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'Don't Know Much About the American Presidents': Kenneth C. Davis reveals strange facts about America's leaders

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As the nation stands on the cusp of Election Day, following a 220-year tradition that formally began with Washington in 1789, Davis is happy to remind us of how we, and POTUS (that would be the President of the United States), got here. Following are excerpts from a recent conversation Davis had with the Monitor on mudslinging campaigns, overlooked presidencies and more.

In the introduction, you mention a school project from 1963 about the presidents and your admiration for JFK. Is he still your favorite president?

I would not say he’s my favorite president. The history behind that ... and I’m actually holding it in my hands as we speak, this piece of art, as I call it, from 1963, my third-grade school project. I did go to the Holmes School in Mount Vernon, New York, of course named for Washington’s famous plantation and, obviously, when I was nine years old, I was still thinking about this stuff. Of course, October 1963 was a month before the world changed for all of us in the loss of Kennedy.

When I look back at this [childhood] book, which I wrote 49 years ago, it’s funny because I did ask questions from the first page. So I was obviously interested in information about history from a young age. And I say this very, very seriously, I also have on my desk a toy wooden revolver that I was given as a souvenir from going to Gettysburg in the summer of 1963.

It’s very significant to me because I remember being a young boy standing in that field and having this palpable sense of something extraordinary having happened in that battlefield – not really understanding the issue of war, of course, but having a sense that history happened here. That sense that history is something that happened to real people in real places is a fundamental sense I had largely because my parents took us to places like Gettysburg and Valley Forge and Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York on campaign trips. It can’t just be a recitation of dates and battles and legislation and court decisions.

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