presidential history

In "Obama: An Oral History," author Brian Abrams reveals the behind-the-scenes stories that illuminate the eight years of the Obama White House through more than one hundred exclusive interviews.

Among those given a voice in this extraordinary account are Obama’s cabinet secretaries; his teams of speechwriters, legal advisers, and campaign strategists; as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who fought for or against his agenda. They recall the early struggles of an idealistic outsider candidate and speak openly about the exacting work that led to cornerstone legislation. They share the failures and dissent that met Obama’s efforts and revisit the paths to his accomplishments.

Brian Abrams is the author of three bestselling Kindle Singles oral histories: "And NOW…An Oral History of Late Night with David Letterman, 1982–1993;" "Gawker: An Oral History;" and "Die Hard: An Oral History." Abrams has written for the Washington Post Magazine, Time, and The Lowbrow Reader.

John T. Shaw has covered Congress for Market News International for nearly twenty-five years, and has also been a contributing writer for the Washington Diplomat and has been a guest on PBS NewsHour and C-SPAN.

In "Rising Star, Setting Sun," John T. Shaw focuses on the intense ten-week transition between JFK’s electoral victory and his inauguration on January 20, 1961. After winning the presidency by a razor-thin victory on November 8, 1960 over Richard Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s former vice president, John F. Kennedy became the thirty-fifth president of the United States. But beneath the stately veneers of both Ike and JFK, there was a complex and consequential rivalry.

Patricia O’Toole is the author of "When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House," and "The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends," which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Her latest book, "The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made," is a biography of one of the most high-minded, consequential, and controversial US presidents, Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924). "The Moralist" is a cautionary tale about the perils of moral vanity and American overreach in foreign affairs.

James F. Simon is dean emeritus at New York Law School. He is the author of nine books on American history, law, and politics, and has won the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award.

His new book, "Eisenhower vs. Warren: The Battle for Civil Rights and Liberties," brings to life the bitter feud between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Chief Justice Earl Warren framed the tumultuous future of the modern civil rights movement.

William I. Hitchcock is a professor of history at the University of Virginia and the Randolph Compton Professor at the Miller Center for Public Affairs.

In a 2017 survey, presidential historians ranked Dwight D. Eisenhower fifth on the list of great presidents, behind the perennial top four: Lincoln, Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt. In his new book, "The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s," historian William Hitchcock shows that this high ranking is justified. Eisenhower’s accomplishments were enormous, and loom ever larger from the vantage point of our own tumultuous times.

How does President Trump stack up against his predecessors?

In today’s Congressional Corner, Union College political science professor Brad Hays continues his conversation with WAMC’s Alan Chartock.

Nobody expected the vice president, a New York political hack, to be president. And after President James A. Garfield was shot in 1881, nobody expected Chester A. Arthur to become a strong and effective president, a courageous anti-corruption reformer, and an early civil rights advocate.

Despite his promising start as a young man, by his early fifties Chester A. Arthur was known as the crooked crony of New York machine boss Roscoe Conkling. For years Arthur had been perceived as unfit to govern, not only by critics and the vast majority of his fellow citizens but by his own conscience. As President James A. Garfield struggled for his life, Arthur knew better than his detractors that he failed to meet the high standard a president must uphold.

Scott S. Greenberger is a journalist, author and the executive editor of Stateline, the daily news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts. His newest book is "The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur." Greenberger will be at Union College in Schenectady, NY on Thursday, February 22nd - to deliver the college’s Founders Day keynote address.

It’s hard to imagine a country without Medicare, Medicaid, public television and radio, voting rights, integrated schools and hospitals, federal funding for K-12 education, environmental and consumer protections. Yet, according to our next guest, this political inheritance is today under siege.

In his new book, "Building The Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson’s White House," Politico Magazine contributing editor Joshua Zeitz shares how Lyndon Johnson and his White House aides built the Great Society and what can be lost in throwing it away.

Ron Chernow is the prizewinning author and the recipient of the 2015 National Humanities Medal. His first book, The House of Morgan, won the National Book Award, Washington: A Life won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, and Alexander Hamilton (the inspiration for the Broadway musical) won the American History Book Prize.

His new book, Grant, provides a complete understanding of Ulysses S. Grant -- the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.

