Presidential Chronicles Volume IV (Author Interview)

  


https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0B7QNZJ8J/

Presidential Chronicles Volume IV looks like a great book.  Can you tell us a little about it?

“War and Its Aftermath is the fourth of five volumes released thus far in the “Presidential Chronicles” series, which I describe as the series of books (and videos) on American history as seen through the lives of the Presidents of the United States.  Each volume in the series features five “robust yet concise” biographies, with Volume IV focusing on the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, and James Garfield (#16-20).

From the back of the book: Fisher delves deeply into a nation divided over slavery and states’ rights, beginning with the most extensive contribution of the biographical series with his focus on the nation’s 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.  Fisher makes extensive use of Lincoln’s own words to understand the growth of his political ideology, the endless string of difficult choices he faced, his unwavering commitment to preserving the Union, and his transition from slavery opponent to outright abolitionist – all in the context of a Constitutional interpretation that stretched the bounds of the founding document.  The Civil War is explored from the view of a President, a wartime Governor, a Commanding General, and a pair of colonels/brigadiers who fought the battles that helped preserve the Union.  War and Its Aftermath further gives life to the nation’s struggles in the Reconstruction era as these leaders tried to balance the competing sectional interests on how to reunify despite the inherent divides that continued to persist.

 

What inspired you when writing Presidential Chronicles Volume IV?

Over the past couple of centuries, about a half billion people have called themselves Americans, but only 45 have served as President of the United States.  There is something special about the lives of these individuals, what they represented and had to offer that was sufficiently compelling to place them in this unique position of leadership.  These stories fascinate me, and can serve as an inspiration to others. 

Their experiences also represent invaluable opportunities to learn, particularly from our past mistakes.  While the current generation always sees itself as the best or worst at everything, facing conditions unlike anything seen before, that is actually rarely the case.  Many, if not most, of our current challenges, have been seen before in various shapes and sizes, and the stories of the lives of our Presidents exposes many of these learning opportunities.  I try to tease these out as part of my storytelling.

 

What will readers get out of your book?

Readers will learn about these fascinating lives with context and perspective in tightly constructed works.  They will get a lot of first-person quotations, as I believe the best way to know what people were thinking or why they did what they did is from their own words.  They’ll also get visuals.  There are 369 images scattered throughout Volume IV, many of which are pulled from late 19th Century and early 20th Century biographies, thereby providing many images that most people have never seen.  (For example, the Lincoln biography alone has 112 images, 100% of which come from my library of Lincoln biographies.)  I place these images in the context of the stories (not in a centerpiece of several pages of just images which is the common practice but one that I find outside the flow of most biographies) to help the reader truly visualize the stories being told.

In terms of Volume IV, the reader will get:

A fresh take on Abraham Lincoln, which includes not only his personal greatness and the outcomes he enabled the country to achieve, but also some new perspectives on Lincoln’s unique relationship with the Declaration of Independence and how he stretched the Constitution almost beyond recognition in his quest to save the Union.  I also explore Lincoln’s personal demons – those who knew him best often described him as the saddest man alive.

The heartbeat of the Andrew Johnson biography is his impeachment, the first for an American President in our history, whose precedents had a direct bearing on the most recent presidential impeachments that played out before our eyes.

Understanding the first half of the life of Ulysses Grant makes it hard to imagine that he would have risen to prominence during the nation’s greatest peril, both on the battlefield and in the White House.  But his heroic brand of leadership and tenacity came through at just the right time for a nation that needed it to survive.

Rutherford Hayes may have been the kindest person ever to serve as President of the United States, but he also made arguably the most fateful decision of any American President when he agreed to end Reconstruction.  The lives of Southern Blacks were devastated by this decision, which persevered through generation after generation for nearly 100 years.

James Garfield lived the American Dream, coming from the one-room log cabin on the American frontier, benefitting from an education, to become a politician, military officer, and a dark horse President of the United States.  The story of his rise is an “only in America” tale.  And yet, the 200 days he spent as President were the worst of his entire life, including the last 80 where he fought unsuccessfully for his life after being gunned down in a DC railroad station. 

 

What inspired the idea for your book series?

I’ve been a presidential enthusiast most of my adult life.  I have built one of the most comprehensive collections of first edition presidential biographies (more than 1,100 books in the collection), and have read more than 200 of them.  I’ve gotten to know these people – their trials and triumphs – and felt like I had stories to tell that people would find interesting and compelling, along with the perspective that comes from understanding the path of all these people, whose lives often intersect, personally, politically, and ideologically.

The gap I’ve always perceived in the market for presidential biographies is in the sweet spot of full and robust renderings, but in a concise format.  In other words, while I will always enjoy the 800+ page individual portrayals of our Presidents (a la, Chernow, McCullough, or Meacham), many people who may be interested in these subjects simply don’t have the time or patience to work their way through such tomes.  At the same time, we’ve seen an increase in super short Wikipedia-like biographies (think “hourly history”) that simply skim the surface.  There isn’t much in the middle that identify the most important and relevant stories from each of these lives, but told in a robust manner.  My target is about 150 pages per biography (perhaps 40,000 words or so).  I sell these as individual e-Books, but offer them in groups of five in the printed volumes.  I truly believe this “robust yet concise” form of presidential biographies is a gap in the market that deserves to be explored.

 

How did you come up with the ideas in Presidential Chronicles Volume IV?

My biographies are based on my reading from my personal collection of more than 1,100 first edition presidential biographies.  For each President, I basically keep reading (researching) until I feel I have a complete grasp of these people and their stories – to the point where I can not only convey what they did, but also why they did it, and the impact of their actions (on them and their country).  I always seek a mixture of perspectives in my research, including modern biographies as well as contemporary works written nearer to the lifetime of the subject.  I look for sympathetic biographies, as well as oppositional ones – again seeking a 360 degree view of my subject.  Once I feel I have this full view, as captured in my detailed notes, I start writing.

 

What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?

Writing about slavery (and, in the case of Volume IV, also civil rights in the post-Civil War Reconstruction era) is always the hardest thing to do when discussing American history.  Even the language used is often challenging when discussing that portion of our history.  It is nearly impossible to relate to the evils of that practice, and yet, as a historian, it is necessary to acknowledge and understand the practice of slavery from the views of the times in which it existed, rather than overly-imposing 21st Century perspectives on the practice.  Understanding why these people – these Americans – did what they did in the context of their times is emotionally and intellectually the most difficult part of telling the stories of American history.

 

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I live in Bethesda, MD, just outside Washington, D.C.  I came here from Silicon Valley with my family nearly two decades ago to work in the Federal government.  I served in senior executive positions at the Department of Defense, the Government Accountability Office (Chief Financial Officer), and the Internal Revenue Service (Chief Risk Officer).  I left the Federal service after about 10 years, and have been working as a Partner in one of the large Consulting Firms as an expect in risk management.  I started writing “on the side,” but it has taken on much more prominence in my life over the past several years, to the point where I went part-time in my consulting work about two years ago to focus more and more on my books and videos.

 

Where can readers find out more about your work?

Probably the best place would be my website (www.presidentialchronicles.com).

While it may not be directly relevant, you’ll noticed I mentioned “videos” in a couple of places in these responses.  At the beginning of 2022, I launched a companion series of Presidential Chronicles on YouTube.  I’m taking the stories from each of these 25 biographies and breaking them down into ten episodes per President, each about 10-12 minutes in duration, to provide yet another medium to render these presidential stories.  I post a new video each weekday, which will eventually encompass 250 episodes this year, which will take us right up to the end of the year.

 

 

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