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Book review: 'Don't Know Much About American Presidents' profiles nation's leaders

Published: Saturday, Sept. 29 2012 2:00 p.m. MDT

"DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT THE AMERICAN PRESIDENTS," by Kenneth C. Davis, Hyperion Books, $27.99, 730 pages (nf)

As the 2012 presidential election draws near, it's entertaining to reflect back on past presidents and their accomplishments. Author Kenneth C. Davis presents every president from George Washington to Barack Obama in a new book titled "Don't Know Much About the American Presidents" designed to help readers know more about these icons of American history. What president could have played NFL football? Gerald Ford. Who was the first president born in a hospital? Jimmy Carter. Who was the only president to graduate from business school? George W. Bush.

Each presidential entry follows a formula. It begins with dates and milestones of their lives and continues with brief facts and quotes. The author answers commonly asked questions and then assigns a letter grade based on popularity and competence. The entries conclude with administration milestones and suggested readings.

A study of the presidents is hard to complete without some bias. Presidents are politicians, and examining their lives depends on the political leanings of the author. Based on his works as a whole, Davis leans left politically. For example two recent presidents are credited with helping the economy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. For Reagan, the author lists reasons why he may not have been responsible for economic growth. With Clinton, he gives a list of economic accomplishments without discussion. Another interesting example is Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush. In his letter grade, he gives Carter a D and George W. Bush an F. In his explanation of their presidencies, he defends Carter a lot and slaughters Bush.

Whatever your political leanings are, if you enjoy history, it is enjoyable to read this book. There is a ton of information here. It's a fantastic reference and represents a bunch of hard work. The author is left of center, but it wasn't too distracting.

Ryan Morgenegg is a multimedia specialist for the Deseret News.

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