Great Presidents

Course No. 8100
Professor Allan J. Lichtman, Ph.D.
American University
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Course No. 8100
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Course Overview

It was one of the most audacious decisions in American history. The founders of the American Republic created a new kind of leadership office. It would be a strong and independent president who commanded the armed forces and led the executive branch of government. Through this act of genius, the founders put in place the rock of the republic.

Now you can see how well this worked by examining the lives, the achievements, and the legacies of those generally considered our 12 greatest presidents:

  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Andrew Jackson
  • James K. Polk
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Woodrow Wilson
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • Harry S Truman
  • John F. Kennedy
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Ronald Reagan.

Your teacher is Professor Allan J. Lichtman, a widely published and cited authority on American politics and an award-winning teacher. In these lectures you will see why.

Drawing on a wealth of revealing anecdotes and inside stories, he sheds new light on how the individual characters and historic decisions of each president made a major contribution to shaping our developing nation.

Collectively, they played critical roles in:

  • America's founding years
  • Westward expansion
  • The transformation from an agricultural to an industrial society
  • The struggle over slavery and the Civil War
  • America's entry into "the war to end all wars" in 1917
  • The Great Depression
  • World War II
  • The civil rights and women's rights movements
  • The perils of an atomic age
  • The start and finish of the Cold War.

These 12 leaders can be seen as giants of the most powerful elective office in the world. But through Professor Lichtman's eyes we see them as they really were, contradictions and paradoxes included.

  • How did early presidents reconcile their slaveholding with their support for democracy and liberty?
  • How did Thomas Jefferson, the champion of limited government, magnify presidential powers?
  • Why did Abraham Lincoln believe that he could not be re-elected in 1864?
  • How did Harry Truman, a onetime Missouri dirt farmer who became "accidental president," transform the modern world?
  • How did master politician Lyndon Johnson blunder into the Vietnam War?
  • Why did Ronald Reagan abandon the Christian conservatives who fought for his election as president?

A New Type of Leader for a New World

When the Founding Fathers created it in 1787, the presidency was a radical novelty.

That first president (everybody knew it would be Washington) would be the first head of state in the world whose authority would rest explicitly on the consent of the governed rather than the prerogatives of birth or conquest.

The founders built well. The presidency and its occupants, Professor Lichtman argues, deserve much of the credit for the political stability we have enjoyed for more than 200 years.

We may take for granted the peaceful transfer of power that has been such a hallmark of life in the United States. But it is something that much of the world still tragically lacks, and we did not gain it by accident.

"

Inside Stories

"

from Our Highest Office

Professor Lichtman shares insights based on his own close study of these 12 leaders, asking:

  • Is there a single formula for presidential achievement?
  • What made George Washington so uniquely important to the founding of the American Republic?
  • How did Andrew Jackson become the first president to be censured by the U.S. Senate?
  • James K. Polk was the first president who was not a military hero or an experienced elder statesman. What made him the right man in the right place at the right time?
  • Why did Teddy Roosevelt split his own party to run for president as a third-party candidate?
  • How did Woodrow Wilson go from obscure academic to U.S. president in a few brief years?
  • How did FDR's New Deal change the landscape of American politics?
  • How much of his promise had John F. Kennedy fulfilled before an assassin cut him down in November 1963?
  • How did Ronald Reagan set the stage for the end of the Cold War?

Many Faces of Leadership, One Thing in Common

Professor Lichtman's lectures reveal 12 leaders of widely differing backgrounds. They had varying styles, personalities, and beliefs; came from disparate roots; and embraced different approaches to governing.

Each had a powerful vision of America and the American promise.

Some, such as Kennedy and the two Roosevelts, were born to wealth and privilege. Others, such as Lincoln, Truman, and Johnson, came from middling or even humble circumstances.

These leaders took many roads to reach the presidency. Some were career politicians; some followed different paths.

Woodrow Wilson was a college professor and administrator.

Besides farming, Truman sold menswear (unsuccessfully).

Ronald Reagan was a movie star.

Some, including Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, would have been major historical figures even if they had never become president. Others really had not made their mark on the country until after they became president—and then left a significant legacy indeed.

"But," states Professor Lichtman, "they each possessed the qualities that all great presidents seem to share: They had an unsinkable ambition, deep affinity with the American people, and a strong inner core of guiding values and principles."

An Evolving Institution

The formal constitutional authority of the president has changed only modestly since 1787. But presidential practice, congressional legislation, and judicial interpretations have altered the powers and role of the presidency enormously.

However, it is also important to understand, Professor Lichtman stresses, that there have been new restrictions and new limitations on the exercise of presidential power. Thus the presidency is still changing even while remaining one of the pillars of the American Republic.

