American Caesars

My nomadic friend at work dropped this on my desk a while back before heading to catch a cargo ship out of Kiel. We’d been discussing the madness of Nixon over coffee one day in order to avoid any actual work, and he reckoned I’d enjoy this, and he was right. It’s a riveting overview of 12 American Presidents, from Roosevelt to ‘Dubya’ Bush, in the style of Suetonius’s Caesars (a classic, they say, of the ancient world).

Each president is presented in three sections – road to the presendency, their presidency, and their personal life. It works remarkably well, and the style allows you to view each one as a politician, a president, and a person. The result is a gripping read, although I did stop when I got to Kennedy to go and basically re-read Brothers to get more background on the Vietnam War era (I had intended to ready only the chapters on Vietnam, but that’s also such a good read I then re-read the whole book).

Some of the presidents were fairly well known to me, others not so much, in every case I found them illuminating. Often, it’s the personal that’s the most revealing I found, who they were outside of the public realm, with their families, partners, friends. Their personalities shaped their approach to the job, their relationships guided them through it, and events tested them all.