From what I can determine, about ten times more Americans believe in aliens than remember that William Henry Harrison was once the president of the United States. And about twice as many people believe Elvis is still alive as recall that Harrison was once the leader-of-the-free-world."
"You might reasonably expect that a life this full of action and adventure would be tailor-made for a great biography. But apparently you would be wrong.
It’s premature for me to declare his life dull, or his biographies uninteresting. But I’m two-thirds of the way through my first book on Taylor and I’m not sure which would be worse: to be stuck in the waiting room of a dentist’s office with nothing to read, or to be stuck in the waiting room with just Taylor’s life to review. Your child’s pet hamster probably sees more action in an average day than Taylor saw in his first sixty years."
"I should have known something unsatisfying loomed when biographer K. Jack Bauer wrote in his introduction that “Taylor’s career…was not only unexciting, but mundane and boring.” That appears to be the understatement of the year.
Note-to-self: when an author warns that his subject’s life was boring…time to fertilize the lawn or re-caulk the bathtub."
"Never before had I read a biography of anyone where the author was so clearly and forcefully antagonistic toward his or her subject." (I've read this book and I concur with the review: it's a delight of hate.)
"I would love to tell you Franklin Pierce’s life will be the foundation of many fascinating biographies. Following Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore it seems hard to imagine enduring 1,300 pages about another dull and apparently unsuccessful president.
Unfortunately, all signs point to Pierce proving bland and fatiguing. For one thing, I can’t recall his name being mentioned even once in any previous presidential biographies. That’s never a good sign."
"But after an exciting start (who doesn’t love reading about Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison?) the past few months have been a little less thrilling.
After all, five of the last six presidents whose biographies I’ve read occupy the worst quartile of all presidents as ranked by historians. Tyler, Taylor, Harrison, Fillmore and Pierce didn’t quite make the short list to be carved into Mount Rushmore.
We just have one more poorly-ranked president to get through first: James Buchanan, the only lifelong bachelor to serve as president."
"Former President Andrew Johnson has the name recognition of someone in the witness protection program and all of the popularity of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In a recent survey of historians he scored 43rd out of 43 former presidents in terms of his overall rank. That’s dead last.
No previous president has received so little mention in his predecessor’s biographies as Johnson. He was referenced an average of about once in each of the Lincoln biographies I read, and then only to mention (in passing) his role as Lincoln’s vice presidential running-mate during Lincoln’s second run for the presidency.
His service in the executive branch began on an unpromising note as he delivered a rambling inaugural speech as Vice President under the influence of a large amount of alcohol."