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Hail to the Chiefs: Presidential Mischief, Morals, & Malarkey from George…

by Barbara Holland

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1192169,675 (3.63)None
It's a cherished American freedom-the right to ridicule, gossip about, and chuckle at our Chief Executives. In this newly updated volume, acclaimed humorist Barbara Holland looks at the fascinating, the funny, and the all-too-human side of our nation's leaders, from the first George W. to the latest.… (more)



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It turns out I couldn't find a biography of William Henry Harrison for this month's US Presidents Challenge. I mean, he was only in office for a month before he died, so how much could there be to write about? So now I've got a dilemma - skip this President or not...I waffled a bit, looked him up on Wikipedia and few other websites, then came across Hail to the Chiefs.

Barbara Holland has collected stories of each President through Reagan and put them together in a very funny, very wry set of vignettes. It's light and fluffy, but eas just the thing for an airplane ride! ( )
  drneutron | Sep 17, 2009 |
Richie's Picks: HAIL TO THE CHIEFS: PRESIDENTIAL MISCHIEF, MORALS, & MALARKEY FROM GEORGE W. TO GEORGE W. by Barbara Holland, The Permanent Press, ISBN 1-57962-081-7

"The main cause of the Revolution, aside from all those Adamses, was the quantity of feisty, short-tempered people on this side of the Atlantic at the time, and the quantity of unusually bossy, fat-headed chumps on the other side, topped by poor George III, who suffered from funny feelings in his head."

Sarcastic references to the temperament of John Adams, his relatives, and assorted descendants, which pop up on a regular basis throughout this book, are among the multitude of laugh out loud moments packed into this clever "tell-all" about the lives, wives, dinner parties, dalliances, and various personal difficulties that characterized the forty-three great white leaders who have served as our nation's Chief Executive.

"John Adams, back in the beginning of it all, had always felt that the Presidency should be, well, not exactly hereditary, which would be undemocratic, but just naturally reserved for a group of the right sort of families whose sons would be properly educated and trained up for public service, and dedicated to knowing what was best for the rest of us rabble. The idea still hangs around to this day, but at the time some people were upset when Adams's son John Quincy turned up."

A book that will delight and reward students who've paid attention in their middle school or high school American History classes, HAIL TO THE CHIEFS had me giggling and snorting page after page.

"Grover Cleveland was elected back in the dark days before television, back even before we learned that Presidents ought to be charming, physically toothsome, and fit as fiddles. He was none of the above. He weighed nearly three hundred pounds and wore an immense walrus mustache with bits of corned beef and cabbage in it. The orator Robert Ingersoll said he could 'slip his collar off over his head without unbuttoning it,' which gives you an idea of his neck, and he had a high squeaky voice and some unrefined personal habits. I've heard that when he was practicing law in Buffalo he couldn't be bothered to go down the hall and relieved himself through his office window, and once a passerby sued.
"People called him 'the Beast of Buffalo.' He was a bachelor, and no wonder."

Footnotes, utilized for cheeky asides, are stacked up at the foot of many of the book's pages:

"Andrew Johnson should not be confused with Andrew Jackson. He didn't have Jackson's charm, or anyone else's either. 2

2 The White House staff called him 'The Grim Presence.' "

But, beyond the humor, this book provides fascinating stories and information about the Presidents that I have never run across elsewhere. The author notes of James Garfield (1881-1881):

"Garfield was tall and handsome and genial and scholarly. He believed that strikers had a right to strike and black men to vote and might have been a historically Good President if he'd stuck around long enough."

The author goes on to talk about Garfield's shooting at the hands of a disaffected job-seeker who wanted to be the American consul in Paris:

"Everyone thought Garfield was a goner, and [Vice President] Arthur was already testing out the mattresses and deciding which furniture to get rid of, but at four in the morning the President was actually quite chipper and telling funny stories. "The doctors rallied round and tried everything they could lay hands on to dig for the bullet. The bullet was minding its own business and not bothering anyone, comfortably lodged behind the pancreas out of harm's way, but the doctors couldn't rest till they'd excavated. "Dr. Bliss hauled in the big Nelaton Probe and shoved it into the wound and twisted it around and around, looking for a pathway that felt like a bullet track. It made some interesting tracks of its own, and got wedged in the broken bits of a rib and had to be wrenched back out, but it didn't find any bullet. Then Bliss poked around with his fingers for a while, and called more doctors in from all over the country to poke with their fingers too, and pretty soon Garfield was a maze of secret passageways, but the bullet stayed put. "Then Alexander Graham Bell had a better idea. He was so pleased with his telephone that he thought it could do anything, and he rigged up a receiver with a primary and secondary coil that he said would hum when it got near the bullet. He brought it around, and they rubbed it all over Garfield, and once they did hear it hum, or anyway, they thought they did. 6 Bell showed the doctors where to go in and dig deeper and wider holes, and they did, but still no luck. 7

6 Some claim it was confused by the metal bedsprings...
7 The autopsy found it a good ten inches from where Bell said it was."

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS is chock full of log cabins, land grabs, liquor, liars, and levity. Each chapter begins with a clearly reproduced full page portrait. (If there were one thing I would have added, it would have been a corresponding set of portraits of the equally quirky First Ladies whom we meet.)

For those of us who've always seen many of the Presidents as interchangeable and unremarkable, HAIL TO THE CHIEFS reveals a uniquely bizarre, er, I mean human side to our fearless leaders.

Richie Partington
BudNotBuddy@aol.com ( )
  richiespicks | Jun 8, 2009 |
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To My Mother
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The greatest glory of our system is its dazzling variety.
However, Buchanan had more enemies than a dog has fleas and they called him all sorts of opprobrious names, and if his sex life was non-standard, I'm sure they would have brought it up at the time. They didn't.
Frances Folsom was twenty-one and beautiful. He was forty-nine and Grover Cleveland.
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It's a cherished American freedom-the right to ridicule, gossip about, and chuckle at our Chief Executives. In this newly updated volume, acclaimed humorist Barbara Holland looks at the fascinating, the funny, and the all-too-human side of our nation's leaders, from the first George W. to the latest.

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