American Presidents by David Levine

American Presidents by David Levine (amazon)

American Presidents provides a study of American history in the form of caricature through a selection of works from David Levine of the New York Review of Books. Although I’ve seen his caricatures before, this was my first time sitting down with a collected volume of his work. The book is more expansive than the title suggests, because the drawings also include portraits of presidential candidates, cabinet members, and supreme court nominees in addition to the caricatures of the presidents. Some of my favorites were Eleanor Rosevelt’s face perched on a swan’s body, the legacy of the Kennedy hairdo, and Nancy Regan as a nutcracker with a walnut clenched between her teeth.

I enjoyed the artist’s commentary printed below some of the pieces, and I wish that the commentary section had been expanded a bit because it was interesting to read about which caricature prompted death threats and which the political figures were the easiest to draw. This book is coming out later this month, so it would have been impossible to collect extensive caricatures of the most recent presidential campaign by the time it went to press. The final chapter presents quick portraits of many of the people who ran for the president in 2008, including Rudy Giuliani, John Edwards, Hilary Clinton, John McCain, and Barack Obama.

I was curious about a dramatic shift in technique used for the Obama drawing until I read a Vanity Fair article that reports Levine is going blind. American Presidents is a worthwhile survey of a political cartoonist’s career. This book is a good pick for public and academic libraries wishing to add to their collections of political cartoons.

Review copy provided by the publisher.