- Former presidents often turn to writing to explain the important decisions they made and actions they took while in office.
- Some autobiographies offer riveting first-person accounts of presidents’ journeys to the White House, challenges they faced in office, and plans they have post-presidency.
- Others are selective about what they include or are simply boring reads.
- Here are the five worst and five best autobiographies written by presidents.
At the time of this writing, there are 44 former presidents of the United States of America. The roads that led each man to the White House — from military service to state-level politics to real estate investing and reality-TV show hosting — vary, as do the lives lived by these heads of state after their years in office.
But many former presidents have a common thread in their post-POTUS years: They write, often about themselves.
Some former American presidents used memoirs to explain decisions they made and actions they took while in office, as Richard Nixon did with his 1990 memoir, “In the Arena.” Others write personal books that reveal more about themselves and their lives in the pre- and or post-presidential years — Jimmy Carter has penned several such works.
Some presidential autobiographies turn into runaway hits, topping bestseller lists and making millions of dollars for their esteemed authors. Others fade into obscurity.
Here we highlight a few of the notable hits and misses from this decidedly elite club of memoirists:
Best: “Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant” by Ulysses S. Grant
President Grant’s memoirs are focused primarily on his time serving as an officer during the Civil War and in the Mexican-American War that preceded it.
Literary critics including Gertrude Stein and Edmund Wilson had high praise for Grant’s “Personal Memoirs,” while Mark Twain, who helped edit and publish the book, called it “the best [memoirs] of any general’s since Caesar.”
Biographer William S. McFeely once wrote of the book that “no other American president has told his story as powerfully as Ulysses Grant did in his ‘Personal Memoirs,'” which was completed shortly before Grant died from cancer in 1885.
Best: “The Audacity of Hope” by Barack Obama
In an upending of the standard order, this bestselling political memoir helped lead to the Oval Office rather than a stint in the White House paving the way for a successful memoir.
Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” established the then-Senator as a star of the Democratic party and greatly elevated his public profile shortly before the campaign season that would lead to a 2008 electoral victory.
Obama’s book was such a hit thanks to its upbeat messaging of hope and progress, and also the competence of his prose. His writing was often “eloquent and moving,” in the words of a critic from The Guardian.
Best: “Mandate for Change,” by Dwight Eisenhower
One of multiple installments of Eisenhower’s memoirs, “Mandate for Change” covers his first term in office.
Best: “The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson” by Thomas Jefferson
Jefferson was the first great Writer in Chief. In fact, it was his skill with a pen that established his place in American politics, with a young and previously obscure Jefferson serving as lead author of the Declaration of Independence.
“The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson” includes an autobiography written by the third president as well as dozens of his letters and selected official documents.
Reading the book gives you plenty of insight into the man, and even more of a look at the times in which he lived, and today, two centuries after its writing, the book remains popular. The Goodreads.com community has awarded it an average 4.15-star rating and many reviews posted even in 2018 are glowing.
Best: “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety” by Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter is a rarity among former presidents in that many of the notable achievements of his life came outside of the four during which he occupied the White House, such as a 2002 Nobel Peace Prize.
In his New York Times bestseller “A Full Life,” Carter spends time reflecting on his presidency, but he dedicates more pages to his youth and life before taking office in 1977, and to the decades that have since elapsed.
Worst: “A Time to Heal” by Gerald Ford
Ford’s accidental presidency started under the cloud of a corruption scandal and ended with a loss at the polls. During his truncated term, he achieved little of lasting note and was much maligned for pardoning his predecessor, Richard Nixon.
Echoing the justification Ford gave for pardoning Nixon’s obstruction of justice charges, his memoir was titled “A Time to Heal.”
Worst: “The Memoirs of Richard Nixon” by Richard Nixon
Nixon’s memoir was published relatively after he became the first president to resign.
While reviewer Gaddis Smith felt that Nixon “writes more clearly” than many of presidential memoirists that immediately preceded him (though she admits that’s no great feat), writer John Kenneth Galbraith felt the president was trying to rewrite history in a manner implying “that Mr. Nixon never did anything wrong unless someone else had done something like it first.”
Worst: “An American Life” by Ronald Reagan
Much of Reagan’s “An American Life” consists of lengthy reproductions of letters, speeches, or memos that should have been edited down heavily or even merely referred to, not reproduced.
The 700-odd pages Reagan writes are plagued by “omission” and “selective facts,” in the words of New York Times critic Maureen Dowd. A Daily Beast write up went even farther, calling the book “fact-free.”
Worst: “The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Great Depression” by Herbert Hoover
If it were ever to be republished, I’d suggest renaming “The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover: The Great Depression” something like: “Totally Not My Fault, Guys.”
Hoover spends much of this book trying to extricate his legacy from the Depression era. He writes, for example, that the Great Depression “first appeared in late 1929, eight months after my inauguration, and continued in the United States not only during my term but for eight years more, until the start of the Second World War in 1941.”
Or, in other words, “I didn’t start it, and the guy after me couldn’t fix it!” (Also, WWII didn’t start in 1941, Mr. Hoover.)
Worst: “The Autobiography of Martin Van Buren” by Martin Van Buren
If you’re in the mood for more than 800 pages of minute, painstaking details about the most boring aspects of the eighth president’s life, then by all means read this book. It’s also a good choice if you can’t sleep.
A 1921 review that appeared in The American Historical Review said Van Buren’s writing “leaves something to be desired.” Few other reviews are out there, because this dull book has all but faded away into the past.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
Get breaking news on your Mobile as-it-happens. SMS ‘NEWS’ to 20153
With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.