About

I’m an investment banker, the father of two teenagers and an avid fan of American history. Somewhat inexplicably, I also own and manage a wedding flower farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains… And I absolutely love great biographies.

About fifteen years ago I began traveling overseas regularly and found myself spending countless hours on long-haul flights. To fill the time I read everything by Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum.  Then I turned to great biographies.

I began searching for the best biographies of history’s most fascinating people: famous explorers, entertainers, sports figures and other colorful personalities. But I quickly focused on a genre which consumed six years: presidential biographies.

In 2012, I started reading the 240 best presidential biographies I could find, beginning with George Washington and ending with Barack Obama. I’ve been documenting that journey at www.bestpresidentialbios.com.

As of February 2019 – after 2,243 days and 123,000 pages of reading – I finished the first round of that adventure. Now I’m branching out and reading the very best biographies of anyone…and documenting this phase of my adventure here!

Stephen Floyd
October 2021

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50 thoughts on “About”

  1. Steve: Thank you very much for including my poor book. Mario Cuomo was a great man and the book has been well received quite beyond its due. I’ve just heard that Barnes & Noble just ordered another thousand copies. But I was really delighted to have your approval. Is there a good mailing address for you…? I’d like to send you some more info about the book. And the book itself. Bill O’S Many thanks

    • Thanks for your note and congratulations on your book! I found Mario Cuomo to be a fascinating and intriguing character…and he was certainly the object of great admiration on the part of my Italian-born but New York-resident in-laws 🙂

      No worries on sending a copy of the book – I purchase every book I read and review and I consider that a small price to pay getting to read great biographies about interesting individuals. If you have other information about the book I might find useful or interesting let me know (the easiest way for me to get stuff is via email: sr20pilotbios -at- gmail.com) but other means of delivery can be utilized as well!

  2. Steve, you are my hero for your incredible insight into great biographies and your outstanding website(s). I still don’t know how you find the time to do it all, however fast you read!

    I wanted to share with you a biography that I just finished that has not made any of your lists: Stacy Cordery’s “Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker.” I have a brief but fair-sized review of it on my Goodreads account (I follow you there too, as Jeff), and will spare the details here, but I thought you might like it because the writing is savvy, and the subject is fun. I fell in love with Alice, as many people did while she was alive. Best of all, during nearly her entire adult life she lived in Washington, and interacted with most of the presidents. I dare say you might like it. 🙂

    • That’s *awesome* – thanks for the recommendation…I’ll look into it asap! Alice Roosevelt Longworth was one of those unusual characters I met “along the way” on this presidential journey who I found utterly fascinating. I instantly fell in love with her and assumed there must be several compelling biographies of her. I didn’t spend an enormous amount of time searching, but didn’t exactly unearth a treasure trove of books on her, so I have high hopes (based on the title alone) for the one you mention.

      I even enjoyed her character so much I mentioned her in passing to my parents who said they actually learned about her in their high school history classes. They obviously had a very different history syllabus than me. But I imagine her to be a bit like Margaret Thatcher might have turned out if she’d been TR’s daughter… Anyway, thanks again for the recommendation and keep them coming!

      • I see three others from doing a Google book search, and I may just have to look into those myself! And of course there are at least a couple on “the Roosevelt women” and the rocky relationship between Eleanor and Alice.

      • I love TR’s comment: “I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States or I can control Alice Roosevelt. I cannot possibly do both.”

      • Yes, clearly one of the all-time greatest presidential quotes!

  3. I am very excited to see this new venture of yours! I have so many great biographies to read (for your 2019 road map, I have read or in possession of at least eight books that you listed!) …and only so much time 😦

    Looking forward to your reviews.
    Happy reading everybody!

    • There’s just never enough time, is there? So if you’ve read any you really love that are missing from my master list, please let me know! I’m still in the process of sifting through everything published in 2018, but I’ve attempted to capture everything before that. And for 2019, I’m trying to convince myself I can squeeze in Andrew Roberts’ recent “Churchill: Walking with Destiny” at the end of the year.

  4. Kai Bird’s book on Robert Oppenheimer was extraordinary, a perfect blend of the study of a perplexing and intriguing individual and his role in a pivotal time in world history. Glad you have it on your list.

    One book that I don’t find anywhere on your site is Unforgivable Blackness by Geoffrey Ward, a look at another larger-than-life figure and his unique role in American history, in regards to race relations, made into a documentary by Ken Burns.

    I hear that Walter Isaacson’s bio on da Vinci is very good, too.

    On and on it goes!

    • Thanks! I’d never heard of the book (or its subject) by Ward but after a little research I’ve added it, and I’ve had the Isaacson book on a stick note waiting to be added, so your prodding was perfectly timed!

  5. Haven’t seen any posts here in about 2 months. When will you be posting your next review, or are you taking a long break? Love your reviews!

