Alvin S. Felzenberg

The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game

"What makes a president a great president?" Felzenberg asks this question in his preface to his 2008 book, then takes an unusual approach to answer it, by rating U.S. presidents in seven categories he considers seven measures of greatness: character, vision, competence, foreign policy, economic policy, human rights, and legacy. (All but three make his list: George W. Bush, who was still in office when the book was written, and two who died very early in their terms: James A Garfield and William H. Harrison.)

Felzenberg, a 1971 graduate of the Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences, admits that arguing over the performance of presidents is as old a pastime as the presidency, and credits Arthur Schlessinger Sr. with launching the systematic "ratings game" back in 1948. But he faults these previous surveys and ratings for several reasons: lack of objective criteria for judging, the ideological biases of the reviewers, fear of conflicting with previous surveys. So he devised his own system, judging the presidents again his seven criteria. The result is what the publisher terms a "surprisingly fresh look at how the various presidents stack up against each other."

Readers agreed, describing the book as "incisive" and "readable," providing "remarkable and thought-provoking insights." Another said "The Leaders We Deserved" was "a hard book to put down."

Only one president received a perfect score of "5" in every category to emerge as Felzenberg's #1, and he will probably comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the poor scores he assigns some of those previously ranked highly by other surveys, and vice versa.

Readers might not agree with all of his choices, or even his methodology, but few will find the book anything less than engaging.

Watch Felzenberg's MSNBC interview on YouTube.

See reviews on Amazon.