Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians

Robert V. Merry. Simon & Schuster, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4516-2540-0
It is rare that such a breezy book exhibits both serious intent and skillful analysis. Merry, a political journalist and James K. Polk biographer, enters what he calls the “Great White House Rating Game” and provides what has often been lacking in the said parlor game: common sense, balance, and thorough, nuanced assessment. He gives American voters a role in determining the relative success of their presidents. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of prior ratings by academics and others, Merry benefits from his years of observation. For instance, he points out that a strong marker of high comparative ranking is whether voters extend a chief executive’s party’s control of government beyond the incumbent’s two terms. That’s why, he argues, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan must be ranked high on the list, as they always are. Merry also assesses the part played by war, character, political effectiveness, and accident in a president’s place among his peers. Such grounded reflections make this an unusually authoritative book. While likely to be catnip for aficionados of presidential studies, this will also quickly rank high among serious works on the presidency. 20 b&w photos. Agent: Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (June)
Reviewed on: 03/12/2012
Release date: 06/26/2012
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