    • Thanks for noticing! 🙂 I’m back “on the grid” and finishing the John Quincy Adams bio I started 6 weeks ago (and got 3/4 of the way through before I ended up overseas on an unexpectedly lengthy trip w/o my reading materials). I’m hoping to get to David Nasaw’s bio of Joseph P. Kennedy and Maynard Solomon’s “Mozart” in the next week or two. Stay tuned!

      • Very good. I am happy to hear all is well.

      • Thanks- it was strange being pulled away from my normal routine. I’m just glad the timing didn’t interfere with my initial journey through the presidents(!) But 3 1/2 weeks away from my nearly-finished bio of JQA by Traub did leave me feeling like I needed to re-start it from the beginning…after I finished catching up on all of life’s other deferred routines (paying bills, mowing the lawn, planting the garden, pressure-washing the house,…)

  6. Maxw Burke said:

    Steve – I recently came across your presidential bio site while looking for recommendations. It has inspired me to up my game, and I’ve already used the site for some guidance! So thank you. And I like your new site/goal. However, I couldn’t help but notice the dearth of biographies on women in your “2019 Road Map.” Of course, there have been no female presidents, so there are no biography reviews of women on that site either. I understand there are simply fewer biographies on women, but there are undoubtedly some out there, and it’d be great to see your reviews of them.

  7. Steve – I recently came across your presidential bio site while looking for recommendations. It has inspired me to up my game, and I’ve already used the site for some guidance! So thank you. And I like your new site/goal. However, I couldn’t help but notice the dearth of biographies on women in your “2019 Road Map.” Of course, there have been no female presidents, so there are no biography reviews of women on that site either. I understand there are simply fewer biographies on women, but there are undoubtedly some out there, and it’d be great to see your reviews of them.

    • Thanks for your note, and I agree with your observation relating to the comparative lack of biographies of women. I’m really looking forward to the recent biography(ies) of Margaret Thatcher in particular…and in general if you are aware of any compelling bios of women which are missing from my list, please let me know!

    • Thanks for your comment – sorry it took so long to publish (it got lost in the pre-holiday ether). I completely agree with your observation and as I look out at my reading list, I have some biographies of women coming up shortly: Queen Victoria, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller and Ida Tarbell just to spoil the surprise. And, as always, if there is something in particular you know about that I should be reading or add to my list of great biographies please let me know!

  8. Hi, I just discovered your site and have always been a documentary lover and never got into reading biographies but it seems like a natural transition for me. Now I have a site like yours to use as a resource so thanks for that. Question though: how were you able to get a list of all the upcoming biographies? Finally, I hope to make reading bios a habit and wouldn’t mind blogging about my journey, any tips? Thanks again!

    • I have friends at a couple major publishing houses, I periodically check Amazon, Goodreads and other sites for info, I have several news alerts set to inform me when there’s relevant news and I get tips from readers (particularly on my presidential biography site).

      There are several places to turn to start a website / blog. Just use your favorite search engine and look for “best blogging sites / platforms” or “how to start a blog” and be mindful that some results that pop up may be designed to steer you to one platform or another in order to earn a commission… 🙂

      At the bottom of many non-commercial websites / blogs will be something that likely identifies the platform that site uses.

      • Thanks. I currently have a blog and know how to get that going so forgive me in that I didn’t clarify myself. I saw in another reply where you don’t review books that are given to you. I guess I was looking for tips like that and such. Do you keep every book you read?

      • I do keep every book I read (at least so far!) And in order to maintain a transparent and impartial review process (particularly once my primary site became more and more popular) I found it is easiest for me just to purchase every book I review and avoid accepting the free books periodically offered by authors / publishers. The only tangible downside I’ve considered is the inability to read upcoming releases before they are widely available; it would be nice to be able post reviews biographies close to their initial publication dates (especially those expected to be broadly popular) but for me the trade-off isn’t worth it.

  9. First, Thank you for doing the heavy lifting for me, as your “best single” has become where I go to pick my presidential biography.

    I teach middle school history and 10 years in (I know bad teacher) I realized I had never actually sat down and read a biography of any of the presidents I taught. I had read much of their writings and had read many articles about them, but never an actual biography (they scared me). I set out to read 6 a year until I got through Grant, where my teaching year ends. I just finished Team of Rivals and then read Congress at War by Fergus Bordewich and was curious what you know/could suggest (if anything) about a Thaddeus Stevens biography. Looking around it seems there aren’t many, and 2001’s Trefousse biography people say is very dry, while Brodie’s ’59 is dated. Any ideas?

  10. First, Thank you for doing the heavy lifting for me, as your “best single” has become where I go to pick my presidential biography.

