NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From a preeminent presidential historian comes a “monumental and profoundly important” (Ron Chernow) saga of America’s wartime chief executives
BILL GATES’S SUMMER READING LIST
Ten years in the research and writing, Presidents of War is a fresh, magisterial, intimate look at a procession of American leaders as they took the nation into conflict and mobilized their country for victory. It brings us into the room as they make the most difficult decisions that face any President, at times sending hundreds of thousands of American men and women to their deaths.
From James Madison and the War of 1812 to recent times, we see them struggling with Congress, the courts, the press, their own advisors and antiwar protesters; seeking comfort from their spouses, families and friends; and dropping to their knees in prayer. We come to understand how these Presidents were able to withstand the pressures of war—both physically and emotionally—or were broken by them.
Beschloss’s interviews with surviving participants in the drama and his findings in original letters, diaries, once-classified national security documents, and other sources help him to tell this story in a way it has not been told before. Presidents of War combines the sense of being there with the overarching context of two centuries of American history. This important book shows how far we have traveled from the time of our Founders, who tried to constrain presidential power, to our modern day, when a single leader has the potential to launch nuclear weapons that can destroy much of the human race.
Praise for Presidents of War
"A marvelous narrative. . . . As Beschloss explains, the greatest wartime presidents successfully leaven military action with moral concerns. . . . Beschloss’s writing is clean and concise, and he admirably draws upon new documents. Some of the more titillating tidbits in the book are in the footnotes. . . . There are fascinating nuggets on virtually every page of Presidents of War. It is a superb and important book, superbly rendered.”—Jay Winik, The New York Times Book Review
"Sparkle and bite. . . . Valuable and engrossing study of how our chief executives have discharged the most significant of all their duties. . . . Excellent. . . . A fluent narrative that covers two centuries of national conflict.” —Richard Snow, The Wall Street Journal
Presidential historian Beschloss (Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789 1989) offers a sweeping history of American presidents seeking and waging war from the War of 1812 the first major conflict conducted by the executive office under the Constitution through the conclusion of the Vietnam War. He provides insight into the motivations of American leaders; presidents' battles with other branches of government; their degree of respect for civil liberties; and the role of personality, emotion, and the general political climate as American commanders-in-chief executed the power of the country's military forces. Beschloss reviews the historical record from an American-expansionist yet not necessarily prowar perspective; he writes, for example, that President Polk "deserves credit for adding almost a million square miles to the United States," referring to the U.S. conquest of much of Mexico during the Mexican American War, but that "a major, bloody war... should have been his last resort," in keeping with the founders' intentions. With ample detail and enticing storytelling, this readable work will be enjoyed by students and American history buffs.