The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book Greatness in the White House

Greatness in the White House

Rating the Presidents, From Washington Through Ronald Reagan Robert Murray, and Tim Blessing
  • Copyright: 1993
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 180 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-01089-2
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-02486-8
  • Second, Updated Edition
“Murray and Blessing have picked up the baton, as it were, from Schlesinger as the recorders of temporal evolution in the opinions of historians regarding U.S. presidents. The results of their recent update poll, subsequent to the publication of Greatness in the White House, of just under five hundred historians—the first such poll to include Ronald Reagan—were presented at a meeting of the Organization of American Historians in April, 1991. . . . The most ambitious objective of studies of presidential greatness, suggested in the authors’ summary, is to identify the characteristics which make a successful president, in order to predict the performance of candidates. Murray and Blessing provide a fairly comprehensive survey of the studies that attempt this.”
Greatness in the White House provides us with the latest of the presidential polls, and the finest. . . . In seven chapters and a concluding section, [Murray and Blessing] discuss the ratings game, past polls as well as their own. Successive chapters follow on appearance, background, character, personality, and administrative achievements—as rating criteria—and reactions to presidential rankings.”
“Those who criticize presidential ranking ‘games’ for attempting to quantify the unquantifiable should welcome this report, possibly as much for what it tells us about American historians as for its specific tabulations.”

A narrative account of the survey of almost 1,000 professional historians on what constitutes a successful performance in the presidency, this survey tells us almost as much about the thinking and biases of historians as it does about the nature of the American presidency.

Besides comparing past presidential polls and constructing a ranking list of the nation’s chief executives, this study examines why historians rate presidents the way they do, and it analyzes those qualities and traits historians look for in a successful president. It also delimits what constitutes a failing performance in the White House and marks the major pitfalls that almost assuredly lead to an adverse historical verdict. In the process, the study demonstrates that there is not always a close correlation between what historians say a president should do and what historians obviously feel when actually ranking the performances of the presidents of the United States.

This study should prove enlightening not only to the historical profession but to the general public, political pundits, newscasters, public officials, and all presidential aspirants, and even to past and present occupants of the White House and their staffs.

Robert K. Murray is Professor Emeritus of History at the Pennsylvania State University.

Tim H. Blessing is Associate Professor of History at Alvernia College.

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Greatness in the White House

Rating the Presidents, From Washington Through Carter
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This book is a part of the Association of American University Presses' Books for Understanding: Ronald Reagan book list, created to help all of us better understand the world we live in.

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