First Dogs: American Presidents and Their Best Friends

Roy Rowan, Author, Brooke Janis, With
Roy Rowan, Author, Brooke Janis, With Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $17.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-56512-143-0
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 163 pages - 978-1-56512-936-8
Ebook - 176 pages - 978-1-56512-735-7
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Rowan, a Time-Life correspondent, and Janis, a photo researcher, take a promising premise--showing the history of the presidency in terms of presidents' dogs--but come up empty. While they diligently excavate facts and pictures related to presidents and their pets, they string together their research without benefit of analysis or imagination. At times their presentation is dunderheaded (""On April 14, 1865, with the Civil War won, Lincoln was shot by actor John Wilkes Booth; he died the next day""); more often coyness substitutes for wit (""The circumstances surrounding [the death of then governor Bill Clinton's dog] are unclear, and so far the Whitewater Special Counsel has not investigated them""). The authors miss obvious opportunities for exploring the political ramifications of dog ownership. For example, they recycle the canard about FDR spending $15,000 of taxpayer revenues to fetch his famous dog, Fala, from the Aleutian Islands; and put a fig leaf over the embarrassment Ronald Reagan suffered on account of his unruly Bouvier with the statement, ridiculous to anyone who has ever trained a dog, that ""size, not behavior, was the problem."" Readers with an interest in dogs or history deserve better. Photos. First serial to Smithsonian magazine. (June)
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