Perhaps as a schoolchild you had the misfortune to learn of the presidents as boring, godlike figures in a dry textbook. Now you can see at last the human beings who deserve their mantles of greatness, through narratives as compelling as an historical novel.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The American Presidency
    This first lecture will review the selection of 12 great American presidents who led the nation through crises of war, depression, and social upheaval. It explains how we will consider both the personal and public lives of these leaders, explore their presidencies, and show how they shaped both the office of the presidency and the history of the United States. x
  • 2
    George Washington—The Rise of a Patriot
    George Washington wanted fame and a lasting, positive legacy. By fame he did not mean mere celebrity, but the honest esteem that comes from service, sacrifice, and character. Even with all of today's debunking cynicism, he remains a true American icon. x
  • 3
    George Washington—American Liberator
    At critical moments during the Revolution and the nation's infancy, Washington was beyond doubt the "indispensable man." He led the Continental Army to victory against the British, and after the war, lent his prestige to the cause of strengthening the dangerously weak national government. In 1788, he was unanimously elected as the first president under the new Constitution. x
  • 4
    George Washington—The First President
    President Washington had to work to establish precedents for relating to the public and administering the new government. During his first term, he and his gifted cabinet established a new financial system, developed a foreign policy based on noninvolvement in European affairs, and pursued westward expansion. x
  • 5
    George Washington—American Icon
    "The approbation of [one's] country," said Washington, "is the highest reward to a feeling mind, and happy are they who so conduct themselves to merit it." His second term saw parties forming even as Washington remained above the fray. He dealt with threats from abroad and showed the power of the federal Union by crushing the Whiskey Rebellion. Refusing a third term, he stepped down in 1797 "first in the hearts of his countrymen." x
  • 6
    Thomas Jefferson—The Pen of Freedom
    Thomas Jefferson occupies a special place in American history. Before he was 45, he had written the Declaration of Independence, the Northwest Ordinance, and Virginia's Statute for Religious Freedom. Also considered are his views on women and on slavery. x
  • 7
    Thomas Jefferson—Party Leader
    Between the Revolution and his election as president in 1800, Jefferson was minister to France and later Secretary of State. He lost the presidency to John Adams in 1796, but under the system of the time he became vice president. Jefferson led the formation of the party that became known as the Democratic-Republicans. In 1800, he unseated Adams; it was the first transfer of presidential power in U.S. history. x
  • 8
    Thomas Jefferson—Expansionist President
    Jefferson's greatest accomplishment as president, the Louisiana Purchase, came in his first term. These years also saw the first-ever presidential sex scandal when Jefferson was charged with fathering children by his slave, Sally Hemings. x
  • 9
    Thomas Jefferson—The Agonies of a Second Term
    Jefferson's second term was far more vexing and controversial than his first. When he left office, controversies in foreign policy remained unresolved. Like no other Founder or early president, Jefferson today remains an immediately influential—and controversial—figure. x
  • 10
    Andrew Jackson—Hero of the New Republic
    A combative product of the Western frontier and the bitter Southern phase of the Revolution, "Old Hickory" won a victory over the British at New Orleans in 1815 that made him the greatest American war hero since Washington. x
  • 11
    Andrew Jackson—The Conqueror Returns
    After fighting the Indians and the British, Jackson won the popular vote for president in 1824, but lost to John Quincy Adams in the House of Representatives. His supporters denounced this "corrupt bargain" in which Adams's chief supporter in the House, Henry Clay, became the new Secretary of State. Jackson's vindication would come four years later. x
  • 12
    Andrew Jackson—The Warrior President
    Jackson's war against the Bank of the United States was the highlight of his first term, a stormy period that also saw the Peggy Eaton affair, a struggle over the nullification of federal laws by South Carolina, and the forced removal from their lands of Native Americans. x
  • 13
    Andrew Jackson—A President Defiant
    The bank crisis continued as Jackson became the first president to be censured by the Senate. Social unrest, especially over slavery, forced new challenges on Jackson and his party. Finally, we examine Jackson's impact on American political life, especially his role in the development of the modern party system. x
  • 14
    James K. Polk—Party Loyalist
    Although relatively little known, Polk is an important president. Sickly as a child, he had an intense will to succeed. He was elected to Congress at a young age and became a disciple of Jackson. But by the early 1840s, his career seemed to be over. x
  • 15
    James K. Polk—The First Dark Horse
    Polk was the first "dark horse" nominated for president, and he won an upset victory over veteran Whig leader Henry Clay. He worked hard at all phases of his job, and especially when pursuing expansionist policies vis-à-vis Oregon and Mexico. x
  • 16
    James K. Polk—Apostle of Manifest Destiny
    Polk's single term featured the dispute with Britain over the boundaries of Oregon Territory, and the conflict with Mexico. Each receives detailed discussion, with specific attention to Polk's place at the center of "Manifest Destiny"—the drive toward the sea-to-sea expansion of the United States. x
  • 17
    Abraham Lincoln—Frontier Politician
    Abraham Lincoln had a true log-cabin upbringing in Kentucky and Indiana. He rose as a lawyer and state legislator in Illinois, served a term in Congress as a Whig, and moved like many antislavery Whigs to the new Republican Party in the 1850s. x
  • 18
    Abraham Lincoln—The First Republican President
    His debates with Stephen Douglas made Lincoln a national figure and set him on the path to the 1860 Republican nomination. The lecture will cover the crackup of the American party system in the 1850s, the complex alignments of 1860, and the repercussions of Lincoln's eventual triumph in the four-man presidential race of that year. x
  • 19
    Abraham Lincoln—Wartime Leader
    Although he lacked military or administrative experience, Lincoln was an active commander-in-chief. With the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address, he gave the war a purpose beyond the restoration of the Union on the old terms. And he faced the task of running for re-election in the midst of the struggle. x
  • 20
    Abraham Lincoln—The Martyred President
    After winning re-election, Lincoln was preoccupied with the problems raised by the end of slavery and the start of reconstruction. The lecture will also highlight the controversy surrounding Lincoln's assassination and examine the reasons why he is considered the greatest of all American presidents. x
  • 21
    Theodore Roosevelt—Patrician Reformer
    The first part of TR's life saw him go from sickly boyhood to a vigorous young manhood. This lecture considers his early experiences, his political ideas and involvements, his work as assistant Navy secretary, and his service with the Rough Riders in the war with Spain. x
  • 22
    Theodore Roosevelt—The Cowboy as President
    TR's rise was meteoric. He became the reform-minded governor of New York in 1898, and William McKinley's running mate two years later. After McKinley's assassination in 1901, TR became the youngest president ever. He used the "bully pulpit" more effectively than any prior president and put a distinctly progressive stamp on the presidency. x
  • 23
    Theodore Roosevelt—Progressive Dynamo
    TR's first term saw him steer a program of progressive reform through Congress and shape an expansive, active foreign policy. His landslide election to a second term in 1904 would bring an expansion of his progressive agenda, creating difficulties with conservatives in his own party. x
  • 24
    Theodore Roosevelt—Third-Party Crusader
