ALL THE PRESIDENTS' CHILDREN
by Doug Wead
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In a review of my own book, Wondrous Beginnings, Don D’Ammassa pointed out that “Interesting ideas have a habit of recurring.” Doug Wead’s examination of the children of the Presidents, All the Presidents’ Children apparently is one of those ideas since a book of the same title was published by Larry D. Underwood in October, 2002. While Underwood’s book is a glimpse into anecdotes concerning the individuals whose fathers served as president, Wead’s book is a more sociological examination of what it means to have a father who is President.
Wead explains that the idea for the book came from a short forty-four page report he prepared for George W. Bush in 1998 when Bush’s father became President, and although Wead manages to maintain detachment through much of the book, he clearly takes glee in the fact that George W. Bush did not succumb to the failures of nearly every other Presidential offspring he describes. Unfortunately, in doing so, he presents George W. Bush as the ultimate offspring and the end of history, rather than just another point of data which will eventually be as distant as Allan Hoover, if not as unknown.
Early in the book, Wead may have hit the nail on the head for why so many of the Presidents’ children live tragic lives. Not only are there high expectations for them, but as he described John Quincy Adams’s relationship with his son George Washington Adams (whom Wead refers to as George W.), “his commitment to the good of the country took precedence over his wife and parenthood.” It is conceivable that such would be able to be said about almost anyone whose ambition leads them to run for the Presidency.
Wead notes the early deaths of so many Presidential children, noting the alcoholic deaths of Andrew Johnson, Jr., William Henry Harrison, Jr. and John Adams II twice in as many pages. This isn’t the only instance of repetition and it doesn’t appear to serve any real purpose.
Rather than organize the book in a strict chronological order, which would make it better for the causal reader, but less capable of supporting Wead’s contentions about the types of behavior and problems which afflict the children of Presidents, Wead has elected to order the study by overall types of tragedies (or triumphs) which the various children dealt with. In some cases, this means he revisits some of the children multiple times, but this is a case where repetition has its uses.
Not only does Wead examine the demons that plagued the children of Presidents, he also looks at the roles they were expected to play. This varies most, perhaps, in his discussion of daughters, ranging from Abigail Adams to the Bush twins. As society changed, the roles of daughter also changed, although their roles were also dependent on their ages. The role of Amy Carter during her father’s presidency was vastly different from that of Anna Roosevelt.
*Wead provides lengthy appendices with details of each child and notes which children were born in the White House, etc. These appendices offer concise comparative data about the various presidential children which allows the readers a quick overview of their lives and behaviors. In addition, Wead provides a lengthy bibliography mixed with endnotes which does give interested readers a starting point for further research.All the Presidents’ Children is an interesting book, although the book’s organization tends to meander and Wead takes on a notably partisan approach in his cheerleading for the current President as breaking from the tragedies which have afflicted so many of the Presidential children. For the most part, Wead’s examination of the one hundred sixty-six Presidential children, both famous and obscure, is an interesting look at people who have been affected by the highest office in America, but who generally remain unknown to the vast majority of people who know so much about their parents.
*This paragraph was altered in February 2004. The original paragraph referred to a lack of index, which only occurred in the advance copies of the book. An index was included in the final, printed version.
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