Americans have always been intrigued by the lives, both professional and personal, of our elected officials. Nowadays, all we have to do is log onto Twitter to see what our Commander in Chief is thinking, but before that, readers had to rely on the best presidential memoirs to give them insight into the lives of their leaders, and the inner workings of Washington. What better way to learn about these fascinating figures and the most important historical events of their presidencies than from the politicians themselves?
Writing a memoir is basically part of the job description for presidents and politicians in America. Just recently, Barack and Michelle Obama made headlines with their major post-presidency book deal that is reportedly worth more that $65 million dollars. From Jefferson to Eisenhower to Bush and beyond, nearly every United States president has written about their lives and politics, either as a way to help them gain notoriety before running for office, or after their presidency as a kind of rite of passage. While many of these books are insightful, inspiring, and intriguing stories about incredible political achievements, unbelievable challenges, and some of the most dramatic moments from our history, there are others that are, to put it simply, duds. How do you know which ones to choose?
Luckily, you don't have to, because I have rounded up the best nine presidential memoirs written. From our earliest Commanders in Chief to some of the most recent, these are the autobiographies you don't want to miss.
1'The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson' edited by Adrienne Koch and William Peden
A prolific thinker and a gifted writer, Thomas Jefferson is not only responsible for writing the Declaration of Independence, but the third president also penned over 70,000 letters in his life. In The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson, many of those letters, both personal and professional, along with journal entries, notes, and addresses come together to form a clear and insightful view of the remarkable man who made some of the most important contributions to early American politics. Intimate and intriguing, this is one of the earliest and one of the best presidential memoirs to ever hit shelves.
2'Ulysses S. Grant: Personal Memoirs & Selected Letters' by Ulysses S. Grant
Considered one of the finest books written by an American president, Ulysses S. Grant's Personal Memoirs & Selected Letters is an exceptional work written under extraordinary circumstances. Penned in 1885 while Grant was suffering from throat cancer and published by none other than Mark Twain, this autobiography and selected letters is a frank and sincere collection that will reshape the way you see one of America's finest generals and most well-known presidents.
3'Theodore Roosevelt: The Rough Riders/An Autobiography' by Theodore Roosevelt
Soldier, rancher, reformer, hunter, historian, and the youngest man to serve as president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt led such an intriguing life, it's impossible to pick just one of his works to name as "the best." That's what makes Theodore Roosevelt: Rough Riders/An Autobiography the perfect read for anyone interested in learning about his extraordinary life. Starting with his famous and fascinating stories of the Rough Riders, the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry who fought in the Spanish-American war, and moving into his own autobiography covering everything from how he got his start in politics to his work as New York City's police commissioner to his eventual rise to the presidency and lifelong commitment to conservation, this collection will give you the full view of one of the country's most celebrated politicians.
4'Mandate for Change' by Dwight D. Eisenhower
The work that is often credited with transforming the approach to presidential memoir writing, Dwight D. Eisenhower's Mandate for Change is personal, insightful, and an absolute must-read. Covering the years of his first term in office, this revelatory memoir covers not only the personal and national events between 1953-1956, but also takes a deep-dive into the president's thinking process, the lessons he learned, and how he felt during some of the most crucial decisions he made. Filled with honesty, wit, humor, and sincerity, Mandate for Change should be on every political junkie's reading list.
5'Six Crises' by Richard Nixon
One of the most controversial presidents in American history, Richard Nixon is an intriguing figure whose early writing give readers insight to the man who would later become the 37th president of the United States (and the only one to resign from office.) In Six Crises, the politician chronicles six major events, including an attack he suffered at the hands of a mob in Venezuela, Eisenhower's heart attack, and the 1960 presidential campaign. While it's not the juiciest read (this is pre-Watergate), it does offer insight to one of American politics most complicated figures.
6'A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety' by Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter has penned over two dozen books in his lifetime, and while his earlier memoir Keeping Faith is considered to be one of the most revealing presidential memoirs ever written, his 2015 memoir A Full Life offers a fresh new perspective on one of America's most dedicated public servants. A retrospective look back at some of the most pivotal moments in Carter's private and public life, including his youth growing up in rural Georgia and his lost bid for re-election, A Full Life is a clear, candid, and captivating read perfect for any politics lover.
7'An American Life: The Autobiography of Ronald Reagan' by Ronald Reagan
One of America's most beloved presidents, Ronald Reagan lived in the public eye for most of his life, but his memoir shows another side of the actor, politician, and husband. In An American Life, Reagan discusses honestly and in detail his childhood during the Depression, his incredible acting career, his transition into politics, his enduring love for his wife, and so much more. Including some of the most crucial moments of his presidency — his run for governor of California, his 1985 Geneva meeting with the Soviet leaders, an assassination attempt on his life — An American Life is a warm, personal, and inspiring book about an extraordinary man and a remarkable politician.
8'My Life' by Bill Clinton
In this remarkably candid and detailed memoir, Bill Clinton invites readers into not only his life, but the day-to-day goings on of the White House. Recounting his dysfunctional youth with a loving mother and abusive stepfather, his sweeping romance with Hillary Rodham, his journey into politics and his rise to the office of the presidency, and yes, even the Monica Lewinsky scandal that almost ruined his life and career, Clinton doesn't pull any punches in this deeply personal and insightful memoir.
9'Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance' by Barack Obama
While it is not technically his official presidential memoir because it was published over a decade before his election, Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father is a remarkable work about race, inheritance, and American culture. Chronicling his family's history as well as his own, from his mother's family's move from Kansas to Hawaii, his parent's whirlwind romance, his father's death and subsequent legacy, this incredible story is powerful and inspiring, a must-read before the release of his upcoming memoir about his years in the White House.