Author in Chief: Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote

Craig Fehrman / Indiana University, Bloomington

Most Americans know Abraham Lincoln’s famous words in the Gettysburg Address. But few could name the book that helped him win the presidency: a speech collection he assembled secretly and published just before the election of 1860.

Presidential books, it turns out, have made a huge and overlooked impact on American history, beginning with volumes written by Thomas Jefferson (the first campaign book) and John Adams (the first presidential memoir). In this lecture, Craig Fehrman will draw on ten years of research into this topic to tell fresh stories about Lincoln, Jefferson, Adams, Kennedy, Reagan, and other iconic presidents. He also will explain how a literary lens can reveal surprising sides to even these well-known presidents. Looking at presidents as they write means going behind the scenes and seeing them at their most human. We’ll discover what presidential books can reveal about history — and the humans who wrote them. Fehrman’s lecture also will share some behind-the-scenes details about the process that goes into writing a unique history book.