Every American President since Calvin Coolidge has released a presidential memoir within a few years after leaving the White House. During their post-presidencies, many presidents start to think about their legacy and how historians would rate their time in office. History is usually much kinder to their legacies long after they have left office. As they say, time heals all wounds. 

To help celebrate Presidents Day, here is a sampling of those memoirs, along with a few biographies that dig deep into the lives of these men.

President Joe Biden (2021-present) penned a memoir recalling the love that he had for his late son Beau shortly after he served as Vice President. In Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose (Flatiron Books, 2017) he reflected on his son’s death from cancer, and the toll it took on him and his family. Beau’s death was a key factor in Biden deciding not to enter the presidential race in 2016. The book’s title was inspired by a conversation that Biden had with Beau as his cancer progressed very significantly.

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President Barack Obama (2009-2017), recently released a book called A Promised Land (Crown Publishing Group, 2020) in which he reflected on various stages of his life — the early years, various political campaigns and the first few years of his presidency leading up to the Bin Laden raid in 2011. Obama’s presidency was definitely a historic one but not everyone was fully supportive of the man himself while he was in office. The book has received lots of positive reviews and was put on the end-of-year best-of lists by major publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian. You can watch an interview with Obama about the book here.

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President George W. Bush (2001-2009) wrote a beautiful book to honor the love and admiration he had for his father, President George HW Bush (1989-1993). In the book simply titled 41: A Portrait of My Father (Random House, 2014), the 43rd President penned a touching tribute to the man he looked up to most of his life. It’s a unique and intimate biography that covers the entire scope of the elder President Bush’s extraordinary life and career. The book shines new light on both the life of the incredibly accomplished statesman and the warm, decent man that was best known by his family and friends. In addition, George W. Bush discusses his father’s influence on him throughout his own life, from his childhood in West Texas to his early campaign trips with his father, and from his decision to go into politics to his own two-term presidency.

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President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was one of five U.S. Presidents who kept a diary while in office. In The Reagan Diaries (Harper Collins, 2007), he missed a day of entry including when he was recovering in the hospital from the wound he received during the assassination attempt on his life back. The diaries were released to the public in 2005 a year after Reagan passed away. Within the diaries, Reagan wrote of his relationships with his children, the love and devotion he had for his wife, and his time in office.

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Though President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) didn’t live long enough to write his own memoirs, he did leave behind a legacy of leadership and eloquence. He came to office during a pivotal time in American history. He had high hopes of a bright future for America and believed that it was within grasp through his agenda, “The New Frontier.” In The Uncommon Wisdom of JFK: A Portrait in His Own Words (Rugged Land, 2003) President Kennedy’s words captured the spirit of a past generation, but they also resonate in the lives and dreams of Americans today. This book is a collection of the best quotes and anecdotes from his remarkable life and presidency.

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One of the most admired presidents in history was the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865). Lincoln was in office during what was a catastrophic time in our nation. The United States was in engulfed in a Civil War that nearly destroyed the country. A. Lincoln: A Biography (Random House, 2010), written by Ronald C. White, Jr., delves deeper into the man. Through meticulous research, White provides an intimate portrait of Lincoln’s personal, political, and moral evolution from his early years to his time in the White House. Within the book it shows us Lincoln as a man who would leave a trail of thoughts in his wake, jotting ideas on scraps of paper and filing them in his top hat or the bottom drawer of his desk.

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George Washington, the first president (1789-1797), played a crucial role in the fight for America’s independence. His two terms in office largely defined the presidency, and he was the most highly respected individual among a generation of formidable personalities. In First and Always: A New Portrait of George Washington (University of Virginia Press, 2020), celebrated historian Peter Henriques illuminates Washington’s life, examines his life more fully, and digs deeper into his character and his achievements. The book gets into the factors that helped to make George Washington such a remarkable and admirable leader, while also chronicling how Washington mistreated some of his enslaved workers, engaged in extreme partisanship, and responded with excessive sensitivity to criticism. Henriques also portrays Washington as a deeply ambitious man who was always hungry for public admiration, even as he tried to shun such desires.

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