Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Review: Hottest Heads of State

Remember when you were a preteen/teenager, and you'd pore over magazines full of heartthrobs, absorbing everything you could about their favorite songs or snack foods and then tearing out the photos and taping them all over your walls and ceiling?

What if I told you there's a new fan magazine like that, only instead of a magazine, it's a book, and instead of focusing on Kirk Cameron or Jason Priestley, it features U.S. presidents? It's not just a dream anymore! If Tiger Beat and Barron's AP United States History, 3rd Edition fell deeply in love, their baby would be Hottest Heads of State Volume One: The American Presidents.

You might already be familiar with Hottest Heads of State, especially if you read this blog because I've written about it a few times, particularly the posts on The Presidents of the United States: In Order of Hotness and Presidents of the United States: When They Were Young and Hunky. Now the folks who run that blog have expanded their vast media empire by giving us this book, a guide to winning the heart of your favorite president(s) and finding out which one(s) might already be in love with you! If only this book had existed years ago, back when I had a childhood crush on George Washington/Ronald Reagan.

While I am constantly entertained by the things Hottest Heads of State churns out, I was concerned this book might not live up to the standards of their previous work, like The Presidents of the United States: In Order of Best Eyebrows. I didn't have an actual reason for that concern; I'm just sort of a pessimist at times. But I needn't have worried. This book is funny. It's really funny. Even the acknowledgments are hilarious.

The book goes through each president chronologically. Each one gets an introduction and a ranking of his looks, physique, and charisma, plus one other category that varies by president ("nickname," "spitting," "pants," "filial devotion"). There are explanations for why you'll love them or how good they are at keeping promises. There are also tips on how to win them over. (Franklin Pierce: "Be shy, sickly, and kind of a downer.")

Scattered throughout the book are fun features like "Presidential Trend Report: Best Beard," "Are You Bill Clinton?" and "Which President Has a Secret Crush on You?" (I got Rutherford B. Hayes! Score!) There are also "Match the Mistress to her POTUS" games. That would be overwhelming to do all at once, so these games appear three times throughout the book, each covering a different timeframe: One for 1789-1960, one for 1961-1963, and one for 1963-2018.

There are also features explaining things like the Gold Standard and the Iran-Contra Affair. You won't come away with an in-depth understanding of any of these issues (unless you already had one), but you'll probably know more than you did before. And don't worry: You will not get bored. ("Can you explain it in the form of a dumbed-down analogy?")

At one point early on in the book, I snorted out loud about something I'd read. I thought I'd been quiet, but I guess not, because suddenly my children were demanding to know what was so funny. So I read to them:

"Adams's pen name when writing a constant stream of strident op-eds to Boston newspapers was 'Humphrey Ploughjogger.' So try going into the bathroom, turning out the light, looking in the mirror, and saying 'Humphrey Ploughjogger' three times. Maybe John Adams will appear! Or maybe your spouse will say from the toilet, 'What the hell are you doing?'"

My kids immediately went running to the bathroom to try to summon John Adams. (Spoiler alert: It didn't work. That we know of.)

Anyway, a small sampling of other amusing bits:

In describing Millard Fillmore's physique: "One account described Fillmore as having the 'chest of a woodsman.' We're not sure whether this means a heavily muscled chest or a chest full of axes. Either way, it's something we'd like to see."

About Chester A. Arthur: "He's a gourmand. That means he likes fancy food, not that he is some kind of half-man, half-gourd. Although that would be pretty great, too, if you like decorative gourds."

The section titled "Remember the Maine" explains how the Maine blew up ("So in that respect, it's similar to the Death Star"), causing Congress to declare war, "which is something Congress used to do when the U.S. went to war with another country."

The "Did You Know" portion of the FDR section tells us that "The F stands for Franklin," which the authors observe would be an excellent title for an FDR biography.

The authors, hard at work
Best of all, they point out that the letters in "Gerald Ford" can be rearranged to spell "frog ladder," which I'd like to think they learned from my post about presidential anagrams. On second thought, maybe I should sue for intellectual property violations. I guess we'll call it even since they just gave me a name for my FDR biography.

As to the real information contained in the book, like I said, there's quite a bit of it. It probably won't help you score a 5, or even a 3, on the APUSH test, but what does that matter when this book can help you land a powerful, successful man like James Garfield? And let's be honest: You've been out of high school for too long to be worrying about AP tests anyway.

I consider myself a pretty serious presidential scholar (stop laughing), and even I was unfamiliar with some of the facts in the book. Among the things I googled:

ulysses s grant dead parrots
woodrow wilson hindu nun
fdr arrested germany
american eel

I also had to check to see if anyone had taken the Twitter handle @cryogenicsleepr.

I didn't really notice any factual errors, except maybe in the section "Special Investigation: Which Presidents are Also Sexy Vampires?" The book claims that, while sexy, Andrew Jackson is not a vampire. However, this post from another favorite blog of mine (Plodding Through the Presidents) makes a compelling argument for why he might be. Perhaps more research is needed.

In summary: This is a legit book. It winds up achieving the perfect balance of amusing and educational---my favorite kind of balance! It's funny, it's smart, it has photos of Schuyler Colfax, and it will be an invaluable resource if you ever need to call the Mayor of Buffalo. What more could you need? Oh, right! There's also a Dwight D. Eisenhower mask.

Hottest Heads of State Volume One: The American Presidents will be released on January 30. (That's next week!) You can pre-order your copy at Amazon now, or you can go stalk your local bookstore or whatever.

I received an advance copy of this book, but I was not compensated in any way for my review and all opinions are my own.

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