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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Book Review - The Raising Of A President

My good daughter-in-law bought this book for me several weeks ago. I actually opened it to look through it and found myself reading it. I have read several books about the Presidents but this one was with a slight twist focusing on the men and women who raised the Presidents, their parents.

The Raising Of A President is written by Doug Wead. It comes in at 419 pages.

Most of the book address a few Presidential families. It begins with an expose of the Adams dynasty (John Adams and John Quincy Adams) the only other father and son presidents besides George Herbert Walker Bush and George W. Bush. Then there was a section on Abraham Lincoln. Then three more dynasties are addressed. The Roosevelts, the Kennedys, and the Bushes.

At the end of the book there is a short biographical sketch of all the Fathers and Mothers of the Presidents. The book concludes with several categories of interesting family trivia about the Presidents.

The book is probably longer than it needed to be. A lot of the material was covered twice in dealing with the father and mother of each of the Presidents. This was especially true in the short biographical sketches of the parents at the end of the book. It was also difficult to follow at places trying to keep track of whom he was writing (grandfather, father, or son). At least I had difficutly in some places keeping track.

It was interesting reading. Very little is actually said about the Presidents as President. In fact most of the stories leave off where they are elected president. So it is not a political book. It is a family book a book of family histories. This I find interesting, especially concerning Presidents. With the five Presidential families that are highlighted the history generally begins with their grandparents with mention given to the distant ancestors where information is available.

There were a couple of things that really caught my attention as I was reading through the book. Most of the Presidents seemed to have strong mothers and demanding Fathers. Sara Delano Roosevelt, mother of F. D. R. is especially noted for her dominating influence over her son even after marriage. Mrs. Adams was also a strong presence in her home for the age in which she lived, of course her husband was gone much of the time engaged in public affairs (Philadelphia, France, Netherlands, England). Mrs. Adams had strong opinions and was very politically oriented. Abraham Lincoln apparently had a very abusive father. I was also struck by the degree of poverty from which President Lincoln ascended. There was a period of time where they lived in nothing more than a lean-to with one side open and exposed to the elements. They spent a whole winter like that. The dilemma was to keep the fire burning so they would not freeze to death and keep the wild animals at bay while not allowing their little makeshift hutch to catch fire and burn to the ground??

I also found it interesting that many of the Presidents had their mother's maiden names for their middle names.

While the Adamses and Bushes had strong family backgrounds and ties, the Roosevelt and Kennedys were disfunctional at best. Both Roosevelt and Kennedy were unfaithful to their marriage vows. J. F. K. had learned the vice from his Father.

I was also reminded of something Harry Truman said when asked by a reporter if he considered his father successful. His father was mostly a farmer on his in-laws property after several failed ventures. President Truman responded, "He raised a President."

Another thing that was striking is how often death was associated with the Presidents. Either their parents dying at a young age, or siblings dying, and even a few their spouses. I'm sure much of it had to do with the age in which most of the Presidents live but it was striking nonetheless.

Amazingly enough only three Presidents had both a living Father and Mother when they took office, Grant, Kennedy, and George W. Bush. Only two had both parents present at the inauguration, Kennedy and Bush.

Three Presidents had their Fathers die before they were born, Andrew Jackson, Rutherford B. Hayes, and William Jefferson Clinton.

Four Presidents were only sons, Coolidge, Ford, Roosevelts, Clinton.

Thirteen Presidents were firstborn in their families: John Adams, Madison, Monroe, Polk, Grant, Harding, Coolidge, Truman, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Clinton, George W. Bush.

Five Presidents were middle children: Washington, Van Buren, Lincoln, Arthur, Hoover.

Seven Presidents were the babies of their families: Jackson, Harrison, Johnson, Hayes, Garfield, Roosevelt, Regan

Three Presidents were sons of preachers: Chester Arthur's father was a Baptist preacher, Grover Cleveland's father was a Congregational preacher, and Woodrow Wilson's father was a Presbyterian preacher.

Another thing interesting about the Presidents is how many of them had mothers, fathers, or both who wanted them to be clergymen.

Overall the book was interesting and the stories of these respective families were well told. However the book was a bit long and could have been shortened by removing some of the overlap that exists between telling the story of the mother and the father of the Presidents.

Rating: * * *
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