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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 presidential oral histories.


George Bush: The Life of a Lone Star Yankee by Herbert S. Parmet (Scribner, 1997): The first full-length biography of George H.W. Bush. Fair to its subject and rigorously researched, with a detailed account of the Gulf War and the Bush-Baker Mideast policy.

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker (Doubleday, 2013): A magisterial, remarkably balanced portrayal of the George W. Bush presidency by the chief White House correspondent of The New York Times. Some years from now a journalist or historian with the benefit of greater hindsight and access to presently classified information will write a study of the Bush presidency that will supplant this one. Until then, this will stand as the gold standard.

The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict: Making America’s Middle East Policy from Truman to Reagan by Steven Spiegel (University of Chicago Press, 1986): The best overall look at U.S. Mideast policy from the fight for Jewish statehood through Ronald Reagan’s first term in office. While there’s a crying need for a sequel or an updated edition given all that’s happened since the book’s publication 28 years ago, there’s still no better book about America’s relations with Israel over the first 38 years of Israel’s existence.

The Elected and the Chosen: Why American Presidents Have Supported Jews and Israel by Denis Brian (Gefen, 2012): Brian, a distinguished biographer of luminaries ranging from Albert Einstein to Tallulah Bankhead, offers a smorgasbord of anecdotes and historical detail in easily digestible chapters on each president from Washington through Obama.

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, the 39th president’s obsession with the Palestinians and affection for Yasir Arafat become clearer than they’d ever been.