The 10 Best Presidential Biographies

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This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in February of 2017. Whether you're a history buff or a casual reader, this curated list of presidential biographies includes editions that will leave you both enthralled and informed. By engaging with the stories of some of America's most prominent and memorable leaders, you'll learn about the political process and how the United States as we know it came to be, during some of its best and worst moments alike. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Team of Rivals

2. Washington: A Life

3. Being Nixon: A Man Divided

Editor's Notes

July 25, 2019:

Readers may notice that this list mostly features presidents who held the country's reins long, long ago. Barring Nixon, Truman, and Reagan (#3, #7, and #9 on our list, respectively), we avoided modern presidents for two reasons. The first is probably obvious: with time, a larger body of historical work grows, and therefore, there is simply a bigger bunch to choose from. A century and half after Lincoln's death, for example, there have enough books written about the man to fill a small stadium, and the highest-quality works rise to the top. The second reason we've focused on older presidents is that it takes a very long time for the partisan dust to clear. This temporal haze obscures our understanding of a president's life and legacy. Until multiple generations have passed, it's nearly impossible to obtain anything approaching objectivity. With time, we can more accurately track how their actions rippled outwards and affected history.

With all of this said, if you're fed up with realism, we also have a solid list featuring our favorite historical fiction books worth checking out.

Special Honors

Abram Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years Carl Sandburg was a man of letters who hailed from the Midwest, revered primarily for his poetry, but his massive, multivolume Lincoln biographies are a tour de force on their own. Published nearly a century ago, these tomes helped solidify Lincoln's mythic standing in the public imagination. Through a lifetime of on-again, off-again scholarly engagement with Lincoln's life, Sandburg became one of the foremost authorities, and as such, his biographies are treasures of both historic and literary importance.

4. Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

5. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

6. John Adams

7. "Truman" by David McCullough

8. Mornings on Horseback

9. Reagan: The Life

10. "Coolidge" by Amity Shlaes

Daniel Goldstein
Last updated by Daniel Goldstein

Daniel is a writer, musician, and frequent traveler with a bachelor’s in creative writing from the State University of New York. In recent years, his writing chops have developed alongside his musical skills, thanks to a rich double life. During the day, he apprenticed with “Rolling Stone” journalist and critic Will Hermes, and when the sun set, he and his NYC-based, four-piece band gigged at high-end venues across the northeastern United States. His affinity for sharing things he's passionate about has culminated in nine years of experience as a music teacher at elementary schools, where he honed his ability to simplify and elucidate concepts to the uninitiated. All considered, he feels most at home writing about instruments, audio electronics and backpacking gear.

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