Book Review: Presidential Leadership

Ragone examines what he considers the fifteen most significant presidential decisions, decisions that frequently went against the advice of staff and advisors. George Washington’s squelching of the whiskey rebellion, Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory, Andrew Jackson’s rejection of nullification and Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation were all riveting issues of the day that forced presidents to put the Union first, even if the decision went against deeply held convictions regarding the government’s role. Ragone does an excellent job of providing enough background on each president to appreciate how their upbringing and beliefs shaped their decisions without becoming so dry as to be boring.

Truman’s history making decision to use the atomic bomb is particularly fascinating as he struggled with the moral ramifications of either sending thousands of American youths to their deaths or killing massive numbers of innocent civilians. Naturally, John Kennedy’s push to go to the moon, Richard Nixon’s policy changing trip to China and Gerald Ford’s pardoning of Nixon is included. Surprisingly, so is Barack Obama’s massive healthcare reform package which history has yet to judge whether that was a crowning achievement or a terrible mistake. Insightful, thought provoking and educational, this adds depth to the dry names and events most readers were forced to memorize in school and shows what went into decisions that changed the course of the country.

Further Reading on M&C