    After trying to wrest the GOP nomination from Taft, TR ran as a Bull Moose Progressive. His losing bid gained the biggest vote share ever for a third party. As president, he had expanded his office's power, and his vision of world affairs enduringly influenced our foreign policy. He was fittingly the first president of what some would call The American Century. x
  • 25
    Woodrow Wilson—American Visionary
    Woodrow Wilson began the shift of the Democrats away from state's rights and limited government toward federal initiative and governmental activism at home and abroad. How did his youth in the Civil War and Reconstruction South affect him? What role did his scholarly career play in shaping his politics? x
  • 26
    Woodrow Wilson—The Professor as Politician
    After 1904, Wilson began leaning toward the reformism that he would embrace as governor of New Jersey and U.S. president. The unusual 1912 presidential election is discussed, as is Wilson's ambitious domestic program of tariff reform, antitrust initiatives, and creation of the Federal Reserve Board. x
  • 27
    Woodrow Wilson—The World Stage
    World War I was the central foreign-policy challenge that Wilson faced. As the war dragged on, U.S. neutrality became increasingly hard to maintain. Acting on his belief that it was America's mission to "make the world safe for democracy," Wilson took the country to war in 1917 despite his 1916 campaign promise not to. x
  • 28
    Woodrow Wilson—The Fight for Postwar Peace
    Having given the Allies crucial help in winning the war, Wilson wanted a League of Nations to help secure the peace. The British and French were cool to the idea, however, and at home Wilson lost a grueling Senate fight over the League. He suffered a debilitating stroke in October 1919. The impact of his efforts is still much debated. x
  • 29
    Franklin D. Roosevelt—Provocative Politician
    Meeting the challenges of war and depression led FDR to launch revolutionary changes that are still with us today. In many ways he created the modern presidency that TR and Wilson had helped establish. FDR's life began in privilege, but he knew deep personal and political adversity as well. x
  • 30
    Franklin D. Roosevelt—New Dealer
    This lecture examines the critical election of 1932 and FDR's significance in forging the New Deal coalition that made the Democrats the normal majority party. Many of the New Deal's early innovations, especially those designed to fight the Depression, lasted only a few years, but the sheer magnitude of New Deal experimentation was beyond anything previously envisioned. x
  • 31
    Franklin D. Roosevelt—Into the Storm
    After his 1936 landslide FDR sought to extend the New Deal, but fell victim to his own hubris. Even a president of huge stature and popularity can push his powers only so far. As the 1930s ended, war in Europe and the possibility of a third term dominated the 1940 campaign. x
  • 32
    Franklin D. Roosevelt—President in a World at War
    When FDR died in April 1945, just weeks after his inauguration and weeks before the end of the war in Europe, Winston Churchill said that the former president had "altered decisively and permanently, the social axis, the moral axis, of mankind by involving the New World inexorably and irrevocably in the fortunes of the old." x
  • 33
    Harry S Truman—A Struggle for Success
    Although the hardscrabble Truman was the least esteemed of presidents, scholars have reappraised him, and he usually ranks high in surveys of historians. When FDR's sudden death thrust him into the world's most important position at one of history's great turning points, Truman became a key shaper of the postwar world. x
  • 34
    Harry S Truman—Needing America's Prayers
    A vice president Roosevelt had largely ignored, Truman found himself in April 1945 facing the responsibility of ending the war and making foreign and domestic policy for the postwar world. The bold decisions he made over the next few months profoundly affected the world and America's place in it. x
  • 35
    Harry S Truman—Winning the Peace
    The strategy of containment was a product of the first Truman administration that became the hallmark of U.S. foreign policy throughout the Cold War. America would assume huge and unprecedented global responsibilities that would deeply affect both life at home and the shape of the presidency. x
  • 36
    Harry S Truman—No Accidental President
    In the early 1950s, the Cold War suddenly turned hot, Stalin got the bomb, and Americans began wondering if their neighbors were Communist spies. In a reversal of earlier roles, Democrats became the party of civil rights, activist government, and internationalism. Truman left office in 1953 having changed the future of his country and the world. x
  • 37
    John F. Kennedy—The Construction of a Politician
    The tragic end of JFK's short presidency left Americans wondering what might have been. He led the nation through three turbulent years marked by the Cuban Missile Crisis, the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement, the most significant social movement of the postwar era. x
  • 38
    John F. Kennedy—The Emergence of a President
    After a campaign in which the use of TV, polling, and image-making would make it a model, the cool, analytical, and glamorous Kennedy would bring a new look, style, vitality, as well as a new idealism and realism to the presidency. x
  • 39
    John F. Kennedy—A President in Crisis
    Despite his bold rhetoric, JFK proceeded cautiously on domestic issues such as civil rights. Much of his early term was spent dealing with major Cold War crises involving Cuba, Berlin, and Vietnam. x
  • 40
    John F. Kennedy—His Final Challenges
    The Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 showed Kennedy at his best. In 1963, he proposed landmark civil rights legislation, began planning a major initiative against poverty, and struggled with the question of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. x
  • 41
    Lyndon Johnson—Politician in the Rough
    Lyndon Johnson, one of the most activist presidents in history, left a legacy of both achievement and tragedy. Growing up amid rural hardship, he developed a deep need for attention and respect, and great sympathy for the less well-off. Devoted to and brilliant at politics, he became a successful six-term congressman. x
  • 42
    Lyndon Johnson—Professional Politician
    LBJ narrowly won a Senate seat in 1948, and by 1955 was the youngest majority leader in Senate history. Never fully comfortable in the vice presidency, he took office after JFK's assassination determined to follow the liberal precedents of Franklin Roosevelt. x
  • 43
    Lyndon Johnson—Building the Great Society
    As president, Johnson immediately pursued ambitious domestic reforms. These Great Society programs included his war on poverty, civil rights, Medicare and Medicaid, environmental and consumer protection, aid to education, and an expansion of federal welfare measures. x
  • 44
    Lyndon Johnson—Acrimony at Home and Abroad
    Turmoil and social unrest would mark Johnson's last three years in office. Above all, the war in Vietnam dominated events—detracting from the Great Society, undermining the economy, sapping the strength of Johnson's Democratic party, dividing Americans, and exacerbating other domestic problems. x
  • 45
    Ronald Reagan—"The Gipper"
    Ronald Reagan made conservatism respectable and formidable in late 20th-century America, slowed the growth of domestic spending, shifted priorities to the military, deregulated industry, achieved a major arms reduction treaty, and brought America to the brink of victory in the Cold War. x
  • 46
    Ronald Reagan—A Conservative in the White House
    Reagan's victory in 1980 capped a 20-year revival of conservatism. In 1981, he forced through Congress a major tax cut, an expanded military budget, and cuts in domestic programs. x
  • 47
    Ronald Reagan—The Acting President
    Reagan roused Americans from the malaise they had been in since the mid-1970s and made them believe again that America was a great country, a citadel of democracy, one worth fighting and dying for. But his domestic policies faltered as the administration failed to address problems of the late 1980s. x
  • 48
    Ronald Reagan—The Teflon President
    Although Reagan's final place in history is not yet clear, he successfully transformed the terms of political debate and understanding in the United States, and his second term ushered in the beginning of the end of the Cold War. x

