Thursday, December 24, 2020

The Bacon Presidential Library: 1600 Things to Read

 We’re finally almost finished with 2020, a year that will live in infamy for at least as long as the news cycles care to remember. Meanwhile, 2021 offers a fresh year to try it all over again. I’ve never been one for making New Year's resolutions, but I have made some minor ones each year. This year, I have not a resolution, per say, but a goal. This goal is not just for 2021, but is much bigger. If you’ve listened to either of the podcasts we feature on this site, you probably already know what the big goal is.

This is a major goal for me. My initial estimate is that it will take four years to complete. It could, and probably will, take longer. My hope is to start this project and complete it in time to be able to attend the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2025.

My goal? Well, I plan to start reading a minimum of two biographies of each President in the order that they served in that office. Some of the Presidents will have many books written about them, and may require more than two books to be read. Others may not have as much, which will mean I will be able to get through their terms quicker.

Obviously, I will be starting with George Washington. My first biography will be a four-volume set by James Flexner. This constitutes 1,800 pages of biography to be read right off the starting line. I feel it will be this biography that determines the eventual success or failure of this dream. If I can make it through this series at the very start, I should be able to complete the rest of it by my goal date.

It was several months ago that I somehow came up with the idea of reading a biography of each President. I decided that I should look to see if there was a list of biographies for each President or if there was a preferred reading list in order to set up my own list. I had no idea how popular this idea was, but I rather quickly came upon the most amazing website,

Steve Floyd is the man behind the website. He read the various biographies of each President, reviewed them, and then ranked them. He spent a huge amount of time compiling the list that I would ultimately use as the main guide for my own journey. I cannot thank Steve enough for going through all these rigors, which make my trek that much simpler. While there were other sources I used to make my itinerary, Steve’s website was by far the biggest influence in my final decisions. You should absolutely visit his website. He also reads and reviews non-Presidential biographies. His site has been an indispensable resource.

I alluded to it just a bit, but it took me just over two months to put my list together and flesh out the order I was going to read each book for each President. There has already been a huge time commitment just for preparing this reading project. In the end, I think it will be more than worth it.

What are my plans for this project besides reading the books? I plan on reviewing the biographies that I’ve read, including comparing them to the reviews I read to assemble the list. At the end of each President, I plan on doing a full review of the books and the President. As part of the review, I plan on doing a short podcast highlighting that President. Working with my journalist buddy, Howie Balaban, I’m hoping we can deliver a concise report on each President. I think hearing it sometimes can be more powerful than trying to put it into a written word.

A note to the process I undertook to choose my books: When it comes to more recent biographies, I did not necessarily omit newer books. I sometimes have an issue with revisionist histories. It’s not because of newly exposed facts or stories that may have been suppressed. Those things are important to uncover. However, I tended to steer away from biographies or narratives that attempted to view the subject from two centuries ago in the light of modern times. That does a disservice to understanding the times each person lived - good, bad, and ugly. Let me stress here that I have no issue with new biographies that uncover new evidence, and that I may sneak a book here or there into the mix that takes a revisionist look at things.

So, the big day will be January 1, 2021 when I start reading George Washington:The Forge of Experience (1732-1775) by James Flexner. I will be building a list on our website as I go through each book. That list will be changing as I read more, and find out about more books that I may want to read. In all honesty, George Washington will probably take a couple months to get through, given the pile of books I have about him. 

I hope you will follow along and maybe decide to read some of these books, too. I hope in the end I learn something about Presidents who may have been overlooked, or discover something new about the giants of the office. Reading books like this is always about learning something new. This project will definitely give me a whole new world of knowledge to explore. I cannot wait!

Craig Bacon will have a busy start to the New Year.