Classic Books on Presidents and US Presidency

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Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings, Vol. I: 1832-1858, Vol. II: 1859-1865, edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher, (Library of America, 1989). One of the United States's two greatest presidents, Lincoln has not had a great biography written about him. This fine, comprehensive collection portrays him and his ideas clearly - in his own words.

George Washington, by Henry Cabot Lodge, (American Statesmen Series, Houghton Mifflin, 1898). Washington is more fortunate than Lincoln: He is the subject of several splendid studies. Lodge, who himself went on to a distinguished political career, helps readers see in this fine two-volume biography just how immense the first president's contributions were.

Cincinnatus: George Washington & The Enlightenment, by Gary Wills (Doubleday, 1984). Perhaps the best extant interpretation of Washington's ideas, style of leadership, and huge role in establishing American nationhood. Wills's book shows the clarity of purpose and moral force underlying the first president's leadership.

The Promise of American Life, by Herbert Croly (Northeastern University Press, 1989; first published by Macmillan in 1909). Croly, the great Progressive journalist and founder of the New Republic, writes brilliantly on American political ideas and those who framed them. His discussions of the ideas of three presidents - Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt - are superb.

The President: Office and Powers, 1787-1984, by Edward S. …