cover image WARREN G. HARDING


John W. Dean, John W. Dean, . . Holt/Times, $20 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6956-3

Dean—of Watergate fame and author of the memoirs Blind Ambition and Lost Honor —does his best to make Warren G. Harding's lethargic life and scandal-laced presidency sound interesting. Throughout his entire pre-presidential career—including stints in both the Ohio state senate and the U.S. Senate—Harding was, for the most part, nothing more than an amiable nonentity. No bill of any consequence bore his name nor did he champion any measure worth recalling. Elected the nation's 29th chief executive in 1920 by an overwhelming vote in a postwar reaction against Wilson's foreign policies, Harding was the first president born after the Civil War. He was destined to die in office in 1923, but even before his death, he allowed the infamous Teapot Dome fiasco (based largely on dubious dealings conducted by the most notorious of Harding's many mediocre appointees—the anticonservationist secretary of the interior, Albert B. Fall) to occur. In an attempt to give Harding his due, Dean points out that he did at least bring to an end President Wilson's longstanding practice of excluding blacks from federal appointments. As well, in a speech of rare passion and boldness delivered in Birmingham, Ala., he called for political, economic and educational equity between the races. His most permanent domestic accomplishment, however, was as dull as it was necessary: the creation of the Bureau of the Budget. Dean (and Arthur Schlesinger's American Presidents series) is not to be faulted for the fact that Harding's life is a yawn—but a yawn it is. (Jan. 7)