OVAL OFFICE ODDITIES
by Bill Fawcett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Just in time for the quadrennial celebration of civil rights and freedom, Bill Fawcett provides a look at trivia about the forty-two men who have held the highest office in the United States. Oval Office Oddities provides facts, and some opinions, in an easily digestible form that encourages the reader to dip into the book in a spare moment.
The book is organized by subjects, and more or less chronologically within each subject area. These range from looking at jobs Presidents held before and after their administrations to the Presidents' treatment of the White House. Fawcett's inclusions are in now way comprehensive, but all of his facts and pieces of trivia are interesting. No mention, for instance, is made of Jimmy Carter’s famous run-in with a swimming rabbit. In many cases, Fawcett adds a little personal opinion or humorous comment at the end of his tidbits, which adds a little additional personality to the facts.
In fact, personality is the key to the book, not just the personality that Fawcett brings to its pages, but also the personalities he reveals of the various Presidents. While most Americans have an image of what Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson was like, Fawcett gives indications of some of America's lesser known Presidents. He notes, for instance, that James Garfield was trained as a minister and Andrew Johnson, a tailor, made a suit for the Governor of Kentucky.
In addition to the facts that Fawcett has gathered, the book contains chapters written by Brian Thomson, Mike Resnick, Claire McLean, and Ginger Marshall Martus. These chapters, unlike Fawcett’s collections of trivia, are actual essays on such diverse topics as the President in war, Presidential Pets, or Theodore Roosevelt. The more in depth analysis is a nice addition to the book, although at times it is awkward, especially when McLean uses the first person and it takes a moment to remember Fawcett is not writing at that point. None of these authors are mentioned on either the cover or the table of contents, although their bylines do appear on the essays.
There are a few minor errors, notably placing Arlington National Cemetery in Bethesda, MD instead of Arlington, Virginia, referring to science fiction author Joe Haldeman when it is clear that the author meant H. R. Haldeman, and including eight presidents’ names in the list of the top seven presidents. However, these minor proof reading errors do make the reader wonder if there are more important, less obvious mistakes in the book.Frequently, books like this are best read a little at a time, however, Fawcett’s tone and the trivia he presents are engaging and reading the book straight through is easy to do, never feeling as if it is redundant or slow moving. Instead, each additional fact makes the reader want to continue to discover the next unknown bit of Presidential lore.
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