It's...packed with an incredible depth of research and thoughtful analysis, all of it devoted to exploring the literary output of our presidents ... It’s a chance to look at these historical titans through the lens of the words they themselves put down on paper. And really, what better way to gain insight into their inner lives and thoughts? ... Through it all, Fehrman guides the reader toward an understanding of how these books both shaped and were shaped by the times in which they were written ... Authors in Chief is an absolutely absorbing read.
... [a] joyfully engrossing debut ... Surely that eternal task has never had so comprehensive a chronicle as this one. When contemplating the tall mountain of literary garbage Fehrman had to scale in order to write with such authority, even the adventurous reader must pale in terror ... Fehrman also consistently pays these writings the compliment of reading them critically ... juicy controversies and conversation-starters are the consistently found treats of Author in Chief, regardless of where you find yourself on the political spectrum. And the implication throughout—that books are vitally important to the nation’s soul—will surely appeal to red and blue state readers alike.
... delightfully instructive ... immensely enhanced by [Ferhman's] awareness of American publishing history, which allows him to present all these political volumes in a cultural and business context ... supplies not only the intermittent history of American publishing already referred to but also some thumbnail historiography ... If Mr. Fehrman can sometimes teeter on the syrupy brink of seeing the presidency as an awesome burden (LBJ’s phrase), his judgments remain almost always clear-eyed and sound. Some of the most entertaining can be found in footnotes ... Mr. Fehrman’s own style is relentlessly peppy and digressive; he is forever setting up a story and then racing off in pursuit of another before returning to the first. The interruptus effect makes a number of his chapters feel like the presidency of Grover Cleveland. Brief appearances by unsung American readers strive to add a democratic amplitude to the author’s history of publishing and literary tastes, but they result mostly in narrative confusion ... Even so, overexuberance beats sourness, and Author in Chief ends up being one of the best books on the American presidency to appear in recent years ... Mr. Fehrman does justice to his several dozen subjects, who through their books keep spinning, even when in their graves