Latest update: April 30th, 2012
Not exactly light beach reads, the following books on American presidents deal with Mideast issues in an extended and intelligent manner. These are not necessarily the best all-around biographies or studies of the individual presidents listed (though some rank right up there), but the strongest in terms of exploring presidential attitudes and policies toward Israel.
Truman, the Jewish Vote and the Creation of Israel by John Snetsinger (Hoover Institute Press, 1974): Superior to anything else written on the struggle for a Jewish state during the first three years of the Truman presidency. Very strong on how the 1948 presidential election influenced U.S. policy.
Conflict and Crisis, The Presidency of Harry S. Truman, 1945-1948 and Tumultuous Years, The Presidency of Harry Truman, 1949-1953 by Robert J. Donovan (W.W. Norton, 1977 and 1982): This two-volume history of Truman’s years in the White House stands head and shoulders above the many books on the Truman presidency, including David McCullough’s much-acclaimed 1992 biography.
Eisenhower and the American Crusades by Herbert S. Parmet (Macmillan, 1972): A thorough look at the Eisenhower administration, with considerable attention paid to the Suez Crisis of 1956. Despite its having been written before the release of many classified Eisenhower-era documents, the book has aged well.
“Let Us Begin Anew”: An Oral History of the Kennedy Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (Harper-Collins, 1993): Real inside stuff here; the Strobers interviewed dozens of surviving Kennedy-era officials and opinion-makers who spoke candidly and on the record, many for the first time, on the major issues of the day.
Support Any Friend: Kennedy’s Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance by Warren Bass (Oxford University Press, 2002): Though some have argued that Bass gives Kennedy too much credit for a U.S.-Israel relationship that really began to bloom in the Johnson and Nixon years, any student of U.S. foreign affairs would be well served to read this book.
Flawed Giant – Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1961-1973 by Robert Dallek (Oxford University Press, 1998): Second and concluding volume of a well-written, authoritative biography, focusing on Johnson’s vice presidential and presidential years.
Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 and Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990 by Stephen E. Ambrose (Simon & Schuster, 1989, 1991): Parts two and three of a magisterial three-volume biography of Nixon, with plenty on the evolution of the Nixon administration’s Middle East policies.
Nixon: An Oral History of His Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (HarperCollins, 1994): The Strobers do for Nixon’s presidency what they did for Kennedy’s. Essential reading for anyone who wants to know the thoughts and reminiscences of the actual participants.
The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford by John Robert Green (University Press of Kansas, 1995): The definitive history of the Ford administration has yet to appear, but readers wishing a good overview will find one in this slim but informative volume (which includes an examination of the Kissinger-Ford Mideast policy).
The Presidency of James Earl Carter, Jr. by Burton I. Kaufman (University Press of Kansas, 1993): As with Ford, a comprehensive history of the Carter presidency remains to be written; in the meantime, this concise account touches on all the important points. Contains some interesting details on the Camp David negotiations.
President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime by Lou Cannon (Simon & Schuster, 1991): A big book by a reporter who covered Reagan longer than just about anyone else.
Reagan: The Man and His Presidency by Gerald S. and Deborah Hart Strober (Houghton Mifflin, 1998): The third and, apparently, final entry in the Strobers’ superb series of oral histories.
George Bush – The Life of a Lone Star Yankee by Herbert S. Parmet (Scribner, 1997): The first full-length Bush biography. Fair to its subject and rigorously researched, with a detailed account of the Gulf War and the Bush-Baker Mideast policy.
American Presidents, Religion, and Israel: The Heirs of Cyrus by Paul Charles Merkley (Praeger Publishers, 2004): Fascinating examination of how the religious backgrounds of American presidents have influenced U.S. foreign policy.
The Unfinished Presidency by Douglas Brinkley (Viking, 1998): Books are rarely written about the activities of presidents once they’ve left office, but private citizen Jimmy Carter is a special case. In this revealing look at Carter’s post-presidential years, his obsession with the Palestinians and affection for Yasir Arafat are made clear as never before.
About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.
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