Wandering with a Purpose

Tag: history

US Presidents: A Reading List

It’s funny how interests and passions show themselves at a young age, but sometimes are not appreciated until later in life. In seventh grade, we had to take an assessment for various subjects and my top score was in history. I remember being upset about that because what can you do with history? If I had scored higher in math or writing, those at least had a practical application. I enjoyed history class, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought until after my first time abroad when I went to London in my sophomore year. It was here that history came to life!

Even though I will not have a career that is centered around history, and I think it’s hard to make a case for most people to major in the subject, I think history is a fantastic topic to study. Over time, I have come to appreciate that I can truly enjoy and experience what I spend time learning. The two areas I enjoy the most are American history and the history of the British monarchy. I love to read biographies and learn about life events through the eyes of leaders who impacted the world at that time. It isn’t surprising then that I added “Read a biography of every US President in order of term” to my list of life goals back when I was 20. I told a friend about this when I was 26, and she ended up buying me my first book on George Washington for my 27th birthday. I finally got started in April 2013.

My American Journey

Over the next 7 years, I had a fascinating journey learning about my country’s 232+ year history from the perspective of 44 different men. Each one has a unique perspective and their background gives insight into their decision making and handling of that moment in time. In my travels, I visit their birthplaces, homes, and libraries where I try to envision their daily activities and lives. It has become a hobby, and I am very appreciative of these men who sacrificed their personal independence to lead our country. In reading their stories, I do believe each person did what he thought was best at the time.

It is also possible that historians and authors tend to fall in love with their subjects while they research them, but I think that is because some people are misunderstood and once you learn their story, it gives you an appreciation of their decision-making process – even if you personally don’t like their decisions. I think this is how historians have come to view Hoover’s and Nixon’s legacy over time despite the initial reaction in popular culture.

My journey started with George Washington and ended with George W. Bush’s memoirs. As soon as President Obama publishes his memoirs, I will pick up with that. I said before that I read America’s history through the eyes of 44 men – the 44th I included was Confederate President Jefferson Davis. While not a president of the Union, he led half of the country through the Civil War and that is still an important perspective. I’m really glad I added that one. Teddy Roosevelt is my favorite, so I read all three books in Edmund Morris’s trilogy.

Selection and Evaluation

I selected books that were well researched and had generally strong reviews. Sometimes, I would get stuck and would default to the American Presidents’ Series edited by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and Sean Wilentz. Over time, as I read more, I was attracted to books by certain historians. Sometimes I chose an option because an audiobook was available (I listen to books when I run), other times it may be because I could borrow it for free from the library. All-in-all, I think I had a good assortment of books. I wanted to list them for people doing a similar journey to see what someone else chose to read.

How then do you evaluate a book? I tracked everything on GoodReads and was good about writing book reviews at the beginning, but then I stopped because I couldn’t focus long enough to provide the necessary detail. I did consistently rate them on the 5-star scale. Unlike fiction, biographies are difficult because are you rating the subject or the research/writing? In the end, I think you do both. It’s unfortunate for the author because some subjects have more documents, journals, and letters; others were given more challenges, which lead to a better story and abundant research. Unfortunately, William Henry Harrison will never have a single biography that is equal to a mediocre-quality biography on Theodore Roosevelt.

Books I Read

  • Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
  • John Adams by David McCullough
  • Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
  • James Madison: A Life Reconsidered by Lynne Cheney
  • The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger
  • John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Paul C. Nagel
  • Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands
The Forgotten or Unknown (America Moves West)
  • Martin Van Buren: The American Presidents’ Series by Ted Widmer
  • The Life and Times of William Henry Harrison by Samuel Jones Burr
  • A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, the Mexican War, and the Conquest of the American Continent by Robert W. Merry
  • Zachary Taylor: The American Presidents’ Series by John S.D. Eisenhower
  • Millard Fillmore: The American Presidents’ Series by Paul Finkelman
  • Franklin Pierce: The American Presidents’ Series by Michael F. Holt
  • James Buchanan: The American Presidents’ Series by Jean H. Baker
The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour by William C. Davis
  • The Loyalist: The Life and Times of Andrew Johnson by Jeffrey K. Smith
  • The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands
Industrial revolution and the building of america
  • Chester Alan Arthur: The American Presidents’ Series by Zachary Karabell
  • Rutherford B. Hayes: The American Presidents’ Series by Hans L. Trefousse
  • James A. Garfield: The American Presidents’ Series by Ira Rutkow
  • An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by H. Paul Jeffers
  • Benjamin Harrison: The American Presidents’ Series by Charles W. Calhoun
  • William McKinley: The American Presidents’ Series by Kevin Phillips
  • Theodore Roosevelt trilogy by Edmund Morris
    • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
    • Theodore Rex
    • Colonel Roosevelt
  • The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin
The World Wars
  • Woodrow Wilson: A Biography by John Milton Cooper, Jr.
  • Warren G. Harding: The American Presidents’ Series by John W. Dean
  • Coolidge by Amity Shlaes
  • Herbert Hoover: The Life and Presidencies by William E. Leuchtenburg
  • FDR by Jean Edward Smith
  • Truman by David McCullough
  • Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith
“Modern” Day
  • An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek
  • Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • Richard Nixon: The Life by John A. Farrell
  • Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford by Scott Kaufman
  • Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by Randall Balmer
  • Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands
My Lifetime
  • 41: A Portrait of my Father by George W. Bush
  • Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham
  • My Life by Bill Clinton
  • Decision Points by George W. Bush

