I've written reviews of other books in the American Presidents series, and one I believe deserves special attention is the book on the United States' 29th president. The subject of "Warren G. Harding" has been commonly portrayed as a corrupt man who was unworthy of the office, while my reading of history not tainted by this conception suggests otherwise. The book on him I am reviewing further confirms that.
It's worth noting the primary author of this book is John W. Dean III, the same one who was involved in the provable corruption of Richard Nixon, a fact he notes with obvious irony. According to Dean, Harding was nowhere near as corrupt and incompetent as others have claimed, and so he wrote about Harding to set the record straight. Specifically, "to get it right".
Like most books in the series, it covers Harding's birth, education, career path, his presidential record, and death. Given Harding's reputation of corruption comes mainly from the actual corrupt men who were in his administration, Dean takes extra time in the final chapters to exonerate Harding of their actions, making clear no proof Harding had any dealings in their misdeeds has ever been found, and oftentimes he was the first to act when he discovered their corruption.
Dean had three general goals in mind throughout this account. First, he sought to show Harding was far from a political hack who looked good but was not presidential timber. If anything, he goes to considerable pains to explain this is a false image. Second, while Dean has an obvious bias towards Republicans, he makes clear his views versus those of the actual Democrats who opposed Harding and how that shaped perceptions noted in the first point. Finally, as Dean states in the foreword, he extensively provides rebuttals of Harding being a corrupt and venal man, though candidly admits his actual mistakes, most of which are revealed to be more the result of naivety and loyalty to those he judged poorly as incorruptible.
I came away with some conclusions on my own. Harding as a person was indeed a man of some regrettable vices. He was occasionally unfaithful to his wife, engaged in some petty partisanship both politically and personally, and was quite naive in his judgments about several men whose sins would become later associated with him. Conversely, Harding was also shown to be quite erudite, well-spoken (if a bit pretentious and long-winded), and was competent in his various public service roles. I also came away with a profound degree of surprising information that explains why he was tarred with the brush of corruption and scandal, and Dean lays out a meticulously researched case for why it was unfair. As Dean shows, he was intensely hardworking, compassionate to men both great and small, and if anything was considered a marked improvement over his predecessor in regards to serving the American public. Finally, Dean explains all the smears that dogged Harding throughout his life, and I came away understanding more about why the man was treated so harshly, especially by many enemies who were far more venal than the man they excoriated.
Admittedly, this book does wear a bit of bias on its sleeve, but it's well researched and surprisingly honest about its subject regardless. It can be purchased in hardcover and Kindle formats on Amazon.
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