This is another one of those mysterious books that lives on my bookshelf. I have lots of them, by the way. Books I don’t remember purchasing, nor how else they get there except through a magic portal.
Its not that I wouldn’t have bought this book for myself- but it’s unlikely. As much as I love U.S. History, excepting William Howard Taft, I don’t have a lot of love for presidential history. Like military history, it has been beat to death with scholars and popular historians and amateurs.
I was on my way out somewhere, anticipating a delay, and grabbed this to kill time. I finished it three days later.
The book has its faults, but entertaining is not one of them. Angelo uses anecdotes (usually filtered through family members and given heroic proportions) to tell us of the relationships between “post-modern” history’s presidents and their mothers. The book very much worships the cult of motherhood and if it wasn’t marketed as a Mother’s Day gift, someone should be fired. All of that withstanding, though, it is still easy vignettes of these presidents as children.
Angelo also does a fantastic job of singling out one trait of the mother and showcasing it in her son. With Roosevelt is was his sense noblisse oblige; Truman it was the need to be charitable when you are the victor; Eisenhower it was the importance of self-reliance; Kennedy it was the drive to be successful through honest means; Johnson it was the importance of education; Nixon perseverance in the face of misfortune; Ford learned strength and honesty- and how both are their own reward; Carter learned equality and a love for the underdog; Reagen learned optimism; Bush 41 learned compromise and humility; Clinton learned to place any- and all- criticism and adversity in a box, and succeed in spite of it; George W. Bush learned of family and loyalty and what would be called chivalrous values.
Angelo draws striking parallels between all of these mothers- the traits that all of them shared, even though none of them had similar backgrounds. All of them were the pets of their fathers; all had been “excessively” educated as dictated by the standards of their time; all (excepting Barbara Bush) had weak-willed husbands- if not out-right failures- and shined as the head of their households. (In the case of Rose Kennedy, it was Joe Kennedy’s broken moral compass that allowed her the title.) All of them favored the son that became president, even from an early age; oftentimes, as was the case with Lyndon Johnson, treated their son as a surrogate (not sexually) husband and father to their siblings.
By the time you’re finished, though, you realize you have failed to set your child on the path to the White House unless you started before they were out of diapers. The book- owing a lot to its size, each bio less than 5000 words- does not take anything else into account. All that is good about these men, Bonnie Angelo traces to their mothers- their own wits, drive or “lucky breaks” has very little to do with it.
I read it, though, and I recommend it if you are at all interested in history and need something for the plane. You will quickly read through it, and you will, most likely, feel a little nostalgia for your mother.