Destiny's Consul: America's Ten Greatest Presidents

By Richert, Lucas | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Destiny's Consul: America's Ten Greatest Presidents


Richert, Lucas, Presidential Studies Quarterly


Destiny's Consul: America's Ten Greatest Presidents. By Michael P. Riccards. New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2012. 383 pp.

In 1960, political scientist Richard Neustadt started his influential book, Presidential Power (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1960), with the pronouncement: "In the United States we like to 'rate' a President. We measure him as 'weak' or 'strong' and call what we are measuring his 'leadership'" (p. 69). Since then, presidential rating and ranking has become a regular exercise for scholars of U.S. history and politics. Michael P. Riccards's accessible new book on presidential greatness, published cleverly during an election year, builds ably on this tradition.

Riccards, the executive director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy in New Jersey, has previously examined a wide-ranging and eclectic mix of topics in American government and policy. Besides the office of the presidency, for instance, he has explored the Roman Catholic Church, New Jersey politics, sports and manhood in contemporary America, as well as American higher education. With Destiny's Consul, he is revisiting a subject he understands extremely well; at the same time, he is clearly targeting an audience much broader than political scientists and public policy scholars.

The book begins with a measured appraisal of the United States' 10 preeminent presidents. They were not, according to Riccards, "flawless leaders with a sure touch of history and purpose." Instead, they "made mistakes, drifted, and miscalculated, but in the long run they have made decisions that helped reshape the office, the nation, and often the world" (p. x). Following this, he offers some concise observations about certain "near-great" presidents who failed to make the cut. Here, Dwight D. Eisenhower's, John F. Kennedy's, and Lyndon B. Johnson's legacies are discussed--yet, remarkably, James Madison is not addressed. Destiny's Consul is then divided into 10 chapters, and each offers an overview of a president. The catalog--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Anderwe Jackson, James K. Polk, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan--is organized chronologically, eschews a ranking system metric of "greatness," and largely cleaves to conventional views. …

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