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Your professor

Allan J. Lichtman

About Your Professor

Allan J. Lichtman, Ph.D.
American University
Dr. Allan J. Lichtman is Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C. He did his undergraduate studies at Brandeis University and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Professor Lichtman is the recipient of the Scholar-Teacher Award from American University. He was a Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the California Institute of Technology. He is the author or coauthor of six books,...
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Reviews

Great Presidents is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 56.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Presidents Not only does the professor provide the broad strokes one would expect in a survey course such as this, but he also provides subtlety and nuance that brings the former presidents and their times to life.
Date published: 2017-02-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Didn't know some of these could be considered Grea it's been awhile since I listened to this course, but the thing I remember disliking the most was (especially the last few lectures, where he seemed to be rushing to get it over with), was his constant repetition of "Quote/Unquote". He does give you some good background on some lesser known presidents.
Date published: 2017-02-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Biased but Worthwhile He lectures well with a pleasant and effective style. But, as for most reviewers, there is little doubt as to the professors political agenda. If you have liberal, so called progressive, leanings you'll probably agree with most of his picks and enjoy the accomplishments emphasized. If you're conservative or even moderate you'll probably be aghast at a few. Such as Lyndon Johnson who a majority of Americans pick among the worst. Thus one may be put off by the content and not buy this lecture or terminate it early on. However, that would probably be a mistake in that there is much to be learned here albeit terribly biased and incomplete. But then anyone who has attended an university is well acquainted with biased professors especially in history and social studies. And this one has some interesting and educational points to make. We just need another series with the rare professor from the other points of view.
Date published: 2017-02-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not one of my favorites This is not one of my favorite courses. My main point of criticism is the perspective from which this course is taught: each president that made it to the list is, from the lecturer’s point of view is “great”. The problem is that “great” is a very ambiguous term, and hardly objective. We do not receive a good definition of it other than that we are supposed to admire and revere those in the “great” list. The Professor himself brings forward this tendency to admiration and acceptance without much criticism. To demonstrate this, he summarizes many of the positive points of the great presidents with no qualifications, but when negative aspects are summarized they are almost always preceded by “some think that…” or something of the sort, to imply that this is not necessarily the consensus. The choice of a person like Andrew Jackson, who disregarded decisions of the supreme court and was responsible for the genocide of native Americans, makes the “great” list very questionable indeed. I am not a great fan of “great person” history, but obviously, this is just one more perspective that must be taken into account if one wants to get an accurate picture of what went on, why, and why we should care. Still, putting aside the criticism, there were many insights in this course that were new to me, and I did learn quite a lot. The Professor presented the lectures in a clear and dynamic lecturing tone and the lectures were interesting. So overall there was some real value here. To summarize; not one of my favorites, but still worth the time and effort.
Date published: 2016-12-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good if you're specifically interested A good amount of interesting information is presented. However, I found the course to be too long, covering too many presidents, and lacking consistent criteria for evoking greatness. Some presidents' summaries of accomplishments even left me wondering how they could be considered great! Professor Lichtman does very well at fitting presidential actions into historical context. A presentation weakness is that he included unsubstantiated assertions a number of times, which, while identified as speculation or rumor, seemed out of place in a history course. I recommend the course only for those with significant interest in the U. S. presidency or the 12 specific presidents covered.
Date published: 2016-09-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Adequate survey for beginners Do not misunderstand me; this is not a badly done course. It was, unfortunately, not a good choice for me. Personally, though I feel it would be a good basic course for someone in high school taking their first American History class, but I found very little that was compelling for someone with a little more familiarity. One problem was, perhaps, inherent in the subject matter. With the notable exception of Polk (about whom I was delighted to learn more), every choice covered in this series is one that is already widely known. And, though it was good in principle to dedicate two full hours to each President (with the unfortunate exception of Polk, who only received an hour and a half), I would have liked to hear those two hours dig deeper. There was almost nothing surprising or controversial in any lecture; I mostly felt like I was getting a review of already well-known material. As others have mentioned, there is also little discussion of what makes each choice great. Though there is ostensibly a summary at the end of each 4-part segment of that President's impact, again the material seemed oddly shallow. I would also have liked to see each man examined more critically. The lectures tended to all be in a "Big Man" inspirational style. Although less palatable aspects of each man's beliefs were touched upon, the professor was always quick to brush those mentions off as symptoms of the times — perhaps true, but I still feel they could have borne closer scrutiny. Overall, I might recommend this one to a high school student, as I mentioned previously, or to someone who loves the inspirational lecture style of, say, Rufus Fears (Famous Greeks, Famous Romans, etc.). But I believe that someone hungry for a little more substance will be disappointed.
Date published: 2016-07-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too much idelogy involved by professor I felt the professor did an adequate job of presenting the material and presidents he chose to be great I do disagree on his choices. Andrew Jackson was not a great president except if you let your ideology get in place of a practical view of the man who was a bloodthirsty tyrant. Without going in to a lengthy review of the choices I will state that I disagree with the following choices: James Polk Harry Truman John Kennedy The presidents I would have preferred to study: The Adams, John & John Quincy Dwight Eisenhower The term Great Presidents should be reserved for at the most 5 former presidents. I was a senior in high school when John Kennedy was assassinated and had great emotions concerning the man and his times but his was not a presidency considered Great. Like the saying goes we all have our own opinions
