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review 2017-11-18 15:09
Podcast #77 is up!
His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt - Joseph Lelyveld

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Joseph Lelyveld about his account of the last year and a half of Franklin Roosevelt's life and presidency. Enjoy!

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review 2017-07-31 17:33
Paeans to my favorite books - VII: What It Takes
What It Takes: The Way to the White House - Richard Ben Cramer

This morning I opened Facebook to see one of my friends had posted this:



Now I get why he would post something like this. Joe Biden was a popular vice president (I suspect all of those Onion memes had a lot to do with this) whose candidacy would appeal to many of those white working-class voters who voted for Donald Trump last year. But it's not going to happen: even if you set aside his age (he will be 78 in 2020), there is another major impediment that would hobble his presidential hopes.


He is a seriously flawed campaigner.


For those of you who don't believe me, I strongly recommend reading Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes. It's an account of the 1988 presidential primaries that, though a quarter-century old, has remained remarkable relevant, in no small measure due to the candidates the author chose to focus on; in addition to the eventual winners (Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush), he also followed the candidacies of Biden, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, and Dick Gephardt. Through a combination of biography and reportage he tries to understand what it was that led people to subject themselves to the grueling and often demeaning sacrifices of a presidential contest -- the campaigning, the attacks, the toll it takes on one's family and reputation. Yet it's not just the fortuitous selection of candidates (three of whom went on to become their party's nominee and two more of whom remained prominent politicians and presidential contenders for decades afterward) that makes it worthwhile reading, as Cramer's immersive approach and almost novelistic recounting of them captures many fleeting moments that offer fascinating insights when connected to the description of the personalities that he provides.


The result has been lauded as possibly the best book about political campaigning ever written, one that has inspired a generation of political journalists much as Theodore White's The Making of the President, 1960 did a generation previously, I've only read Cramer's book once (and then over two decades ago), but the understanding it provided into the people he chronicled has never left me. It's why I can say with confidence that if Biden were to run he would never get the nomination, because the things that made him so endearing as vice president (such his gaffe-prone bluster) are the same things that would derail his ambitions -- just as they did in 1988.

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review 2016-11-11 01:53
Duck for President
Duck for President - Doreen Cronin,Betsy Lewin

Written by Doreen Cronin

Illustrated by Betsy Lewin


Farmer Brown has many responsibilities on the farm. He ends each day covered from head to toe with mud and muck. He gives the animals chores to do too, like dusting and mowing the lawn. Duck is fed up with how Farmer Brown runs the farm, so Duck decides to hold an election for a new farmer. Duck beats Farmer Brown soundly and becomes the new farmer. However, the job is harder than it looks, so Duck leaves Farmer Brown in charge and begins his campaign for governor. He beats the sitting governor by a handful of votes. After a while he discovers that being governor is hard work, so he leaves someone else in charge and begins his campaign for the presidency. Yet again, Duck wins the election. After a while he discovers that being the president is hard work, so he checks the help-wanted ads. Farmer Brown was looking for a duck! Duck leaves the Vice President in charge and heads back to the farm to write his autobiography. 


I would use this book from first grade to third grade to talk about elections. It gives a nice, simplified version of running a campaign and how important voting is to elect your candidate. You could pair this book with a writing activity, such as: "I would vote for _____ (Duck or Farmer Brown) because _____."

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review 2016-11-10 20:51
So You Want To Be President?
So You Want to Be President? - Judith St. George,David Small

A cute book with some really funny illustrations. It describes the Presidents up until George W. Bush. It shows the Presidents in a humorous way. I think that this book could be used to teach students about our past Presidents. And can be used during the elections. I think any age could read this book.

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review 2016-11-09 03:13
Duck for President
Duck for President - Doreen Cronin,Betsy Lewin

This is a really cute book for any age to read during election season. I think this could be used to hold a class election, even if it is using cartoon characters. I think it could be really fun to use if you are teaching the students about the election process, so then by using different text students can make text to self/community connections. 

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