Presidential Diversions: Presidents at Play From George Washington to George W. Bush

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2007-06-04
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Paul F. Boller, Jr.'s widely admired and bestselling anecdotal histories have uncovered new aspects and hidden dimensions in the lives of our presidents. Now he turns to an unchartedbut unexpectedly revealingelement of our leaders' personalities as he brings us stories of what the presidents did for fun. In thumbnail portraits of every president through George W. Bush, Boller chronicles their taste in games, sports, and cultural activities. George Washington had a passion for dancing and John Quincy Adams skinny-dipped in the Potomac; Grover Cleveland loved beer gardens and Woodrow Wilson made a failed effort to write fiction; Calvin Coolidge cherished his afternoon naps, as did Lyndon Johnson his four-pack-a-day cigarette habit; Jimmy Carter was a surprisingly skilled high diver and Bush Senior loved to parachute. The sketches revitalize even the most familiar of our leaders, showing us a new side of our presidentsand their presidencies.

Author Biography

PAUL F. BOLLER, JR., is a professor emeritus at Texas Christian University. Among his fifteen published books are the bestselling Presidential Anecdotes, Presidential Campaigns, and Presidential Wives. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
The Dignifiedp. 1
The Conscientiousp. 13
The Giftedp. 23
The Learnedp. 35
The Unpretentiousp. 42
The Aquaticp. 48
The Two-Fistedp. 55
The High-Tonedp. 63
The Amiablep. 70
The Hospitablep. 75
The Assiduousp. 81
The Unpretentiousp. 86
The Earnestp. 91
The Convivialp. 96
The Fastidiousp. 101
The Mirthful and Melancholyp. 106
The Plebeianp. 121
The Undemonstrativep. 126
The Studiousp. 134
The Bookishp. 139
The Leisurelyp. 145
The Doughtyp. 152
The Austerep. 160
The Kindlyp. 166
The Energetic Theodorep. 173
The Portlyp. 188
The Scholarlyp. 195
The Bloviatingp. 205
The Laconicp. 212
The Diligentp. 221
The Resourcefulp. 229
The Plain-Speakingp. 240
The Golf-Playingp. 250
The Dashing Youngp. 263
The Freneticp. 274
The Sports-Lovingp. 282
The Agilep. 293
The Nature-Lovingp. 302
The Movie-Struckp. 312
The Fast-Pacedp. 326
The Unflappablep. 336
The Physically Fitp. 348
Acknowledgmentsp. 357
Notesp. 359
Indexp. 395
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.


1The DignifiedGeorge WashingtonGeorge Washington took an austere view of human relations. It is easy to make acquaintances, he once wrote, but very difficult to shake them off, however irksome and unprofitable they are found to be after we have once committed ourselves to them. . . . His solution? Be courteous to all but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence; true friendship is a plant of slow growth. Not surprisingly, Americas first President became famous for his dignity and reserve; some people felt awkward and tongue-tied in his presence.1 But Pennsylvanias Gouverneur Morris thought people exaggerated Washingtons aloofness. Once, for the fun of it, he made a bet with Alexander Hamilton that he could be as familiar with the stately Virginian as he was with his closest friends. To prove his point, he walked up to Washington at a reception a few days later, put a hand on his shoulder, and cried merrily: My dear General, how happy I am to see you looking so well. The reaction was unnerving. Washington stepped suddenly back, according to some of the people in attendance, fixed his eye on Morris . . . with an angry frown, until the latter retreated, abashed, and sought refuge in the crowd. The company looked on in silence. Morris learned his lesson the hard way; he vowed never to approach Washington so informally again.2 Unfortunately for Washington, many people found him forbidding even when he was trying to be friendly. Members of his own family sometimes felt ill at ease in his presence. His presence, confessed Nelly Custis, Washingtons adopted granddaughter, generally chilled my young companions and even his own near relatives feared to speak or laugh before him. This was because of the awe and respect he inspired, she explained, and not from his severity. When he entered a room where we were all mirth and in high conversation, all were instantly mute. He would sit a short time and then retire, quite provoked and disappointed, but they could not repress their feelings. Its not surprising that after Washingtons death, when John Marshall came to write the first serious book about him, it turned out to be a Mausoleum, as John Adams put it, 100 feet square at the base, and 200 feet high.3 Washington was certainly no glad-hander, but he was no stuffed shirt, either. As a youngster he took his farm work at Mount Vernon seriously, but he also had plenty of fun. Spending long hours in the saddle, he came to love horses, riding them for pleasure as well as for work, and came to be regarded as the best horseman in Virginia. He enjoyed fox hunting, as did most planters; attended and bet on horse races, and even bred and raised race horses himself. He did a lot of fishing, too, for fun as well as profit, went to cockfights, and took in circuses whenever he could. When it came to sports, Washington was a good wrestler, and he excelled at games like quoits and rounders, which called for hurling stones

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