Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How to Fight Presidents, by Daniel O'Brien

In case you were wondering what you would do if, by some remarkable coincidence, you manages to travel backwards through time, and, for some reason, found yourself face-to-face with a U.S. president and felt the need to fight him, well, you are in luck.  Daniel O'Brien has your answer.  In How to Fight Presidents: Defending Yourself Against the Badasses Who Ran This Country, O'Brien examines the strengths and weaknesses of our commanders-in-chief, and gives some tips on how to defeat each.

The first thing to understand is that every president is crazy.  You'd have to be, to want the job.  "The desire to be president is a currently undiagnosed but very specific form of insanity."  With that in mind, O'Brien tells stories from the presidents' lives to show how crazy, how strong, how smart, how headstrong each is.  Although I get the feeling O'Brien did a great deal of historical research, he does play fast and loose with the truth, and his use of hyperbole distracts from the actual facts.

For example, he states that the story of Washington's wooden teeth "isn't technically true.  In truth, it wasn't his teeth, it was his testicles, and it wasn't wood, it was stone-cold steel."  But his stories of the hardships suffered by various presidents, and the strength of body, mind and will to overcome them, are pretty inspiring, even if occasionally padded.

My one disappointment is that he doesn't cover any living presidents.  I would be curious to see how he would treat our wimpy presidents Carter and Obama.  O'Brien seems pretty liberal, so he would probably find some reason to laud them (Carter can swing a hammer, after all).  I'm also disappointed he didn't spend at least a couple of chapters on presidential throw downs.  Reagan versus Ike, Teddy Roosevelt versus Ford, something like that.

All in all, this is a funny book with lots of historical (and, alas, certainly a few pseudo-historical) tidbits.    (By the way, it's funny, but rated-R funny.  Please don't order a bunch of copies for your kid's social studies class.)

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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