    I teach middle school history and 10 years in (I know bad teacher) I realized I had never actually sat down and read a biography of any of the presidents I taught. I had read much of their writings and had read many articles about them, but never an actual biography (they scared me). I set out to read 6 a year until I got through Grant, where my teaching year ends. I just finished Team of Rivals and then read Congress at War by Fergus Bordewich and was curious what you know/could suggest (if anything) about a Thaddeus Stevens biography. Looking around it seems there aren’t many, and 2001’s Trefousse biography people say is very dry, while Brodie’s ’59 is dated. Any ideas?

    • Not too many questions stump me…but yours has done the trick. I haven’t come across a good Thaddeus Stevens biography though I do remember reading about him in a few presidential biographies (but just in passing). There are more than a few folks with tremendous insight / knowledge who regularly peruse these comment sections and might chime in with a recommendation (assuming there even is a good bio of Stevens to recommend). Good luck!

      • I cannot personally vouch for any biography on Mr. Stevens, but I would opt for Dr. Trefousse’s biography for two reasons. (1) His scholarship on – and biography of – Johnson was excellent and (2) his is the most recent work by a few decades. Getting away from the mid-century schools of thought and historical processes will be useful.

        Two academic reviewers in history journals gave Trefousse’s book positive reviews – indicating it would supersede Fawn Brodie’s work as the standard. For what it is worthy, Trefousse thought Richard Current’s 1942 book was the best up to his book.

        At just over 300 pages, a little dryness might not be too bad?

  11. Thank you, Ill check it out and report back.

  12. Franklin Robinson said:

    I’m looking forward to your review of Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman. I’ve read so many bios of Washington, I’m trying to decide if it’s worth picking up. His whole series is available at my local library. I know you’re just doing the condensed version, but still interested in your thoughts.

    • I’m looking forward to it, too! 🙂

      Years ago when I was first reading several bios of Washington I had hoped to read Freeman’s entire series, but I found the individual volumes only sporadically available (my library doesn’t have the entire thing and I’d have to go through some effort to borrow them) so instead of swimming upstream I just decided to wait and read the series as follow-up. Now, still finding the volumes relatively difficult to obtain cost-effectively I’m going to start with the abridgment under the assumption that’s what most of my readers would do, as well.

      I have, however, spent some time reading the first part of the unabridged first volume (which I do have) and am comparing it to the Harwell condensation. So far my non-scientific reaction is that the abridgement does a great job capturing Freeman’s voice if not all of the detail (and, oh my, there is a lot of detail in the unabridged volume!) In any event, it will probably take me 2 1/2+ weeks to get through the abridged biography, so I’ll reserve judgment but I’m glad to finally be reading this one!

  13. Your reviews are a fantastic guide to presidencial biography. Thank you for sharing your insights. Do you have a must read/top 10 sort of list? Ive previously read biographys of FDR, Truman, TR, Lincoln and just ocked up President McKinley and American Ulyses. I saw a 5 star review of Washington. Any others?

    • I haven’t tried to narrow down my list to a core group of a few “must reads” since I have a hard time limiting it to few enough to create a compact list. And so far Chernow’s bio of Washington is my only full-5-star review but mostly due to the fact that it set the standard for me. Were I to start over and re-scale, some of the 4.5 star books would be appropriately curved to a 5. But to be fair, I do have one other perfect “5” and that is Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton which I read last year as part of my side-journey to get away from the presidents a bit.

  14. Steve, I have been using your website and excellent biography reviews. I am working my way through the presidential biographies. Thank you for sharing publicly such great reviews. If you are the same Steve that worked at Morgan Stanley in the 90’s, I’d love to catch up separately.

    Keith H

  15. Steve,

    We’ve talked about you putting William Manchester’s Last Lion on your list some time. I have a couple of other suggestions that might surprise you. Try Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams the Early Years 1903-1940 and Swinging on a Star: The War Years 1940-1946 by Gary Giddens. They were written 17 years apart, but I was pleasantly shocked at how much I liked these books.

    • Yes, indeed – I still have the Churchill series sitting across the room but directly in my line of sight. I also have the recent Eleanor Roosevelt trilogy by Blanche Wiesen Cook staring at me intently. Only thing standing in the way is the amount of time I would have to dedicate to just one biographical subject. I’m soon to embark on the recent Michaelis bio of Ms. Roosevelt, and I obviously read the Andrew Roberts bio of Churchill in order to satiate my thirst for Winston. But nothing is likely to substitute for the full experience in both cases…

      I will definitely take a look at the Giddins bio as I’ve found the entertainment industry does provide some fairly colorful biographical subjects (Walt Disney, Mark Twain…and I’m soon to embark on Cary Grant). Thanks for the tip!

      • Every year, I do three fiction and non-fiction choices for Book of the Year. I was surprised when the Disney biography landed there (since I’m not much for celebrity biographies). The very next year was the biography of The Beatles (by the guy who wrote a recent Reagan book you reviewed). I’ll be interested in your take on the Giddens biography if you get to it.

