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5 Presidential Stories That Might Surprise You

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
February 17, 2013

You’ve probably heard the story of Washington crossing the Delaware or FDR hiding his wheelchair from the public eye; but do you know about Teddy Roosevelt’s life-threatening expedition down the Amazon, or Grover Cleveland’s secret surgery on a yacht? In honor of Presidents Day, NPR Books dove into the archives to find new ways of thinking about our nation’s former leaders.

The Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Of Young Abe LincolnLong before he was a legendary leader, Abraham Lincoln was a deeply troubled young man. Noah Van Sciver’s historical graphic novel reveals, in evocative and personal drawings, a particularly dark and conflicted time in our 16th president’s life. With rough, expressive linework, Van Sciver adds a complex human to the heroic image we hold of Lincoln. (Monkey See post, Sept. 21, 2012)

A Yacht And A Mustache: How A President Hid His TumorIn the summer of 1893, as America was entering an economic depression, President Grover Cleveland disappeared for four days to have secret surgery on a yacht. In The President Is a Sick Man, Matthew Algeo recounts how doctors went to extraordinary lengths to conceal the surgery and preserve Cleveland’s mustache. (Morning Edition interview, July 6, 2011)

Tracing Roosevelt’s Path Down The ‘River Of Doubt’In 1913, Teddy Roosevelt — a born winner — was on a losing streak. He had just suffered a humiliating election defeat and needed to get away; but what started as a pleasure trip turned into a struggle for survival. While surveying an uncharted river in the heart of the Amazon jungle, Roosevelt faced deadly rapids, disease, starvation and a murderer on his team of explorers. Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt tells the story of his deadly adventure. (Morning Edition interview, Nov. 3, 2005)

Thomas Jefferson’s Vegetable Garden: A Thing Of Beauty And ScienceThomas Jefferson was a statesman, a scholar, an architect, a university founder — and a prolific gardener. The plots of his hilltop plantation, Monticello, were a vast, beautiful science experiment with more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants. As author and head Monticello gardener Peter Hatch explains, no gardening detail was too small for Jefferson to note in the journal he kept for nearly 60 years. (All Things Considered story, May 10, 2012)

‘Power’: Robert Caro’s Life Of Johnson Hits The ’60s

Before he was president, Lyndon B. Johnson was a disastrous failure as a presidential candidate. His ill-fated decision to run in 1960 opens the latest volume of Robert A. Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson. Critic Michael Schaub calls Caro’s work “the best presidential biography the country has ever seen.” (NPR book review, May 2, 2012) [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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