by JULIE GRAY
Just before President’s Day, Bloom caught up with Bloomington resident Craig Fehrman as he set out on a national book tour for Author in Chief (Simon & Schuster, 2020), his history of the books written by—or ghostwritten for— American presidents.
A historian and journalist who has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, among other publications, Fehrman took 10 years to write Author in Chief, which has its roots in his unfinished Yale University dissertation.
Because Fehrman is, above all, a reader who loves to talk about books, he says the plan was to leave plenty of time for discussion at each stop on his tour.
“I hope history lovers will love my book,” he says. “Even if you’ve read a bunch of presidential biographies, I promise you that there will be stories in here you’ve never heard before. But I also hope that my book will appeal to anyone who just loves reading.”
It will. His supremely engaging book is far from dry literary or historical analysis. Though Fehrman examines how presidents used their books to advance their political campaigns or burnish their posthumous reputations, he is most concerned with what it feels like to read these books.
And he is happy to make recommendations. “Lincoln will always be my favorite presidential writer,” he says. Surprisingly, though, Calvin Coolidge is another favorite.
“We think of him as Silent Cal, but in truth, he was Loquacious Cal,” Fehrman says. “His slim, little autobiography is the most entertaining and the most personal presidential memoir you could ever read. I wish more politicians would use it as their model.” The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge is out of print, but you can read it online at archive.org.
Among recent presidential contenders, Fehrman singles out Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home. He also recommends Where’s the Rest of Me? by Ronald Reagan and Richard Hubler as a “classic example of good ghostwriting.”
“To me, it doesn’t make sense to assume that because something is ghostwritten it’s really bad. When a politician and a ghostwriter both work hard and both commit themselves to making the best book they can, you get a decent book,” Fehrman says.
For more on the author and a list of tour dates, visit craigfehrman.com.