Stephen Floyd, an investment banker, private pilot and avid fan of American history, has since January 2013 been on a journey or “great adventure” through “the best presidential biographies,” which he has reviewed on a blog, bestpresidentialbios.com. In July, he announced that he has completed more than 250 biographies amounting to 125,000 pages read, posted 385 reviews, summaries, random observations and assorted brainstorms. The blog has been visited more than two million times, and more than 5,000 comments have been posted.
In short, by sheer focus, he has turned himself into an expert on the topic of presidential biographies and created an online community of readers who share his interest. “One of the most unanticipated pleasures has been the email I receive from readers – at the rate of between 40 and 60 per week. Some share wisdom on a particular book or president, many relay a common appreciation of presidential history, but most ask one or more questions.”
Based on the feedback he has received, he lists the most popular presidential biographies and the most, and least, popular presidents.
I might ask him if his readings confirm or deny the great man theory of history? Did the times turn average men into great leaders, or did great men shape the times? Are presidents truly the most important people of every age, or are some of them actually minor, not very important characters in the story of the nation, such as the succession of short-term presidents between 1837 and 1861, and between 1881 and 1897?
Who were the most interesting and least interesting presidents? (I imagine that fluctuates based on the latest readings.)
Where does he come down on concepts of chance, destiny, divine providence, fate, chaos theory, slender threads, the thin line between success and failure, heroes and goats or losers, presidential mythology vs. reality, social movements? Do leaders create movements or do movements create leaders? Do all social movements have excesses, extremes, and provoke counter-movements?
Does he prefer to read biographies by journalists or historians?
In October, he reviewed Jonathan Alter’s new biography of Jimmy Carter called “His Very Best,” portraying him as a good president and a visionary leader, and “The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III,” advisor to Presidents Reagan, Bush 41 and Bush 43.
He also read lots of other biographies in 2020.