Sidney Blumenthal is the former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. He has been a national staff reporter for The Washington Post, Washington editor and staff writer for The New Yorker, senior writer for The New Republic, and contributed to numerous additional publications. His books include the bestselling The Clinton Wars, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment and The Permanent Campaign. Among his films, he was the executive producer of the Academy Award- and Emmy Award-winning Taxi to the Dark Side.

Volume II of Sidney Blumenthal’s acclaimed, landmark biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, reveals the future president’s genius during the most decisive period of his political life when he seizes the moment, finds his voice, and helps create a new political party. The title of the book is Wrestling With His Angel: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. II, 1849-1856.

What do Dick Cheney and Rahm Emanuel have in common? Aside from polarizing personalities, both served as chief of staff to the president of the United States -- as did Donald Rumsfeld, Leon Panetta, and a relative handful of others. The chiefs of staff, often referred to as "the gatekeepers," wield tremendous power in Washington and beyond; they decide who is allowed to see the president, negotiate with Congress to push POTUS's agenda, and -- most crucially -- enjoy unparalleled access to the leader of the free world. Each chief can make or break an administration, and each president reveals himself by the chief he picks. 

Through extensive, intimate interviews with all seventeen living chiefs and two former presidents, award-winning journalist and producer Chris Whipple pulls back the curtain on this unique fraternity in his book, The Gatekeepers.

In Reagan Rising: The Decisive Years, 1976-1980, New York Times bestselling biographer Craig Shirley charts Ronald Reagan’s astonishing rise from the ashes of his lost 1976 presidential bid to overwhelming victory in 1980. American conservatism—and the nation itself—would never be the same.

  John Quincy Adams was the last of his kind—a Puritan from the age of the Founders who despised party and compromise, yet dedicated himself to politics and government. The son of John Adams, he was a brilliant ambassador and secretary of state, a frustrated president at a historic turning point in American politics, and a dedicated congressman who literally died in office—at the age of 80, in the House of Representatives, in the midst of an impassioned political debate.

In John Quincy Adams, scholar and journalist James Traub draws on Adams’ diary, letters, and writings to evoke a diplomat and president whose ideas remain with us today.

Dutchess County Is Proclaimed Uniquely Presidential

Aug 12, 2016
Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

The Dutchess County Legislature has adopted a proclamation to recognize the county’s role in presidential history. 

  Herbert Clark Hoover was the thirty-first President of the United States. He served one term, from 1929 to 1933. Often considered placid, passive, unsympathetic, and even paralyzed by national events, Hoover faced an uphill battle in the face of the Great Depression.

Many historians dismiss him as merely ineffective. But in Herbert Hoover in the White House,Charles Rappleye draws on rare and intimate sources—memoirs and diaries and thousands of documents kept by members of his cabinet and close advisors—to reveal a very different figure than the one often portrayed. The real Hoover, argues Rappleye, just lacked the tools of leadership.

  Sidney Blumenthal's A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. I, 1809 - 1849 is the first of a multi-volume history of Lincoln as a political genius - from his obscure beginnings to his presidency, assassination, and the overthrow of his post-Civil War dreams of Reconstruction. This volume traces Lincoln from his painful youth, describing himself as “a slave,” to his emergence as the man we recognize as Abraham Lincoln.

From his youth as a “newsboy,” a voracious newspaper reader, Lincoln became a free thinker, reading Tom Paine, as well as Shakespeare and the Bible, and studying Euclid to sharpen his arguments as a lawyer.

Lincoln’s anti-slavery thinking began in his childhood amidst the Primitive Baptist antislavery dissidents in backwoods Kentucky and Indiana, the roots of his repudiation of Southern Christian pro-slavery theology. Intensely ambitious, he held political aspirations from his earliest years.

This is a picture of the four-page letter from David Davis to Julius Rockwell from 1878.
Jim Levulis / WAMC

The discovery of a letter at the Lenox Library is shedding some light on perhaps the most controversial presidential election in American history.

  For George Washington, the stakes were high. If the nation fragmented, as it had almost done after the war, it could never become the strong, independent nation for which he had fought. In scores of communities, he communicated a powerful and enduring message—that America was now a nation, not a loose collection of states. And the people responded to his invitation in ways that he could never have predicted.

In T. H. Breen's book, George Washington's Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, he shows Washington in the surprising role of political strategist.