Greatness in the White House

Rating the Presidents, From Washington Through Ronald Reagan

By (author) Robert Murray, Tim Blessing

Paperback - £24.95

Publication date:

15 September 1993

Length of book:

180 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271024868

A narrative account of the survey of almost 1,000 professional historians on what constitutes a successful performance in the presidency, this survey tells us almost as much about the thinking and biases of historians as it does about the nature of the American presidency.

Besides comparing past presidential polls and constructing a ranking list of the nation’s chief executives, this study examines why historians rate presidents the way they do, and it analyzes those qualities and traits historians look for in a successful president. It also delimits what constitutes a failing performance in the White House and marks the major pitfalls that almost assuredly lead to an adverse historical verdict. In the process, the study demonstrates that there is not always a close correlation between what historians say a president should do and what historians obviously feel when actually ranking the performances of the presidents of the United States.

This study should prove enlightening not only to the historical profession but to the general public, political pundits, newscasters, public officials, and all presidential aspirants, and even to past and present occupants of the White House and their staffs.

“Murray and Blessing have picked up the baton, as it were, from Schlesinger as the recorders of temporal evolution in the opinions of historians regarding U.S. presidents. The results of their recent update poll, subsequent to the publication of Greatness in the White House, of just under five hundred historians—the first such poll to include Ronald Reagan—were presented at a meeting of the Organization of American Historians in April, 1991. . . . The most ambitious objective of studies of presidential greatness, suggested in the authors’ summary, is to identify the characteristics which make a successful president, in order to predict the performance of candidates. Murray and Blessing provide a fairly comprehensive survey of the studies that attempt this.”

Maryland Historical Magazine