The End of Greatness

The End of Greatness

Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President

Book - 2014
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"There is one thing that has haunted all of America's modern presidents: Americans' expectations of greatness in the man and the office. While it was impossible for the Framers of the Constitution to predict the circumstances that would make America the greatest and most consequential power on Earth, the Founders never intended this spotlight on the presidency. Venerating our past great presidents has always been safe, compelling, and inspiring. But when it also tempts us with the possibilities of their return, it may not be so benign. The End of Greatness offers a new way to appreciate and evaluate the presidency, a mode of understanding that gives conventional achievement ratings their place but ultimately makes the counterintuitive argument that, in expecting greatness, we have made goodness simply impossible. This book looks at the concept of greatness in presidents--the ways in which it is essential to a nation and the ways in which it has been detrimental. Miller argues that greatness in presidents is an overrated virtue, one that eclipses--and perhaps even thwarts--the real contributions of our presidents"--
Publisher: New York, NY :, St. Martin's Press,, 2014
Edition: First St. Martin's Press edition
ISBN: 9781137279002
Branch Call Number: 320.973 MIL
Characteristics: viii, 280 pages ; 25 cm


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Dec 15, 2014

To speculate on the end of presidential greatness, one needs to understand the standard by which we judge it. Aaron David Miller spends the majority of the book doing exactly that. Specifically, The End of Greatness: Why America Can't Have (and Doesn't Want) Another Great President is mostly a biography of three of the greatest presidents in American history: Franklin Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. And according to Miller, these are THE undisputed top three.

We learn of the circumstances under which these three men assumed the office of the presidency, and it soon becomes clear that greatness cannot be orchestrated. As if there was any doubt. So much depends on the external factors of the age, which are nearly always external threats.

I recommend The End of Greatness on the strength of these mini-biographies alone. There are mentions of other notable presidents—Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt for example—who were great men, but who inherited stakes that weren't nearly as high as the big three. There's also a discussion of the originally perceived greatness of our current president, Barack Obama, and how greatness has so far eluded him. Maybe time will tell.

We live in a digital age where the lives and deeds of anyone public are extensively recorded and astonishingly personal. When our revered heroes of the modern age don't have the luxury of elusiveness, then greatness will have to evolve to mean something more.

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