Presidents as Storytellers | Beaufort County Now | Tevi Troy writes about a new book that highlights the best presidential authors. | john locke foundation, presidents, storytellers, new book, presidential authors, october 14, 2020

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Presidents as Storytellers

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the John Locke Foundation. The author of this post is Mitch Kokai.

    Tevi Troy writes about a new book that highlights the best presidential authors.

  • There is a long and storied history of presidents who have been authors of books that display admirable literary skill.
  • By now we know what to expect from a presidential memoir: a doorstop of a book, with just enough tidbits to justify the multi-million-dollar advance, but not quite enough to anger anyone who might be important to the ex-president's lucrative post-White House existence.
  • Yet post-White House memoirs weren't always like this. In fact, there is a long and storied history of presidents who have been authors of books that display admirable literary skill. Author in Chief, a labor of love that took journalist and historian Craig Fehrman ten years to write, is far more than just a jaunty tour through presidents, their books, and their American readership, although it is that. It is also a smart exploration of how the roles of both books and the presidency in American life have evolved throughout our history.
  • The most famous memoir by a former president was probably that of Ulysses S. Grant, who, when swindled out of all his money in 1884, had to write a book in order to provide for his family. ...
  • ... Complicating matters was the fact that the Civil War hero was diagnosed with throat cancer. He moved to the Jersey Shore-cheaper than Manhattan-and raced to finish his book before the disease took his life. Mark Twain stepped in as publisher, which was a good partnership, as Grant and Twain were the two most famous men in America.
  • The nation followed Grant's struggle with great interest. Grant made it, just barely, finishing two days before he died. Thanks in part to Twain, the book was a huge financial success, earning his widow, Julia, the equivalent of more than $12 million in today's dollars.
  • Perhaps still hoping for Grant-like successes, modern publishers pay enormous sums for books from former presidents.


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