That’s it. Those are the books I read, but history is not finished. As time continues to pass, I will add biographies for the people who serve as president during my lifetime as time continues to pass. Eventually, President Obama will publish his memoirs, as will President Trump. What is interesting to think about is that I will be old before enough time passes for current and future presidents to be studied like the individuals I have finished reading. History is an ongoing adventure that doesn’t end – it is lived.

#tbt – I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!

Last week’s Travel Back Thursday (#tbt) was so  fun thinking about, I decided I should continue the details of my trip for this week’s post. After my night in Omaha, NE, I work up very, very early (4:30 am, I believe, for a 3.5 hour trip) and drove to Abilene, KS. It was dark when I left, so I didn’t get to see a lot of the countryside. When I passed Lincoln, the sun was starting to rise, so I could see a light silhouette of the skyline. I wish I could have had a picture of this because I remember it vividly.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 8.12.58 AM

Snapshot from Google Maps of my trip’s second leg to Abilene, KS. The terrain was gorgeous once the sun came out.

I’m sure you’re thinking two things: 1. What did you do in Kansas? and 2. What on earth is Abilene?  When brainstorming what to do in Kansas, nothing readily came to mind. I don’t know enough about that area of the country, but then I started my research. When researching a new place, I start in two places: Google and Facebook. I post to my Facebook friends if anyone has any suggestions (no one did for Kansas) then start Googling what the destination is known for and brainstorming what historical events happened.

I love history. I find it fascinating to read biographies of people who have major accomplishments and have impacted the world. English and American history are my favorites. For the last few years, I’ve been reading biographies of each American president in the order of their presidency (currently am at Taft). I can tell more about that later. When researching, if I notice a Presidential Library or birthplace, I go for it! Abilene, KS, is the birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was the 34th president of the United States from 1953-1961 and Supreme General of the army in Europe during WWII. He led a remarkable life, and it all started in the small, humble town of Abilene. His childhood home is now a historic site and the site of his presidential library.

My first impression of Kansas was absolutely not what I expected. In fact, it was one of the few states that was polar opposite of what I thought. Before arriving, all I could associate with Kansas was 1930s dust bowl (sorry Kansans!) I pictured it to be flat, flat with tumbleweed blowing in the wind. I have no reason to have this image; I assume it is something I came up with as a kid and have had no reason to change it. Kansas was beautiful! Contrary to my former thoughts, it was lush green with rolling hills! Who would have known!

Green grass and blue skies!

Green grass and blue skies!


I thought this was really funny. There were a few of these horseback riders around.

I thought this was really funny. There were a few of these horseback riders around. I think they were advertising the Pony Express historical site..

It just goes forever!

It just goes forever!

I arrived to Abilene around opening time for the museum and jumped on a tour to see the General’s house. IMG_2768What a remarkable way to grow up – in the heart of America and a small town. He was able to play outside and meet friends, but joined the Army to get out and serve his country. Eisenhower was proud of our country and what it stands for. In my opinion, he was a great president who led America during a time of prosperity. Many presidents who do not serve during crisis are forgotten. We know Eisenhower the President of the United States and accomplished general, but this house knows Eisenhower the person. What a neat way to see someone’s background and understand where they came from. You can’t understand a person until you see this.


At home with Dwight

IMG_2793Abilene itself didn’t have a lot to offer. There weren’t any unique, local restaurants, so after my tour and visiting the library, I headed off for Oklahoma. I know this doesn’t sound like the most exciting trip for a lot of people, but it was for me. I truly enjoyed this stop and visit in Kansas, but that is what rosy wandering is. Appreciating something for what it is and seeing the uniqueness in the opportunity.

