The University of Wisconsin Press

American Studies / History / Literature & Criticism / Film Studies / Media Studies


The Presidents We Imagine
Two Centuries of White House Fictions on the Page, on the Stage, Onscreen, and Online
Jeff Smith

Studies in American Thought and Culture

Paul S. Boyer, Series Editor

“Smith's understanding of the sociopolitical realities of US history is impressive; likewise his interpretations of works of literature and popular culture. . . . His writing is fluid and conversational, but every page reveals deep understanding and focus. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”—Choice

"A fresh angle on a popular topic."
Publishers Weekly

In such popular television series as The West Wing and 24, in thrillers like Tom Clancy’s novels, and in recent films, plays, graphic novels, and internet cartoons, America has been led by an amazing variety of chief executives. Some of these are real presidents who have been fictionally reimagined. Others are “might-have-beens” like Philip Roth’s President Charles Lindbergh. Many more have never existed except in some storyteller’s mind.           

In The Presidents We Imagine, Jeff Smith examines the presidency’s ever-changing place in the American imagination. Ranging across different media and analyzing works of many kinds, some familiar and some never before studied, he explores the evolution of presidential fictions, their central themes, the impact on them of new and emerging media, and their largely unexamined role in the nation’s real politics.           

Smith traces fictions of the presidency from the plays and polemics of the eighteenth century—when the new office was born in what Alexander Hamilton called “the regions of fiction”—to the digital products of the twenty-first century, with their seemingly limitless user-defined ways of imagining the world’s most important political figure. Students of American culture and politics, as well as readers interested in political fiction and film, will find here a colorful, indispensable guide to the many surprising ways Americans have been “representing” presidents even as those presidents have represented them.

Jeff Smith is assistant professor at the Center for Management Communication in the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California. He has been a political reporter, commentator, and television news consultant, a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University’s Rothermere American Institute, and the recipient of two Fulbright Fellowships for the study and teaching of American culture.

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the cover of Smith's book is white, with a background of the titles of movies and books. In front, a silhouette of a President behind a podium.

March 2009

LC: 2008039542 PS

400 pp.   6 x 9  
32 b/w illus.


Paper $26.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-23184-2 
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“This is an extraordinarily interesting, beautifully written book, with scores of fascinating insights into the ways that high culture and, increasingly, mass culture, have depicted American presidents.”
—James B. Gilbert, author of Explorations of American Culture

“A dense, terrific book . . . . Smith draws upon dozens, even hundreds, of largely forgotten satires, fantasies, pulp novels, B-movies, and online film reviews to relate the contested image of the presidency both to the immediate political conditions and to shifts in genre.”
—Gregory P. Downs, American Quarterly


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