Date published: 2016-07-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great info but at times lacked a unifying story Overall: A really good source of information for the lives of 12 Presidents (not just their time in office but the Professor also covered their childhoods, accomplishments prior to being elected, and the remainder of their lives post-Presidency); The selection also allows for a lot of interesting history to be covered throughout the various eras of the country’s history; However, the criteria for “great” wasn’t clearly defined leaving me somewhat perplexed as to why some Presidents (Jackson, Polk, Truman, and Johnson) were selected as “great” and at times I felt like the professor struggled with tying a slew of historical facts into a unifying story or common theme of the President’s greatness Pluses: • Good listening included: o Examples of how these Presidents expanded the power of the presidency beyond what the founding fathers intended and at times the challenges they encountered by the checks and balances system of the U.S. government (such as the Supreme Court) o The narrative of the U.S.-Mexican War under Polk o Origins of the various political parties in U.S. history (Federalists, the Democratic Republicans, the Whigs, Democrats, and Republicans) o The Lyndon B. Johnson lectures • A really good source of information for the Presidents’ entire life since the lectures didn’t focus just on their time in office but the Professor also covered their childhoods, accomplishments prior to being elected, and the remainder of their lives post-Presidency • The professor brought a lot of passion to the lectures; It is apparent how much he admires these Presidents Minuses: • No clear consistent criteria for defining what makes a President “great”; I understand such a designation is subjective but for argument consistency sake it would’ve been good if the Professor had a set of criteria and rated each President against them (this isn’t to say all great Presidents should have the same specific characteristic since there are different ways to be considered “great”; Indeed I’d imagine if there was a set of say 5 criterion, some of the Presidents would ace some but fail others but at least there would be a more defined way to differentiate Great presidents and other Presidents); For example Polk was included apparently for being one of the few Presidents who was able to achieve everything on his policy agenda (without regard as to whether they were the right policies) and for expanding the territory under US control (even though it was accomplished under rather dubious means); Perhaps “Most Impactful Presidents” or “Presidents of Great Significance” or “Most Studied” would’ve been better titles • Some of the lectures felt more like a narrative of history of what occurred during the President’s term vs. an attempt to tie it all together in a unifying story to illustrate a common theme about what made that President great
Date published: 2016-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intriguing Selection of Presidents Professor Lichtman does an excellent job of summarizing his selections as "great" Presidents. Although I disagree with a couple of his selections to lecture, I do understand and acknowledge his criteria and descriptor for selecting such individuals as subjects to his course. Overall, I was intrigued with the detail of information and Dr. Lichtman's ability to illustrate the Presidents' greatest achievements and some little known accomplishments during their respective terms in office. The balance stricken by the professor in selecting leaders from the entire history of our country was noticeable and no bias, party or otherwise, was detected in his lectures. Since I was a little boy in grade school, I have maintained a keen interest in the colorful individuals who have won the highest office of our Constitution. The details of each man's personal history and unique facts of their service while in office will keep your attention in this 48 lecture series. I purchased the audio version and listened to certain lectures more than once to capture greater insights in to the type of person described by the professor. I highly recommend this course for anyone with an interest in learning more about the colorful, and sometimes, awkward process utilized by the leaders of our country to become our President. Cudos, Professor Lichtman!
Date published: 2016-06-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Usleless A misleading description in the sales catalog leaves the impression that you can stream the content. YOU CANNOT. You can only watch on a computer, but since Microsoft no longer embeds a DVD player in System 10, you have to buy a third-party player. The three third-party players I investigated will not play the file format Great Courses uses. In other words, not only can I not stream to my preferred tablet, I cannot play it on my computer. So why did I buy this - good question and the answer is the misleading description in the catalog. When I called Great Courses about the issue, I got a lesson in bad customer service.
Date published: 2016-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Study of Leadership Of the 44 presidents of the United States, Professor Lichtman chose 12 (slightly more than 25%) as great presidents for this course. Of the 12, he identifies three-Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt--as the three greatest presidents due to their service in times of war that affected the survival and direction of the country. Dr. Lichtman is dispassionate in his description of the men who have served, presenting their personal and political strengths and weaknesses that led them to the presidency, and that affected their presidential decision making with subsequent consequences. Each president served with distinction and advanced the country in a meaningful way. The "surprise" president for me was President James K. Polk. I did not know that he was so attentive to detail and that he expanded the land mass of the United States through the Mexican War, a treaty with Great Britain, and by the Gadsden Purchase. The focus of the course, in my opinion, is the leadership character and qualities of each president. Although others have served, none has contributed to the expansion, direction, and policies (social, financial, and international) as have these twelve. As the Untied States is in the process of choosing president number 45, this is an excellent course to prepare thoughtful voters for choosing the next president in November 2016. These presidents, presented in this course, can serve as benchmarks against which to evaluate the leadership qualities and experiences necessary to become a great president.
Date published: 2016-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Informative The course covers 12 presidents, except for one in 2 hours. This means that you can learn as great deal about each president. He covers the early life through the death of each president. He shows the strengths and weakness of each, what they thought and what they wanted to accomplish and did accomplish, how they fit into their times and into our country's history. He does this with enthusiasm and clear statements.
