Did you know that President Jimmy Carter collects arrow-heads? Were you aware that President Clinton vainly tried to resolve the 1994 Major League Baseball strike? Can you believe that George Washington was his own bookkeeper, and that his ledgers still survive today?
These are some of the facts that The Presidents (available now on BluRay and DVD from The History Channel) relates to its viewers, which is somewhat indicative of the rather superficial investigative treatment that our Commanders and Chiefs get in this mammoth collection (originally released in 2005). While powerfully buffered by a plethora of illuminating photographs, audio-clips, paintings and stock footage, The Presidents suffers and is prohibited from being a truly absorbing and informative historical tool due to the sheer magnitude of what the project attempts to accomplish.
It is a difficult thing to attempt to properly chart the lives and experiences in office of our illustrious nation’s 44 different Presidents. However, The Presidents makes an admirable effort and is successful with suggesting the evolution of the American country throughout its history and how each President’s election reflected the needs and attitudes of the country at the time.
The program is less effective however when it comes to delivering information that goes beyond what would be the equivalent of a high school power-point presentation. Each segment of the program basically gives the viewer the broadest sketch possible of each President’s major accomplishment and failures during the tenure in the White House. Now, the value of this information fluctuates profoundly depending on which President the show is talking about. For some, we get a fairly good grasp on the major arc of their presidencies. For presidential rock stars such as George Washington we not only get to hear about events that contributed to his ascension into occupying the (at the time) newly created highest office of the land but also smaller and less widely published events such as the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791.
Far less successful are the segments of the program which focus on more minor presidential figures such as Gerald Ford. Here the program barely mentions anything that is even moderately interesting in regards to who Ford was as a politician and man. In fact, his inclusion seems to be so blatantly out of obligation and the program’s writing marginalizes him to such a degree that he comes off as being little more than an afterthought -totally eclipsed by the traumatizing effect of Richard Nixon’s resignation and wacky antics while in office.
The Presidents gets props for trying hard to provide a historical summation of the 44 different leaders who have shaped our country from its inception to the present day. However, the amount of material that the program attempts to cover is so vast and really so complicated that this superficial glimpse fails to be an insightful resource into getting a firm understanding of the men who led this glorious empire. The information that is there is well supported by a satisfying helping of intriguing audio and visual media and the running commentary includes everyone from prolific historians to famous political figures. So, if you are looking for a slice of historical entertainment, this might be your speed. But if you are hoping that this is something that can inform your writing for an academic project my advice would be to shut of the television and get your butt to a library.