Ever since the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, scholars have been in a quandary over how much they really know about our country’s presidents. Nixon, as is now understood, was unstable in personality. The signs appeared well before the discovery of the infamous Watergate tapes, an appalling example of what the presidency could come to. Many Americans have difficulty penetrating the public persona of their leaders. But to know the private side of such figures—the cores of their being—is important, because this side often governs what they do publicly.
In Presidential Leadership
, Robert H. Ferrell examines four sometimes maligned, sometimes misunderstood presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry S. Truman. Along with these portraits, Ferrell incorporates comments on Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt as well as key figures in each president’s administration. Also included in this volume is historian John A. Garraty’s interview with Ferrell on American foreign policy from 1919 to 1945.
As is his style, Ferrell draws from many sources previously untapped. In the case of Wilson, Ferrell relies on the diary of Colonel Edward M. House, who served under Wilson during his presidency. Ferrell uses White House physician Joel T. Boone’s diary to provide an insider’s look at Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover. In dealing with these presidents, Ferrell debunks long-held myths and approaches the presidencies with fresh insights into what drove them to make the decisions they made.
Throughout the book, Ferrell emphasizes the personal styles of each president. He not only shows how they made their own determinations but also evaluates those whom they appointed to important positions. Scholars of American history will welcome this insightful look at the men who saw the United States through the first half of the twentieth century.