Stay tuned for next week’s #tbt! Happy wandering!

Welcome to Music City. Welcome to Nashville, TN!

IMG_0868One of my inspirations for this blog was travel. I love to travel, and I have had so many amazing experiences that it is selfish of me not to share those with people. Therefore, stay tuned for more #TBT – Travel Back Thursday – where I will share previous wanders. I travel mostly with friends, but I also travel alone. I love to talk about travel and get suggestions, so please leave them in the comments section!

In mid-April, I went to Nashville with my friend, Cathy, to celebrate my birthday. This was my second trip there, but my first with a friend. When I travel alone, I don’t go to bars or go out late…all of which makes Nashville the exciting place it is.


  • How to get there: it’s only a 6 hour drive from Charlotte, and with a limited number of direct flights, we decided it would be best to drive. It was nice to have a car, but we only used it to go out to Bellmeade and the Hermitage.
  • Where to stay: we used AirBnB to stay at a house in Germantown. Much more discussion to come on this. It was my first AirBnB experience, and I can’t say enough good things about it! Great location, great people, and great facility.
  • Where to eat: Yum, yum. We had delicious meals in Nashville. I’ll list them below, but follow me on Yelp as “The Rosy Wanderer.” I’m a big Yelper and leave reviews of everywhere I eat when I travel.
  • What to do: one of the best parts of Nashville is there is a lot to do, but it changes over time. This is a place I can see myself visiting often and no matter how old I am. There is great history, music, and various events. If you enjoy country music, then there is always something to do. That being said, I’m sure there are non-country hangouts, but who would want to do that? Our goal was to listen to good music and see the city. Mission accomplished.


The Hermitage  We decided to do a long weekend. On our drive to Nashville, we stopped at the Hermitage, which is where Andrew Jackson (7th president of the United States) lived before becoming president and after he left office. I love history and have been reading presidential biographies for the last year or two in order of dates in office. Jackson was a rouIMG_0992gh character and his wife, Sarah, died shortly before he became president. Because of this, I didn’t have high expectations for The Hermitage, but not only did it exceed my expectations in elegance, but it was one of the best preserved historic houses I have ever visited! A lot of former president’s homes from this time and other pre-Civil War houses are restored to look like that time. Because Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union and the first to be conquered, very little damage was done in state. On top of that, Union and Confederate forces agreed early on not to used The Hermitage for anything out of respect to President Jackson. AMAZING! This house was insanely elegant with rich tapestries, beautiful chandeliers, and original wallpaper from the early 1800s. Not bad for Old Hickory.

Tin Pan South  When we arrived to our house, we met Taylor who just re-branded herself as @HeyParkerMcKay. What a voice! Anyway, as she gave us a suggestion to attend an event for Tin Pan South. This is a week long festival where song writers perform their songs that were picked up my major
performers. Sounded right up our alley, and it was. The second night of performances, we listed to the cast of ABC’s Nashville. This is one of our favorite TV shows, and there are just no words to express how cool of an experience this was. The venues are small and intimate – and we met Chris Carmack who plays Will Lexington. Umm…yeah. That was awesome, and he was so nice. That’s great to see someone be so nice to his fans.

Touring Downtown and Belle Meade  When I travel to a new place, I like to walk around. Each city and town has its own energy. We had breakfast at the Frothy Monkey then walked around downtown. We got to see the state capitol (you have to be slightly nerdy to travel with me). It was a beautiful building, but it was closed on Saturday. My inner-history nerd was very excited to see this statue of President Jackson. This is the statue you see on many documentaries about him. IMG_0922

We then drove to Belle Meade, a beautiful section of Nashville where the average income is almost $200,000 annually. The mansions lining the roads were gorgeous. The area is named after the historic Belle Meade Plantation, which is a historic site and winery. IMG_0924The house was home to the Harding and Jackson (not the president) families. They were well known for breeding horses. An interesting fact is that all Triple Crown winners (or close to all) descended from their line of horses. Pretty amazing. We even got to see a Civil War cannon shot. BOOM! After touring the house, we visited the winery and sat outside on a beautiful afternoon. What a relaxing and enjoyable visit.


Overall, Nashville is a place everyone should visit. I love it because it is a place for people of all ages. I have to assume that being above the legal drinking age makes it more fun, but there is something for everyone.  Anything from history to honky tonks – makes for a great weekend visit!

© 2023 The Rosy Wanderer

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