How Presidential Memoirs Work

Autobiographical Telling

Somewhat shorter than most other presidential memoirs, "The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge" is very much like its title would suggest -- a standard autobiography. The pages of his memoir move solidly from his childhood to his education and through his political career. In reading through his as well as several other presidential memoirs, it's interesting to see that many former presidents share a similar sentiment -- that it is very difficult to describe what being president is like:

... I appreciate how impossible it is to convey an adequate realization of the office of President ... His methods of work, his associates, his place of abode, can all be described. But the relationship created by all these and more, which constitutes the magnitude of the office, does not yield to definition.

From a historical perspective, from memoir to memoir there are bits of commentary along the way that illustrate the changing times not only within the presidential office, but also in the surrounding world. On train travel, Coolidge had this to say:

Although I have not been given to much travel during my term of office, it has been sufficient, so that I am convinced the government should own a private car for the use of the President when he leaves Washington.

Obviously, things have come a long way since then. One can only wonder what Coolidge would think of Air Force One.

Some other former presidents who decided to present their memoir in an autobiographical format are:

  • Herbert Hoover - "The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, Volume 1, 1874-1920: Years of Adventure," "The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, Volume 2, 1920-1933: The Cabinet and the Presidency," "The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, Volume 3, 1929-1941: The Great Depression"
  • Richard Nixon - "RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon"
  • Gerald Ford - "A Time to Heal: The Autobiography of Gerald R. Ford"
  • Ronald Reagan - "Ronald Reagan: An American Life"
  • Bill Clinton - "My Life"

Although Clinton chose an autobiographical style pioneered by previous presidents, the media frenzy surrounding the release of Clinton's memoir, "My Life," may establish the work as groundbreaking through the mere virtue of press coverage. Let's take a closer look.