Date published: 2015-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Absorbing AUDIO DOWNLOAD I really enjoyed all forty-eight lectures of this course. Professor Lichtman is a great presenter, one of the best of the many TC courses I have taken. There is bound to be criticism of any list of ‘greats’, and Professor Lichtman is careful to list his criteria in selecting twelve presidents for treatment. He does not focus on the ‘greatest’, since general agreement on those is usually limited to Washington, Lincoln, and FDR, but on a wider selection that includes Jefferson, Jackson, Polk, Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Reagan. Among this group, the truly surprising one is Polk, but most listeners will likely be convinced by Professor Lichtman to place the otherwise easily forgotten Polk to be among America’s great presidents. One of the most attractive aspects of this course is that it is not limited to just what the presidents did while in office, but rather includes much biographical detail on each president that illuminates their later interests and actions, and sets this in the context of American history and the changes affecting Americans. This context includes, for example, the development of the party system, racial and gender conditions, Supreme Court decisions, the changes in the constitutional system and the presidential election process, and key events such as the Civil War, and WWI and WWII. For Professor Lichtman, “Each one of the twelve leaders…led the nation through a pivotal era of its history, and advanced the power and authority of the presidential office…The few qualities that do seem to unite the great presidents are an unsinkable ambition, a synchrony with the American people, and a strong inner core of guiding values and principles.” Indeed, Professor Lichtman throughout focuses on this “synchrony with the American people” in the presidents’ “…responses to America’s various and historically changing peoples” (quotes from Course Guidebook, Page 1). This all makes the course exceptionally interesting and engaging. I do not detect any pronounced bias on Professor Lichtman’s selection of and treatment of the twelve presidents, though I suspect he leans liberal/progressive. Certainly eye-opening is his treatment of the presidential penchant for independent action, going back to Washington; the “blind spots” on racial issues of the progressive era presidents (including Wilson’s racism); and the probing and generally even-handed treatment of FDR, Johnson, and Reagan, three for whom there is still much partisan feeling. To get a flavor of Professor Lichtman’s analysis and his interests, this from his lecture on Reagan should suffice: “Ronald Reagan made conservatism respectable in late twentieth century America, slowed the growth of domestic spending, shifted priorities to the military, deregulated industry, achieved a major arms reduction treaty, and brought America to the brink of victory in the Cold War. For his supporters, he fulfilled his campaign pledge of 1980 to restore ‘the great, confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism.’ For his detractors, he weakened the nation’s financial strength, favored the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class, pursued a wasteful arms buildup, and abandoned efforts to achieve opportunity for women and minorities” (Page 214). Professor Lichtman shows us that the great presidents made their way to office in many different ways and from widely different economic circumstances. The presidents, however, were “slow to come to grips with the diversity of America” (Page 214), but that “If there is a single quality that distinguishes the great presidents, it is that of idealism without illusions. All had a strong vision for the nation but were also pragmatic and realistic politicians who knew how to lead public opinion and get things done. The greatest presidents envisioned the next great challenge for the nation. The great presidents faced difficulties when they lost their creative flexibility and tried to manipulate, rather than lead, the American people. Overall, they led the nation with great courage and skill” (Page 235). In addition to the well-developed and engaging lectures, the course has an exceptional 266 page guidebook, including a timeline and a bibliography. Highly recommended!
Date published: 2015-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Also a Great Snapshot of US Politics & History This is a fabulous course if you like the Presidents as well as US politics and history. The professor is an engaging speaker who obviously knows his material and makes the subject matter go down easy. I would also recommend the book "Where They Stand" as an accompanying text. Professor Lichtman is quoted and sourced often in the book. Overall, a great listen.
Date published: 2013-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Progressives view of Presidents Overall, I enjoyed this course. There were a few presidents I wasn't initially sure why Polk and Jackson were included and felt like I learned a lot. With more historical presidents I thought the professor did a good job presenting the president in his historical place and explaining what made the "great." With more contemporary presidents, however, the presenter appeared biased. He was effusive and gushing when it came to Kennedy and Johnson. It was almost as if they could do no wrong. Even when discussing the Vietnam war and fraud committed by Johnson, it was almost an afterthought. But as I was listening to the Reagan section, it was full of nothing but criticism. Even after stating that Reagan won the 84 election in a "landslide" he then went on for 10 minutes about how the left and the conservatives were angry with his presidency. He then spent quite some time talking of HIS OWN theory on picking the presidency and how he went to the White House etc. This is so inappropriate. If this were more balanced, I would give it 4 stars.
Date published: 2012-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr Lichtman’s Excellent Adventure I really enjoyed this course covering the illustrious lives and deeds of 12 great presidents. It’s a great tour. The DVDs were worth it, as I enjoyed Dr Lichtman’s presentation. He’s an articulate speaker and he’s got a good command and presence behind the podium. Every day I looked forward to watching each lecture. He’s got a distinctive Brooklyn accent, too. Twelve presidents are spotlighted in this course. They were chosen not because they were the 12 greatest presidents in US history, but because they presided during pivotal years and had enormous influence on our history long on down the road. Think of times of economic depression, war, territorial expansion, social unrest, etc. Dr. Lichtman does point out that we will all draw our own conclusion based on our own value judgments. Most are top-tier presidents in the eyes of scholars while a couple have somewhat mixed evaluations. It’s worth pointing out that with exception of perhaps LBJ, raters of both liberal and conservative persuasions rate these presidents highly, although in various orders. While I had already known some of the material (who wouldn’t?), there was certainly enough new content in the way of historical anecdote to make the course worthwhile to me. This wasn’t simply a paint-by-numbers biography. I felt I did get a good sense of American life, political changes from era to era, political machinations, and while not directly noted, a familiarity with how the presidential office changed over time as each executive officer made his mark in the oval office. Each president gets 4 lectures—that’s only 2 hours. Don’t expect encyclopedic coverage like you might find in 12 or 24 lectures. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the content, delivery, and the well-written Guidebook. I’m watching this along with History of the Supreme Court and they dovetail quite nicely, together giving a very detailed and thorough overview. They’re a nice combo.
