Presidents may pass away, but they keep working.
That’s what I’ve learned as I’ve been traveling across the country to see their gravesites. Our chiefs of state tend to keep busy even after they enter what I call the “post-post-presidency.” The question is: why? Why don’t they just lay there like the rest of us do?
Because we have so much for them to do, of course! We name streets and schools after them. We put them on our money. They are the basis of works of stirring art and stupefying commerce. We make them larger than life on mountains; then we cut them back down to size with kitsch.
Like funerals, memorials are less about the dead than the living. In life, what the presidents do matters; after that, what matters is what we do with and in their names. And we do a lot. And it keeps them living on long after they’re gone. Being a dead president is about as close to civic immortality as one gets in this part of the world.
So with that in mind, I’m traveling this country of ours to pay my respects to the people with whom our national buck has stopped. Even in death, they have much to tell us.
Not literally, of course.
“A brisk, lighthearted travelogue with an exuberant guide.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A fascinating romp, and reflection, on the fate of the nation’s departed chief executives; humorous, insightful, and admirably well told.” — Philip Dray
“Dead presidents haven’t been this surprising, entertaining, and even funny since my eighth-grade classmates and I saw animatronic Lincoln whirr to life or, later, when I voted for failed San Francisco mayoral candidate Jello Biafra.” — Jack Hitt
“Lots of books explain how tough the presidents have it when they are alive—scandals, impeachments, gray hair—but here at last is a terrific investigation of the post-life presidency, a rollicking but always thoughtful exploration of the after-the-White-House whereabouts of the forever former chief executives. Brady Carlson is the perfect road-trip companion, smart and good-hearted, a combination that we can only hope for in presidents, alive or dead.” — Robert Sullivan, author of My American Revolution
“The funniest and most entertaining book about death you’ll read this year—and my favorite book about corpses since Mary Roach’s Stiff. Plus, I learned a ton about our commanders-in-chief, many of whose lives got much more interesting after they stopped breathing.” — A. J. Jacobs
This project has been made possible in part by super-generous supporters, including:
Holly Abeels | Avishay Artsy | Erin Barnes | John Barrett | Tom Barry | Charles Behensky | Amy Borchwald | Shane Bradt | Liz Bulkley | Matthew Cain | Annie Carlson | Margaret Carlson-Lane | Katerina Claiborne | Gwen Dallas | Dianne Finch | Sarah Fraser | Roger Goun | Tanya Hakala | Ben Leubsdorf | Anna Moskov | Mike Ostrego | “Penboy7000″ | Liza Poinier | Susan Posner | John H. Robinson | Michael Saffell | Cara Scala | Caroline Carter Smith | Jonathan Smith | Phil Sumida | Jeanne Timmons | Thanh Tran | Scott Vesely | Erica Westerman | Mick Walsh | and several anonymous donors