... 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
Books by presidents ... it’s a vexed and miscellaneous genre ... So credit to Craig Fehrman for the compendiousness, readability, and general exuberance of his Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote ... as Author in Chief proceeds, covering the epochs at a comfortable chronological clip—Washington to Monroe ... Adams to Grant ... Hayes to Roosevelt—a strange Friday the 13th–style tension begins to build. Your scalp starts to itch. What’s going to happen, after all this thoughtful middle-to-highbrowism, when we arrive at the feast of illiteracy that is Trumptown 2020? ... the after-Trump republic—if there is one—will no doubt be looking, with some desperation, for a return to presidential dullness. To fat, pedantic memoirs by worried men. We’ll want it then, this healing, heavily paginated monotony.