Date published: 2012-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Meet the man, and the office What I found most engaging about this course was how we got to meet the man. The presidents selected were presented, each in a biographical style, showing us how he got to be the way he was (his childhood, his environment, his ambitions) foibles and all. In addition, Professor Lichtman showed us how these men expanded the powers of the office. His presentation was enthusiastic, but unfortunately, his volume went down at the end of a sentence making a point. I frequently had to backup and re-listen to a sentence to 'get it.'
Date published: 2012-04-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthy with Bias Professor Lichtman's lectures provide worthy insights into twelve presidents, but I sensed not only his strong progressive/liberal ideology, but also his weak concern for fiscal responsibility. The lectures on President Polk are enlightening and provide understanding as to why Professor Lichtman included him in this survey. The lectures on President Reagan seem stilted with more criticism than any of the other presidents in the survey. It is as if Professor Lichtman realized that Reagan had to be included to provide conservative balance to his survey of great presidents, but they are primarily a regurgitation of the the conventional rhetoric debunking or undermining Reagan's persona, policies, and accomplishments. This lecture series is a beneficial stepping stone toward whetting my appetite to read additional biographies of these presidents.
Date published: 2012-04-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthy survey, albeit biased Professor Lichman effectively tackles the inherently difficult task of making a survey course entertaining. Interesting backround information, sprinkled with lively personal anadotes, kept me engaged for the entire course. I especially enjoyed the lesser knowns like Polk (and for me) Truman. Unfortunately, Professor Lichman's Ivy league left-leanings are frequently displayed, albeit in subtle ways. The Cold War is introduced as if it were an equal misunderstanding of motives. Really? Was it the US that partitioned Berlin or rolled tanks into Hungary, Checkoslovia, or Poland? Similarly, when discussing dropping the atom bomb on Japan, the author fails to mention the harsh reality that a US invasion of Japan may have cost as many as 1 million casualties. Lastly, is it really necessary to mention the lack of civil rights achievement for every one of the first eight presidents on his list? Woman's rights are still not recognized in an a large swath of even the modern world - so where is the sense of perspective?. Despite these annoying liberal biases, I would still recommend the course - just listen with a jaded ear...
Date published: 2012-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It Really Grew On Us OK, he started out just a bit stiff and I was worried but this course really picks up steam. Who knew anything about James K. Polk?? Really interesting material, well-presented. He doesn't waste time rehashing old stories unless he's myth-busting. He made these men into truly 3D individuals, revealed a lot about their inner workings but he always remained focused on the office, not the personality. The whole course leads very logically to comparisons, understanding and real learning. Several delicate subjects are handled very smoothly and even-handedly. Good stuff!
Date published: 2012-03-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Overview of Several Presidents This course is a good overview of the major presidents in American history. However, I prefer the courses that are more in depth on a particular subject. (I feel that I learn much more this way.) For example I enjoyed the in depth information on JFK and his dealings with Cuba; where as the lectures on LBJ seemed to mostly be a list of his legislative accomplishments and a synopsis of the historical events that happend during his time in office. Most of the presidents are covered as a synopsis. (I suppose the JFK lectures were more in depth since he was in office such a short time.) This course give you a window into the lives of these men, but not a deep understanding (like the Great Course devoted solely to Lincoln for example). I came away from the course with a general idea of the presidents highlighted without the deep understanding I desire. This course was good, but not outstanding.
Date published: 2011-12-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting course Since most people tend to blame the president for just about anything that goes wrong, it was nice to see real historical examples of what a president can do to help the country. The selection was appropriate and it was great to learn about the lives of the individual presidents. The course does not stand on its own as a history course (the TC American History course is supherb for that), but complements one nicely. It is of interest to people who want to know more about the individual presidents and what influence their decision making. I found the course highly enjoyable and consider it time well spent.
Date published: 2011-08-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Dissent: Not Bad, Not Great Ok, another course about which I disagree with most reviewers . . . This is a generally good, if somewhat scattershot, traditional 'big man' history of a grab bag of American presidents. Prof. Lichtman isn't very explicit about what makes a president "great" for the purposes of this course, but it seems to come down to presidents who are generally "successful" and who have "presided over pivotal years of American history and shaped the future of the United States." (Quotations from the Course Guidebook.) And let me say up front that I strongly disagree with those who found Prof. Lichtman to have a bias towards progressives. He goes out of his way to be balanced, and I believe succeeds well in this, being every bit as fair to Andrew Jackson and Ronald Reagan as to Woodrow Wilson and FDR. (I would personally consider Jackson a near psychopath; he is the one president here to whom I shudder at the word "great" being applied.) Along similar lines, an important strength of the course worth mentioning is that Prof. Lichtman goes to great lengths to avoid hagiography - every president is presented with his failures as well as his successes. These include, for many, racism, sexism, extraordinary egotism, and personal and family failings. But - I did not find the course as wonderful as did many others. The 'big man' approach to history leaves a lot to be desired. It inevitably gives these men much more credit - as well as, perhaps, much more blame - than they deserve, and fails to adequately recognize the power of events over people. This is not just a matter of preference - understanding history as a complex phenomenon (see the TC's course on "Complexity Theory") is essential to making the best possible decisions on public policy. And, again unlike many others, I found Prof. Lichtman difficult to listen to. Yes, he is articulate, well-organized, and knowledgeable, and obviously cares very much about his subject. But his unvarying breathless enthusiasm - think play-by-play sports commentator - gets to be pretty hard to take. Just as off-putting, for me, were the literally hundreds of repetitions of "quote-unquote," the vast majority of which being entirely unnecessary. And, silly as this might seem, the machine-gun-like repetition of the full name of our 11th president - not just "Polk," or "James Polk," but "James K. Polk" - got to be really K. annoying. So - if you have a particular interest in presidential history, by all means take this course. It may well give you a fuller appreciation of these men as individuals. However, the focus is so much on the individuals that, for me, they were not adequately surrounded by the contexts of their lives, and I felt the course added little to my appreciation of American history per se.