  16. Kim Eisman said:

    I’ve been collecting presidential related books for the past couple years. Starting in January my goal is to read at least one book on each President , each First Lady, and one on something pertinent to their administration. I know I’ll be at this for years, but your site has given me inspiration to do so.

    • That sounds absolutely fabulous! For what it’s worth, I think you’ll be surprised how quickly the journey unfolds (well…for the most part!) and how much fun it proves to be (again…for the most part!)

  17. Scott McKinley said:

    I’d like to recommend The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson by Bernard Bailyn (1974) as well worth the read.

    • Have to admit I needed to look up Thomas Hutchinson to remind myself who he was…though the fact the book was written by Bailyn certainly gave me a sense for “when” if not “who” he was(!)

  18. Any recommendation for a good biography of Senator Thomas Hart Benton?

    • I’ve wondered that same thing for several years (since I read a few biographies of James Polk). I’ve only uncovered three potentially intriguing possibilities: a dated but seemingly scholarly bio by William Chambers (“Old Bullion Benton: Senator from the New West“), a biography of Benton written by none other than Teddy Roosevelt (“Thomas Hart Benton“) and a recent biography by Ken Mueller (“Senator Benton and the People.”) I haven’t read any of these so I can’t yet give you any meaningful guidance on which of these, if any, you will really like.

      • Many thanks for the response! Those were the ones that looked most promising to me from perusing Amazon; I might have to try one or two of them.

        It’s surprising that there isn’t a really definitive biography (or two or three) of him. He’s just right behind the Great Triumvirate in terms of both fame and impact in that period, and there’s no shortage of biographies on Clay, Webster, and Calhoun. Interestingly, there seems to be a bevy of works on his great nephew of the same name…

  19. Jeffrer Nydick said:

    Steve; I am recommending this biography to you (for possible review) and to Charlie who asked about Thomas Hart Benton. PATHFINDER, John Charles Fremont and the Course of American Empire. https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-8090-7557-7

    • Thanks! I’ve got this on my list (ok, it’s a very long list, but quite awhile back I recognized I need to read something about Fremont, and this is what I came up with).

    • Charlie Yates said:

      Thanks so much for the recommendation!

      I just find it so odd that there’s no really definitive Benton biography. He was just below Clay, Calhoun and Webster in terms of his role in the Senate of that era, and there’s no shortage of reading on those guys!

  20. Craig Phillips said:

    Hi Steve … everything OK? Haven’t seen a post for a few weeks!

    • Funny you ask – I’m about 1/2 through the new biography of Nancy Reagan which was released Tuesday. Should be done and posting something by this weekend 🙂 Then I’ll be back to Malcolm X which I was reading when sidetracked by work…

  21. Darren Seacliffe said:

    If Catherine the Great and Nicholas and Alexander by Robert M. Massie are on your reading list, may I venture to recommend Peter the Great by this author? The biography might be 800 pages thick or more but reading-wise, it’s one of the easiest reads I’ve ever encountered. It’s even easier than books half its thickness. If you want to get a real taste of this author’s work, I strongly recommend you start there. If you want to read the best biographies out there, I think you shouldn’t leave this one out even if this historical figure was a world away from the ones you’ve encountered till now.

    Thanks a lot for your Upcoming Releases sections on both this blog and your presidential one. I’m infinitely grateful to you for helping me to unearth the English translation of a great Maria Theresa biography. This is the one German historical figure whose biography I was missing (since I’ve a few books on Frederick the Great and Barbarossa).

    Put in a few biographies on figures from Early Modern or Medieval Europe in your reading list if you’ll like to bait for recommendations. There are some good biographies on these figures and of course, there are biographies of great English men too. Norman Gash’s two books on Sir Robert Peel, the Prime Minister, are something I especially recommend. Lucid writing which wears its scholarship lightly.

    Please do keep up your good work in running these two blogs and I do hope your family and job are unscathed from this bedamned pandemic. Singapore where I stay has gotten hit by a second wave of this pandemic which might be a big whammy when it reaches your shores. Do stay vigilant.

    • Funny but his Peter the Great bio is the first Massie book I ever bought and I’m considering where to slot it in as well.

      I’ll look into Gash – I’m particularly interested to add some diversity to my reading list which includes non-US authors and non-US subjects(!) But I’m always into great writing, no matter the topic.

      My wife is a primary care physician so we’ve been acutely aware of the pandemic’s issues/challenges and she was very fortunate to access the vaccine early. My primary job involves non-stop travel (which came to a standstill of course) so it’s ironic that despite the near shutdown of my professional career, my life has rarely been so hectic. You’d think I have nothing but time to read, and yet….

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