March 7, 2008

Book Review - Presidential Temples

Presidential Temples: How Memorials and Libraries Shape Public Memory
Benjamin Hufbauer
E 176.1 .H845 2005

Hufbauer examines the physical commemorations of presidents, focusing on those in the last century. He observes that most of these physical entities--whether monuments, buildings such as libraries, or museum exhibits--are crafted to play up their accomplishments, focus on higher meanings or purposes, and drastically underplay or minimize the negative legacies or controversies of their administrations. Hufbauer observes that increasingly, presidents have taken over the crafting of their own commemorations. Drawing from numerous examples, he concludes that the time, effort, and cost of these commemorations are a sign of American preoccupation with celebrity and play a significant role in our collective political and cultural self-image as Americans. He also sees this post-administration activity as a way that presidents feed the economies of their home state and extend their executive authority. He suggests that this trend is problematic, as authentic presidential history will be difficult to discern from presidential myth. This is a thought-provoking book that examines how culture and history are developed, manipulated, and often intertwined.