Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"The Presidents: The Lives and Legacies of the 43 Leaders of the United States"

In 2005, the History Channel aired the documentary named The Presidents: The Lives and Legacies of the 43 Leaders of the United States. Now available in a three-DVD set, this series gives fascinating insight into the men who have shaped our government, our nation, and at times, the world.

Each president is treated with equal time, based on the number of terms served. So, George Washington gets the same amount of time as Ronald Reagan (both two terms), John Adams the same as George Bush (both one term), with Franklin D. Roosevelt having the most (four terms).

The subject matter could have been dry and boring, but is instead delivered with visual and auditory variety. Talking heads discuss the various goals, accomplishments, and failures of the presidents; pictures of homes, family, contemporaries, political cartoons, and documents are presented; and a “baseball card” is created for each president, with his picture on the front and interesting personality and attitude insights as “stats” on the back.

The history delivered only covers the presidents’ terms in office. If they held other office prior, it is glossed over. If they were military men, it is briefly mentioned. The point of the series is to talk about these men as presidents, without delving into their past for clues to their actions.

This is not a “rah rah, U.S.A.” piece. Both the good and bad of our country are discussed. Presidential decisions that prolonged slavery. Actions that led to civil war. Doctrines that bring shame.

The series is a wonderful overview of our presidents: the strong and the ineffectual, the healthy and the ill, those with good intentions and those with none, those who strived for the presidency and those who found it thrust upon them.

One of the bonus features is All the Presidents’ Wives, which goes through the women behind these men. One hears so little about the wives, which makes this interesting viewing. The only complaint is that, unlike the main series, it is not chronological. Instead, it is organized by attributes. So, a wife may be discussed in more than one context. This became boring for my very logical thinker, but may not be an issue for other viewers.

The Presidents has been watched numerous times in our household and spawned a greater interested in U.S. history, as a whole.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

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