In the tradition of The Gatekeepers and The Presidents Club, historian Craig Fehrman offers a surprising new look into both the public and private lives of America’s presidents.
Most Americans are familiar with Lincoln’s famous words in the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet few can name the work that helped win him the presidency: his published collection of speeches entitled Political Debates Between Hon. Abraham Lincoln and Hon. Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln labored in secret to get his book ready for the 1860 election, tracking down newspaper transcripts, editing them carefully for fairness, and hunting for a printer who would meet his specifications. Political Debates sold fifty thousand copies—the rough equivalent of half a million books in today’s market—and it reveals something about Lincoln’s presidential ambitions. But it also reveals something about his heart and mind. When voters asked about his beliefs, Lincoln liked to point them to his book.
In Craig Fehrman’s groundbreaking work of history, Author in Chief, the story of America’s presidents and their books opens a rich new window into presidential biography. Beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, the first presidential book to influence a campaign, and John Adams’s Autobiography, the first score-settling presidential memoir, Author in Chief draws on newly uncovered information—including never-before-published letters from Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan—to offer insights into the aspirations and inner lives of our nation’s presidents. We see Teddy Roosevelt, known today for his rugged adventures and bulletproof self-confidence, as a vulnerable first-time author, struggling to write the book that would become a classic of American history. We see Ronald Reagan painstakingly revising Where’s the Rest of Me?, a forgotten memoir in which he sharpened his sunny political image. We see Donald Trump negotiating the deal for Art of the Deal, the volume that made him synonymous with business savvy—and decades later boosted him again on his way to the White House.
Combining the narrative skill of a journalist with the rigorous scholarship of a historian, Fehrman presents hundreds of new stories, scenes, quotations, and telling details to create an entirely fresh take on our highest leaders. Author in Chief is a feast for history lovers, book lovers, and everybody curious about a behind-the-scenes look at our presidents.
Craig Fehrman is a journalist and historian who’s written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The New Republic, and Slate, among others. He has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. He lives in Indiana with his wife and children.