My foray into the life and times of Harry Truman has made me pick up a book that my dad loaned to me a few years ago (and recently told me I should just go on and keep!): David Rubel's Mr. President: The Human Side of America's Chief Executives.
This is a coffee table kind of book published by Time-Life back in 1998. But sometimes a coffee table book is just the kind you want to pick up and dip into. I value this one all the more because my dad has annotated the table of contents, which simply listed each president by name next to the page numbers on which they're profiled. In his clear, firm hand-writing, Dad added the number of their administration and the years they were in office. He even added chief executive #43 and made a space for #44, though I don't think he got back to the book after Obama took office. I'll add him and make a space for #45 in a couple of years.
Every profile includes a portrait (painting or photo), a synopsis of the president's administration, snippets about the president's background, hobbies, family life, and occupation, a profile of the first lady, major political events that occurred on his watch, a timeline of different cultural events that took place during his administration, and a sort of "bubble-gum card" sidebar with the president's major stats such as birthplace, date of death, and political party. It's a nice reference book to have on hand for the mid-grade years.
I've been reading "at" this book for some time, but today I decided to just pick up and start at the beginning...a very good place to start, as they say. That meant I spent about ten minutes reading up on George Washington, the man who would rather have stayed a farmer than become president. He had a vision of America as a "great agricultural empire stretching west to the Mississippi River and beyond."
He's a fascinating figure really: strong and persuasive enough to help mold the beginnings of our government, detached enough to walk away and head home to Mount Vernon after eight years in office. I liked hearing about his humility -- he thought Adams and Jefferson were both a lot smarter than he was, which the author said was true, but then added this great quote from Jefferson about Washington: "His mind...was slow in operation, but sure in conclusion." Maybe not a bad thing.
Fun fact: one of the major political events during his tenure was the founding of the first national bank. Up until then, there was no standard American currency. Pounds, kopeks, and pesos were all in circulation. (Pounds and pesos I get, but kopeks?)
Also interesting: when western Pennsylvanians complained about the whiskey tax and started a rebellion, Washington led a 15,000 man army into Pennsylvania himself. This was in 1794, again during his administration. A little hard to imagine in my lifetime...a president riding at the head of the troops, I mean, not western Pennsylvanians kicking up a ruckus.