History By Zim was contacted by Smithsonian Books (they publish material in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institute) to see if I was interested in doing a book review/feature on an upcoming release. The book, The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia, seemed to be right in History By Zim’s wheelhouse. Because of that reason, as well as the Smithsonian connection, I immediately agreed. However, I should state that as excited as I am about this, I made a point of looking through the book as unbiased as I can be.
The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia
Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Books, 2012
240 pp. $12.95/$15.95 CAN
Book covers are one of the main selling points of a book, they help set the mood for what the reader can expect. President Theodore Roosevelt’s enthusiastic smile is just one of the many faces and objects popping out of the White House roof. The seemingly random array of things assures the reader that this book is full of all things presidents. Since random trivia play a large role in History By Zim, this is a very good sign.
Standard information dominates the back cover and reads on the textbook side.* It’s important to mention that it states that the book is “[f]ully updated with presidential information to 2013.”
Coming in around 240 pages, The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia is substantial enough to appease presidential history experts but not too long to scare off the average history buff.
A short forward by Marc Pachter (Director Emeritus, National Portrait Gallery and Interim Director, National Museum of American History) details the perception of the presidency and how the presidency is as an iconic symbol of the country.
Divided into eleven chapters, The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia deals with every part of the presidency from political campaigns to life in the White House to particular low moments for some. Chapter Eleven, “The Quotable President,” gives quips and soundbites from those who held the nation’s highest office.
Following the chapters is a helpful presidential timeline that lists the order of presidents, their birth/death, term years and vice presidents.
I have looked at my fair share of presidential trivia books for here and this one follows the standard Question and Answer format. However, that seems to be the only major similarity between them. This one varies because, not only do they tell you which president[s] is the answer to the question, they give more information about the person, event, object, etc…. in question. It is very helpful to have the additional information on hand and not just the president’s name.
Another big difference between The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia and other related trivia books is that this one pairs questions with photographs of historic artifacts (from Smithsonian’s collections). There are 115 black-and-white photographs in the book.
The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia includes trivia about some First Ladies and children of presidents as well. Hillary Clinton and Lucy Hayes are the most discussed First Ladies with about four to five mentions each.
The most discussed presidents include: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (without including mentions about wives and children). James Monroe, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Herbert Hoover and George H.W. Bush are the least mentioned with 2-3 entries (including mentions about wives and children).
Things I liked:
- Discussion on each trivia answer.
- Numerous photographs of objects from Smithsonian’s collections.
- Presidential Timeline at the end of the book.
- Includes trivia on some First Ladies and children.
- Many questions/answers I had never heard of before. For example: “Which president popularized the term “OK”?” or “Which president wore a ring containing a lock of Lincoln’s hair to his inauguration?”
Things I prefer to have:*
- An index at the end to where the reader could find information on a specific president. If you are looking for fun facts about Millard Fillmore you would have to page through over half of the book to find anything about him.
- Colored photographs of the physical objects from Smithsonian’s collections. I find that you can lose some of the details with black-and-white photographs.
I enjoyed reading through The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia. It was put together very well. It had a little bit of something about everything and there were some things I had not known about. I would highly recommend this book to any history/trivia buff and even to general/presidential historians as well. The Smithsonian has a high reputation of preserving and sharing history, this book reflects that quality.
Where to find The Smithsonian Book of Presidential Trivia:
[* I should note that my copy is a proof copy and, therefore, I assume the final copies will vary slightly.]