The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


What We’re Reading

As we put together each show, we producers read… a lot. Here are a few of the books that helped us put this episode together – some from our guests, some on background.

9780674057036The Decline and Fall of the American Republic
Bruce Ackerman
Harvard University Press, 2010.

Ackerman traces the growing power of the presidency across the last half-century, from Watergate, Vietnam, and Iran-Contra to the War on Terror, arguing that several factors – including the presidential primary system, increasingly powerful bureaucratic ‘czars,’ and the politicization of the military – have come together to make the executive branch worryingly powerful. Hear Prof. Ackerman’s interview here.

jpegFirst Ladies and the Fourth Estate: Press Framing of Presidential Wives
Lisa Burns

Northern Illinois University Press, 2008.

Through First Ladies often garner just as much coverage as their elected husband, becoming public – and sometimes political figures – in their own rights. But unlike their husbands, whose positions are well-defined by law and custom, Burns argues the First Lady’s position is often defined by her public image, and how the media defines the role. Learn more about the roles of Eleonor Roosevelt and Hilary Clinton on our ‘Tyrannophobia’ episode.


jpeg-1John Tyler, the Accidental President
Edward P. Crapol

The University of North Carolina Press, 2012.

John Tyler is hardly an admired member of the pantheon of American presidents, but author Edward Crapol argues we should give him another look. Tyler was not only a more effective president than history gives him credit for, but also notable for his role in the leadup to the Civil War and the precedent he set for presidential autonomy, according to Crapol’s research. “His Accidency”, as he was known, broke from the idea of legislative dominance to set his own course, a course that, through a focus on territorial expansion, ultimately brought the nation closer to war. Crapol’s book blends biography and politics for a holistic take on the legacy of an often overlooked historical figure. Listen as producer Andrew Parsons investigates Tyler’s presidency.



jpeg-2The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy
Michael Gerhardt

Oxford University Press, 2013.

Chester Arthur, Martin Van Buren, Calvin Coolidge: the sort of presidents who get perhaps a glancing mention in your high school history book, at most. But while their administrations may be forgotten today, that doesn’t mean they didn’t have a profound impact in their own time – often in ways that continue to shape our political system today.



jpeg-3The Republican Vision of John Tyler
Daniel Monroe

Texas A&M University Press, 2003.

If one book about Tyler just isn’t enough, have no fear. R. Daniel Monroe takes a very different perspective on Tyler’s politics, arguing that appreciating Tyler’s commitment to republicanism is key to understanding the decisions he made. Monroe returns again and again to Tyler’s republican ideals as he reasons through his opposition to a central bank, his two political self-destructions, the annexation of Texas, and more.



jpeg-4The Imperial Executive in America: Sir Edmund Andros, 1637-1714
Mary Lou Lustig

Farleigh Dickenson, 2002.

Lustig’s book is an investigation of one of the earliest examples of a “tyrant” in American history: Sir Edmund Andros, who served as colonial governor of New York, the Dominion of New England, and Virginia between 1674 and 1698. Lustig takes a sympathetic look at the legacy of a man most often remembered for his authoritarianism, describing him instead as a skilled diplomat, commander, and administrator who shaped America’s colonial history. She also delves into the imperial politics of the time and Andros’ role in crafting the 1677 Covenant Chain alliance between the Iroquois and the British.




jpeg-5Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief
James M McPherson

Penguin Press HC, 2014.

Haughty, egotistical, and stuck on the wrong side of history as Jefferson Davis might have been, McPherson’s seeks to portray him also as a “product of his time and circumstances” and a man completely committed to the Confederate quest for nationhood. He places Davis’ undertakings in the larger context of Davis’ health, personal life, and politics, but focuses, as Davis had to, on the Confederate war effort. McPherson describes Davis’ military strategizing and close relationships with his commanders, giving readers a unique perspective on the Civil War.



19781469617572The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction
Mark Summers
University of North Carolina Press, 2014.

In this history of what followed the Civil War, Summers explores the political struggle to preserve the Union after the war was over, examining not only the failures of Reconstruction in the South and struggles of the recently emancipated, but expansion and settlement in the West, as well as foreign policy, and how Reconstruction, for all its failures, reshaped the nation. Take a listen to Summers discussing Congressional fears of Andrew Jackson.

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