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Merry posits that presidents rise and fall based on performance, as judged by the electorate. Thus, he explores the presidency by comparing the judgments of historians with how the voters saw things. Was the president reelected? If so, did his party hold office in the next election?
"Where They Stand "examines the chief executives Merry calls "Men of Destiny, '' those who set the country toward new directions. There are six of them, including the three nearly always at the top of all academic polls--Lincoln, Washington, and FDR. He describes the "Split-Decision Presidents'' (including Wilson and Nixon)--successful in their first terms and reelected; less successful in their second terms and succeeded by the opposition party. He describes the "Near Greats'' (Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, TR, Truman), the "War Presidents'' (Madison, McKinley, Lyndon Johnson), the flat-out failures (Buchanan, Pierce), and those whose standing has fluctuated (Grant, Cleveland, Eisenhower).
This voyage through our history provides a probing and provocative analysis of how presidential politics works and how the country sets its course. "Where They Stand "invites readers to pitch their opinions against the voters of old, the historians, the pollsters--and against the author himself. In this year of raucous presidential politics, "Where They Stand "will provide a context for the unfolding campaign drama.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-03-12
- Reviewer: Staff
It is rare that such a breezy book exhibits both serious intent and skillful analysis. Merry, a political journalist and James K. Polk biographer, enters what he calls the “Great White House Rating Game” and provides what has often been lacking in the said parlor game: common sense, balance, and thorough, nuanced assessment. He gives American voters a role in determining the relative success of their presidents. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of prior ratings by academics and others, Merry benefits from his years of observation. For instance, he points out that a strong marker of high comparative ranking is whether voters extend a chief executive’s party’s control of government beyond the incumbent’s two terms. That’s why, he argues, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and Reagan must be ranked high on the list, as they always are. Merry also assesses the part played by war, character, political effectiveness, and accident in a president’s place among his peers. Such grounded reflections make this an unusually authoritative book. While likely to be catnip for aficionados of presidential studies, this will also quickly rank high among serious works on the presidency. 20 b&w photos. Agent: Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (June)