How to do this project, apparently

Step one: research and compile a comprehensive list of the best biographies of each former American President.

Step two: consider that because of Grover Cleveland being the non-consecutive President, there are forty-three subjects on this list. Then remember that Gen. Zachary Taylor was elected in part because he’s so boring. And that William Henry Harrison was a non-starter. And think there’s not much to say about Herbert Hoover.

(Step two-b: prepare yourself to be very, very wrong about Herbert Hoover. He’s amazing.)

Step three: add ten more biographies of Woulda/Coulda/Shouldas to the list–Henry Clay and Robert LaFolette and William Jennings Bryan, that ilk. Revel in the fact that fifty-three is also a prime number. Try to ignore the fact that this list is about fifty-two white men and Barack Obama.

Step four: create a randomization process to ensure a non-consecutive order by averaging out historians’ rankings of the Presidents, and then going by tens, with Woulda/Coulda/Shouldas in between. But, I moved around the lower tiers, probably for the sake of variety–I’ve since lost my copious notes on the process. For our purposes, I’ll put two numbers in parenthesis by each–the first number is the averaged ranking by historians, the second is where they land in the order of Presidents. (For Grover Cleveland, I’ve hyphenated 22 and 24.) For Woulda/Coulda/Shouldas, I’ve put nothing besides them.

LINCOLN: Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.

CLINTON: Harris, John F. The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House

TAFT: Gould, Lewis L. The William Howard Taft Presidency.

(NIXON: Perlstein, Rick. Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America.

PIERCE: Holt, Michael F. Franklin Pierce

HENRY CLAY: Heidler, David S. and Jean T. Heidler. Henry Clay: The Essence of America

T. ROOSEVELT: Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex.

JACKSON: Meacham, Jon. American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

VAN BUREN: Niven, John. Martin Van Buren: The Romantic Age of American Politics

TAYLOR: Bauer, K. Jack. Zachary Taylor: Soldier, Planter, Statesman of the Old Southwest

WILLIAM JENNINGS BRYAN: Kazin, Michael. A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan

EISENHOWER: Ambrose, Steven E. Eisenhower: Soldier and President.

L. JOHNSON: Goodwin, Doris Kearns. Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream.

GRANT: Smith, Jean Edward. Grant

HARDING: Dean, John W. Warren G. Harding

ROBERT LAFOLLETTE: Unger, Nancy C. Fighting Bob LaFollette: The Righteous Reformer.

F. ROOSEVELT: Smith, Jean Edward. FDR

J. ADAMS: McCullough, David. John Adams.

CLEVELAND: Brodsky, Alyn. Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character.

CARTER: Zelizer, Julian. Jimmy Carter

BUCHANAN: Klein, Philip Shriver. President James Buchanan: A Biography

JOHN C. CALHOUN: Bartlett, Irving R. John C. Calhoun: A Biography

JEFFERSON: Meacham, Jon. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

KENNEDY: Schlesinger, Arthur K. A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.

COOLIDGE: Shlaes, Amity. Coolidge.

W.H. HARRISON: Owens, Robert M. Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American Indian Policy

JEFFERSON DAVIS*: McPherson, James M. Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief.

MONROE: Unger, Harlow. The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness.

MCKINLEY: Morgan, H. Wayne. William McKinley and His America

HAYES: Hoogenboom, Ari. Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior & President

FILLMORE: Rayback, Robert J. Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

MADISON: Ketcham, Ralph. Madison: A Biography.

G. H. W. BUSH: Meacham, Jon. Destiny and Power: /The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

ARTHUR: Reeves, Thomas C. Gentleman Boss: The Life and Times of Chester Alan Arthur.

HOOVER: Lyons, Eugene. Herbert Hoover: A Biography

DANIEL WEBSTER: Remini, Robert V. Daniel Webster: The Man of His Time

WASHINGTON: Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life

REAGAN: Cannon, Lou. President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.

OBAMA: Remnick, David. The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

B. HARRISON: Calhoun, Charles W. Benjamin Harrison.

A. JOHNSON: Trefousse, Hans L. Andrew Johnson: A Biography

ROBERT A. TAFT: Patterson, James T. Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft.

TRUMAN: McCullough, David. Truman.

POLK: Borneman, Walter. Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America.

GARFIELD: Millard, Candice. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.

G. W. BUSH: Smith, Jean Edward. Bush.

BARRY GOLDWATER: Perlstein, Rick. Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus

WILSON: Cooper, John Milton. Woodrow Wilson.

J.Q. ADAMS: Unger, Harlow. John Quincy Adams

FORD: Cannon, James. Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life

TYLER: Chitwood, Oliver Perry. John Tyler: Champion of the Old South

ALEXANDER HAMILTON: Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton

*I read a biography on Jefferson Davis because he was, technically, a President, and also, he was absolutely the most uninteresting, uninspired person to read a biography on. I remember nothing about it–and I don’t blame the copious amounts of beer that helped me through some of these (looking at you, Old Rough and Ready!). I picked ten men who were instrumental in moving the country forward–Davis’ inclusion was more to see if I could find anything redeemable about a traitor. Not especially!