Sunday, December 02, 2018

Recommended: UNPRESIDENTED: A BIOGRAPHY OF DONALD TRUMP by Martha Brockenbrough

I haven't done a rigorous study of biographies of US presidents. The ones I have looked at over the years are lacking in one way or another. Most leave out Native peoples and nations that presidents interacted with--or the information that is included, is biased.

In Who Was George Washington? (one of the books in the very popular "Who Was" series published by Penguin), we read that when he was young, George Washington worked as a surveyor--someone who measures and marks property boundaries--to make money. It was "a rough life" in the "wilderness," sleeping on the ground, cooking over open fires, and, he had to "steer clear of hostile bands of Indians" (page 18). That book came out in 2009. Many people in children's literature think that Russell Freeman wrote excellent nonfiction for kids, but his writing was biased, too. In his biography of Abraham Lincoln, he wrote that Lincoln's father was "shot dead by hostile Indians in 1786, while planting a field of corn in the Kentucky wilderness" (p. 7). Titled Lincoln: A Photobiography, it won the Newbery Medal in 1988. I hope that a book that has bias like that in it would not be selected, today, for that medal.

Was Washington racist? What about Lincoln? And--are the authors of those books racist? The point: there's a lot to consider in how someone writes about a president.

Let's turn now to Martha Brockenbrough's Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump, due out on December 4th from Feiwel and Friends. Anybody who has followed the news about the current president of the US knows that he's said a great many racist and sexist things. Brockenbrough doesn't shy away from any of that. I'm glad it is all here, documented, for young adults (the book is marketed for kids from age 12-17). I'm also glad that she's included information about Native people.

On page 98 she provides an account of trump's (I do not use a capital letter for his name) 1993 testimony at a hearing in Congress, at the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Native American Affairs. She quotes him saying that "they don't look like Indians to me..." He was talking about Native people of tribal nations in Connecticut who had casinos that hurt "little guys" like him. At the time, trump was trying to make a deal with the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

A few pages later, Brockenbrough provides readers with the name of another tribal nation. In 2004, the Twenty-Nine Palms Band of Mission Indians ended their contract with trump's hotel and casino company, because his company was in financial trouble.

It is terrific to see Brockenbrough being tribally specific. By naming these nations, she is pushing back on a widespread ignorance in the US. Too many people use the word "Indians." And it often leads people to think of Native peoples in stereotypical ways.

Another good point of Unpresidented is information on page 100, about tribal membership. Succinctly, Brockenbrough writes that tribal nations make determinations about their citizens. What they look like doesn't matter.

Oh! Another thing to note is the part about arrowheads! It tells us a lot about the trump family and its values. I recommend Unpresidented and welcome your comments if you read it. And--kudos to Brockenbrough for writing this book! Reading the news every day is tough on my psyche. Spending the time necessary to write this very comprehensive and in-depth book must have taken a toll on her.


Ava Jarvis said...

This makes me regret spending money on FEAR that I could have spent on this book instead and gotten better information out of. (Maybe I can afford UNPRESIDENTED next year, or maybe UNPRESIDENTED will be available for loan from FEAR is more useful for receipts vis a vis 2015-onwards bad behavior, and a little bit of White House ghost stories, but UNPRESIDENTED sounds like it's actually useful for understanding where a certain person came from and how they work.

As for the current President, I tend to call him rump out of habit. This has the advantage of being harder for robots and far-right supporters to hate-search and harass on social media, if one wants to go there anymore.

Presidential biographies really do tend to doctor everything. There are even little books that claim to biographically summarize presidents that boil down to "Har har this one committed genocide but really he had a good sense of humor" and it's just very distorting. If we're never going to confront the past we'll find it very hard to move past it.

?eh?eh naa tuu kwiss said...

The book can be preordered on Amazon for $10.99 for the Kindle edition delivered by Dec. 4th. cheap and accessible seems to be the way they are going.
Media of all sorts tends to distort the lives of the people they report on because its a medium and the problem is that as MacLuhan said it becomes the message...Our problem as a public is that we really see so little even when this President tweets directly. I know how I tweet and represent myself in the media that I use...I wouldn't like to be judged by whatever people garner from my informal communications.I have ordered my copy...and will see how it reads.

Ava Jarvis said...

I don't have income due to disability, so $10.99 is not actually cheap to me. It's out of my reach.

As for distortion, I was referring more to "this fellow committed genocide, but it really didn't mean he was a bad person, let's go into details about all the positive aspects and none of the negative ones." I'm quite aware that you can't fit a person into any medium.

Anonymous said...

If you haven't ordered your copy already, you should preorder it from Queen Anne Book Company ( and support a local bookseller!

Debbie, I'm so happy to see this great review of Martha Brokenbrough's book! I am definitely going to buy a copy for my library and put a "lavender star" (which is my way to indicate a book is Debbie Reese Approved!)

Amy Miller - Ronan, Mt.

Sam Jonson said...

Debbie, I've a question. Why exactly be it that thou dost not use a capital letter in "Trump"? Is it thy version of LeBron James's and Neil Young's "so-called president" or something? Because I'm not certain as to why thou doest it.

Sam Jonson said...

Also, something I should have mentioned earlier--Unpresidented is a great antidote to that bad, baaad book about Trump put out by Scholastic, don't you think?