Friday, May 6, 2011

Bored Yesterday

I spent all day yesterday and well into the evening reading about President Benjamin Harrison. My intent with the American Presidents series from the Times Books arm of Henry Holt and Company is to not only pull out what little information there might be for what I need for my three books, but also to learn basic background information before I go in deeper through other books.

I've enjoyed most of the books, especially the Nixon book by journalist Elizabeth Drew, as that not only was a complete mind twister, but also made me sympathetic for those who lived through that time. There were depth charges unleashed upon this country all over its collective body by a president and his advisors who thought themselves to be king and court.

I couldn't stand yesterday's work by professor Charles W. Calhoun. Some professors can write great books because they not only know their subjects so well, but they can convey that context and enthusiasm with clarity and thoughtful writing. Most professors have spent so much time in academia that when they do write their books, they forget about the other people in the world that might read them who don't exist solely in a college or university setting. This was one of those books.

I'm not interested much in economics. I skim through the business section of The Wall Street Journal Weekend every Saturday. But I can get interested through good writing and this wasn't good writing. Calhoun's chapters are an accurate telling of how boring Congress can be, but Harrison deserves better than that. Calhoun goes through bill after bill and tracks it through Congress, the fights that went on, the vote count, and who won in the end. There are times when Harrison just disappears.

It took me all that time because I was so bored by it. I couldn't close it and move on because I might have missed something that I needed (Only in his postpresidential life and then it only related somewhat to what I want to write about). Today, I was going to start reading Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karabell, but it's about a decade behind Benjamin Harrison, and I need a break. My favorite time period is from FDR to Obama. So next for me is George H.W. Bush by Timothy Naftali, director of the Nixon Presidential Library. I want to see if his writing is as good as his management, as he has made some great improvements over the past few months.

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