Date published: 2011-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biased but Great Course Offering I found the content and presentation excellent. At times the professor seems that he is on the border of yelling but does manage to keep you quite engaged. He does a terrific job at providing an excellent sense of the times, conditions and decisions that our leaders faced. My only qualms with the course is that he clearly likes progressive/democratic presidents demonstrating his personal preferences for liberalism and that the portrayal of the political climates gets a bit long winded. That being said I felt that the course was money well spent and would recommend the course.
Date published: 2011-05-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Who ever knew James K Polk was so interesting? This course was fun and engaging. The Professor is animated and easy to learn from. This course could be very valuable to a customer in two ways: First, it would provide a *new* student of American history a foundation for later learning about important events and ideas. Second, if you already know about the events, this course helps you go back and fill in the gaps. (For example, who among us knew anything about James K Polk before listening to this course?) In and of itself, it would not be a good stand alone course on American history. However, this course sets out to cover history from the "Great Presidents" perspective, and it does so very well.
Date published: 2011-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I recommend it despite the progressive bias This course is a great addition to another course that I liked a lot called The History of the United States. It focuses on the lives of 12 presidents. I am not sure that all of them could be called “great,” for example I would not include Woodrow Wilson or LBJ, but the professor selected them and I was glad to learn more about their lives and presidencies. Unless you are very familiar with the American history, I would recommend listening to the History of the United States first. I liked this course a lot. The professor is easy to listen to, easy to follow and understand. The material is first rate and very interesting. You should be aware that the professor clearly prefers the “progressive” presidents, which is most likely why he included Wilson and LBJ. Prof. Lichtman tried to run for Senate as a progressive candidate in 2005. He did not make it, which is good for us because we get to listen to his course, which he would not have time to produce had he won. Other than his clear bias towards the progressivism, I found the course worth the investment of time and money. It certainly adds a deeper level of understanding of the important events in the US history.
Date published: 2010-10-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb and Riveting Presidential Vignettes Professor Lichtman's vignettes of 12 'great' American presidents is a 'must listen to' for both professional historians and non-scholars. I have taught American history for nearly two decades and have lived under presidents from FDR to Obama. Lichtman provides me a comprehensive, superbly balanced assessment of those presidents who I know best, with significant additional insights of which I was unaware. I have listened to some of his lectures four or more times, as I prepare to teach a specific presidential period. On each occasion, I have been riveted by Professor Lichtman's charismatic delivery while also gaining further insights into the individual's personality, accomplishments, and foibles. Most remarkable is Lichtman's objective even handedness. Though he recently ran, unsuccessfully, in a Maryland senatorial primary, his personal proclivities in no way affect the professionalism with which he addresses Ronald Reagan. Devoting two hours to each of his selected 'greats,' I thought that he might have with President Polk's one-term presidency. I was wrong. I found a freshness in his approach to Washington and Lincoln. Jefferson's accomplishments and hypocrisy are presented with admirable balance. I can image, as a youth, that JFK might have been his hero. His JFK is a totally professional assessment. LBJ remains highly controversial, with his domestic accomplishments often overshadowed by his role in the Vietnamese Greek tragedy. Again, I found Lichtman’s LBJ to be a BINGO. Lichtman’s GREAT PRESIDENTS is a marvelous complement to the American Experience presidents.
Date published: 2010-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but flawed Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this course because if it was the first one I had ordered I would not have ordered others. The professor spends time in virtually every lecture letting his political ideas get in the way of an objective presentation. He spends, in my opinion, way too much time telling us why many of these men shouldn't be considered great presidents. I was looking for the professor to explain why he chose these men as great presidents and I didn't get that answer. Despite that, there is much good information that can be found in this course. The key word here is "good" - just good. This course falls short of what I have come to expect from The Teaching Company.
Date published: 2009-12-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Collection of Basic Biographies I liked this course and learned a bit. It certainly rounded out my knowledge of these presidents. Hence it's a decent complement to the very good "History of the United States" course. However, it didn't blow me away since it was mostly a series of disconnected biographies. It might have been a better course if Lichtman had made the office of the Presidency and the executive branch his main subject, and then explored how and why it changed over the years. Also, he could have compared and contrasted different Presidential management styles, and their effects on outcomes. Certainly he discusses these issues in passing, but they are tangential.
Date published: 2009-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprisingly Fantastic Admittedly, I am no fan of American History, particularly anything after the age of the explorers and colonization. Presidential history and Civics were perhaps my least favorite topics, so I got this course to help change my mind. It did. I found myself appreciating American History in ways I did not think I was capable of. Dr. Lichtman presents the material in an extremely engaging and though-provoking manner. Despite my hesitation going in, I devoured this course.
Date published: 2009-07-06
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