SECRET LIVES OF THE U.S. PRESIDENTS
by Cormac O'Brien
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Cormac O'Brien's book Secret Lives of U.S. Presidents purports, in its subtitle, to teach the reader "what your teachers never told you about the men in the White House." O'Brien examines each of the presidents from George Washington through George W. Bush with a brief outline of the high points of their careers and a collection of sidebars which provide the majority of the trivia about the men. Each entry opens with information about the president's term, astrological sign, height, nickname, and a representative quote.
O'Brien's style is to include short, entertaining pieces about each president which include more than just a listing of their quirks and accomplishments. The length of the pieces makes it easy to dip into the book at random and learn things about the men who have held office. Each president is covered in a handful of pages, so the amount of information O'Brien provides is, of necessity, limited.
There is plenty of dirt which O'Brien does not discuss, such as the fact that John Tyler voted in favor of Virginia's secession from the Union in 1861 and was also elected to the Confederate House of representatives and therefore the only president to die branded a traitor to his country. Other less denigratory information is also left out, for instance, there is no mention that William H. Taft was the first president to throw out the first pitch at a baseball game.
In addition to the information about the presidents, O'Brien includes short chapters which focus on the founding fathers, first ladies, the White House, and other related topics. While these are nowhere near as detailed as his comments about the specific presidents, they are just as informative and entertaining, even if they leave the reader wishing for more.
What makes the book even more impressive than the facts O'Brien has gathered is the fact that when he examines the recent presidents, he is able to do so in an even handed manner, providing zingers to Republican as well as Democratic presidents. This even-handedness means that the book will appeal to people across the political spectrum as it provides fun details about the men who have served as president.
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