Dead Presidents

Dead Presidents

An American Adventure Into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation's Leaders

Book - 2016
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An entertaining exploration into the death stories of our nation's greatest leaders--and the wild ways we choose to remember and memorialize them.

To public radio host and reporter Brady Carlson, the weighty responsibilities of being president never end. As Carlson sees it, the dead presidents (and the ways we remember them) tell us a great deal about ourselves, our history, and how we imagine our past and future. For American presidents, there is life after death--it's just a little weird.

In Dead Presidents , Carlson takes readers on an epic trip to presidential gravesites, monuments, and memorials from sea to shining sea. With an engaging mix of history and contemporary reporting, Carlson recounts the surprising origin stories of the Washington Monument, Mount Rushmore, Grant's Tomb, and JFK's Eternal Flame. He explores whether William Henry Harrison really died of a cold, how the assassin's bullet may not have been what killed James A. Garfield, and why Zachary Taylor's remains were exhumed 140 years after he died. And he explains the strange afterlives of the presidents, including why "Hooverball" is still played in Iowa, why Millard Fillmore's final resting place is next to that of funk legend Rick James, why "Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?" became a running gag for Groucho Marx, why Ohio and Alaska fought for so long over the name of Mt. McKinley (now known as Denali), and why we exalt dead presidents not just with public statues and iconic paintings but with kitschy wax dummies, Halloween costumes, and bobblehead dolls.

With an infectious passion for history and an eye for neglected places and offbeat characters reminiscent of Tony Horwitz and Sarah Vowell, Carlson shows that the ways we memorialize our presidents reveal as much about us as it does about the men themselves.

Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton & Company, [2016]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780393243932
Branch Call Number: 973.099 C1972D 2016
Characteristics: xii, 324 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm


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May 20, 2020

Carlson has always been fascinated by the U.S. Presidents. In this book, he takes the reader on his outings to the dead presidents' grave sites. As he discovers along the way, a president's reputation changes over time -- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Carlson also readily admits that it can get weird in a lot of different ways. Anyone up for visiting the life-size, joke-telling animatronic version of LBJ? This fascinating book gives the reader a glimpse into the public and not-so-public lives of our dead presidents.

Nov 17, 2019

" Apologists for Dallas stressed that Lee Harvey Oswald was no John Bircher; he was a Marxist who had lived in the Soviet Union and confessed to his (Russian-born) wife that once tried to kill Edwin Walker (General).....the last words Kennedy heard were, 'Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you,' said by Texas' first Lady, Nellie Connally. A minister told the NEW YORK TIMES Kennedy was shot by a single emotionally-disturbed man." " Dallas got some positive vibes from the tv show of the same name, starring Larry Hagman, in the role of J.R. Ewing, an anti-hero modeled in part on silver baron H.L.Hunt....'One Unfortunate Afternoon Shouldn't Overshadow Dealey Plaza's Decades of Not Murdering Presidents.'--DALLAS OBSERVER."

PimaLib_NormS Feb 14, 2018

Is it ghoulish to be interested in how presidents have . . . well, ah . . . you know . . . croaked? And to want to know what happened to them after they met up with the Grim Reaper? It is? Okay then, so I’m a ghoul. Brady Carlson has written just the book for me, and probably many others: “Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders”. It is a meandering, light-hearted journey of book, strangely enough, considering the subject matter. “Dead Presidents” is filled with death and life, bound together by occasionally whimsical doses of long-forgotten history. Many of the expired chief executives have faded from our collective memory (Franklin Pierce? 14th President of the United States? Anyone?). One would think that even the more lightly regarded presidents would have earned a presidential-sized send off, but that was not always the case. The size and scope of presidential funerals and final resting places have varied greatly. In the media age, a formerly alive president is a big nobody unless he has a lavish state funeral and well-appointed presidential library as his final resting place. And, as a side note, what is the deal with presidential libraries, anyway (he asked, channeling his inner Seinfeld)? Will any of them check out a book to you? Shouldn’t they be called museums? Or shrines? Or, in some cases, monuments to an outsized ego (not that there’s anything wrong with that)? Oh, so many questions . . . luckily Brady Carlson has written this book to answer some of them.

Oct 18, 2017

Carlson’s book is a fascinating look both at the history of presidential deaths and - perhaps more importantly - how they are remembered by We The People after they’re gone. Told in a casual, story-like time and fashion, it’s not a hard read, but you’re guaranteed to learn something and keep thinking about it long after you’re done reading it.

Feb 01, 2017

This book is lots of fun and manages to find an engaging angle on a topic that has been done to death;)

MmeLeChat May 22, 2016

I totally enjoyed reading this entertaining, informative book. The author's wry comments are "frosting on the cake."

Apr 30, 2016

i'd recommend this title if you like books by Sarah Vowell or Tony Horwitz. Engaging and informative, but the author does seem to skip back and forth a bit between past and recent presidents.

Apr 01, 2016

Informative and--given the subject matter--fairly light-hearted. Very similar to Sarah Vowell's books, especially "Assassination Vacation."

BostonPL_LauraB Mar 02, 2016

This was a fun book that had some great tidbits about the deaths of former Presidents and how they have been remembered and such. Some parts were more interesting than others and therefore, this book wasn't quite the quick read I was hoping it would be. It also was organized pretty haphazardly, and the writing wasn't necessarily the best. But overall it was an interesting book and I think that if you are looking for something a little lighter to read, but still informational, this would be a good choice - just don't be afraid to skip over some of the less-interesting parts.


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