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U.S. Presidents    by Ken Jennings order for
U.S. Presidents
by Ken Jennings
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2014 (2014)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

If you'd like to know more about American presidents and their families, this fascinating volume is filled with trivia and weird information you won't find in more serious history books.

The intended audience of this book is children eight years of age and older, but if you can overlook the author's smarmy sense of humor and his insistence on referring to his young readers as 'junior geniuses', this can be a very entertaining read for adults.

A lot of research went into this book and the focus is on presenting the more unusual pieces of information uncovered. You'll learn that Thomas Jefferson sent Congress a letter rather than give a State of the Union address; President Taft threw the first pitch on baseball's opening day in 1910; and George H.W. Bush received a nine-foot long Komodo Dragon from the Indonesian government.

Other little know facts include that Grover Cleveland was the only former 'executioner president'. Before being elected, Cleveland served as a young sheriff in Buffalo, New York, and one of his duties was manning the gallows when executions were called for.

It will come as no surprise that more than half the American presidents were lawyers and half were also former governors. But did you know that Gerald Ford, thus far, lived to be our oldest president (93 and a half) and that Teddy Roosevelt, while serving in the White House, read a book a day before breakfast?

Under what I would call Facts You Really Didn't Have to Know, Jennings shares such tidbits as the fact that Gerald Ford used to blame the Secret Service whenever he passed gas, which, apparently, was quite a common occurrence. And talk about no respect for departed presidents; not only has Abraham Lincoln's body been moved seventeen times but his coffin has also been opened six times!

You'll probably wonder where Jennings gets tidbits like the fact that George H.W. Bush snacked on pork rinds with Tabasco sauce and Grant's favorite breakfast was cucumbers soaked in vinegar, but it is very unlikely the author would make that up.

The First Ladies also come under scrutiny, which means you'll come away from reading this book knowing that Nellie Taft's pet project was framing the Tidal Basin in the nation's capital with cherry trees. Dolly Madison created a culinary sensation when she served ice cream at her husband's inaugural ball and Eleanor Roosevelt refused a Secret Service escort but she did carry a handgun in her purse.

It's a quick and fun read - most history buffs will find this a very entertaining book. And, if you are ever on Jeopardy!, you'll be prepared for any tricky questions about the nation's First Families.

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