Monday, February 18, 2013

Presidents Day: Books about Washington and Lincoln

Did you know that, technically, today is called Washington's Birthday (here in Virginia it's "George Washington Day") and not President's day. INTERESTING.

But, colloquially, it's Presidents Day, and honors Washington and Lincoln, so that's what we're doing today!


The Many Faces of George Washington: Remaking a Presidential Icon by Carla Killough McClafferty. Mount Vernon wanted new statues of George Washington and they wanted to highlight something more than the portraits of a President that we're so used to. Part biography (focusing on his earlier years), part forensic science (to figure out what he looked like and his size), and part art and design (in how they actually take that info and use it to make the statues) there's something here for everyone.

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman. Lincoln was the first president to be photographed regularly and throughout his life. As the title suggests, this biography is heavily illustrated with photographic portraits, really illuminating how much the office, and the war, aged him.

George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War by Thomas B. Allen. Who knew that George Washington was an American James Bond? Filled with coded messages and actual codes and trade craft used during the revolution, this our first President as you've never seen him before. Be sure to also check out Allen's Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent: How Daring Slaves and Free Blacks Spied for the Union During the Civil War. Older readers may want to opt for Alexander Rose's Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring.


Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James Swenson. Swenson writes an exciting and gripping tale of Lincoln's assassination and the manhunt to find the perpetrators. Older readers (or those who appreciate source notes and bibliographies) might want to just skip to the adult book this is based on, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer.

Washington at Valley Forge by Russell Freedman. We hear about Valley Forge in history class all the time, but Freedman explains how it was more than weather that made is so awful, how close to death the army really was, and how the leadership of Washington not only kept them alive, but finally molded the ragtag army into a fighting force that had a chance of winning. It skews a bit young, but is still one worth checking out.

Lincoln's Last Days: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman. Unlike the Swenson, this has source notes. It also starts much earlier, and focuses more on Lincoln's last days, as well as the formation of the assassination plot and all the prep work that went into it. The backmatter is extensive, but also interesting and fun so readers will actually want to read it. Older readers may want to instead read the adult title this is based on, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.


Assassin by Anna Myers. In this novel, Bella is one of Mary Todd Lincoln's seamstresses who is taken in by the charm and charisma of John Wilkes Booth. She believes his lies that no harm will come to the president if she helps him, but the reader will know differently.

Taking Liberty: The Story of Oney Judge, George Washington's Runaway Slave by Ann Rinaldi. Based on a true story, Oney Judge is Martha Washington's personal servant, a position that gives her luxury and power that crosses racial lines, but, in the end, she is still a slave and still property. The Washingtons do not mistreat her and she wants for little-- but is that enough to stay? Or should she risk it all to finally be truly free?

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Sorry. I couldn't help myself.

What are your Washington and Lincoln must reads?

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