By TAYLOR HARTZ
A room full of readers and history buffs were able to pick the brain of author and historian David Pietrusza last week, during a book discussion at the Southington Public Library.
Pietrusza added a unique wrinkle during the second discussion of a four-part “Path to the Presidency Series” that began in March. The library hosted a Q&A session with Pietrusza for readers of his book, “1920: The Year of the Six Presidents.”
Sue Smayda, Executive Director of the library, said she wasn’t expecting an author visit to be a part of the series. To her surprise, Pietrusza volunteered. “I’m always exuberant when authors want to come in and talk to readers,” said Smayda.
Pietrusza’s account of the 1920 election focuses on a race for the White House that included six previous or soon-to-be presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Edgar J. Hoover, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. At close to 600 pages, Pietruza said the book came about as a collection of presidential trivia.
Smayda said that when developing the series, she tried to find books that were about exciting presidential elections that would “stimulate lively discussion” about American politics.
The author was joined by Dr. Paul Petterson, Chair of the Political Science Department at Central Connecticut State University, who facilitated the first book discussion, and will lead the next two in May. Last month, Petterson discussed Edward Larson’s “A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America’s First Presidential Campaign.”
Kicking off the Q&A on April 11, Petterson described Pietrusza’s account as interesting and useful, and the professor said it was “an eye opener” for stories about “the sheer human drama of presidents and presidents-to-be.”
Petterson sparked the discussion that compared the 1920 election to today’s election campaigns, and the discussion led readers to ask a variety of questions about the book writing process, the private lives of candidates, and the personal and professional relationships between different presidents.
Pietrusza said that he was fortunate to have a “wealth of characters” and “a wealth of what was going on at the time” when choosing to write about the 1920s. The author discussed the history of the “Red Scare,” women’s suffrage, prohibition, and The League of Nations negotiations.
Before this book, Pietrusza had written historical accounts of Calvin Coolidge, but he actually started his career as a baseball historian. He told readers it took 18-months to write the 592-page book on the 1920s and said that he avoided tying to develop a theme for his writing.
“That requires facts and research to fall into specific theme,’ he said. “I think it’s more of a journey.” Pietrusza’s account covered details of campaigns, childhoods, and marriages.
Since this publication in 2008, he has written five more historical accounts, covering both the 1948 election of Harry S. Truman, and the 1960 presidential race between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
Many readers said they enjoyed the way the book was written, starting with biographies of each candidate, and several commented that they loved being able to relate the book to the 2016 campaigns.
“If you have no concept of history, not only do you now know where you’re going, you don’t know where you are,” said Pietrusza.
Due to popularity, this discussion was larger than others in the series, but many readers said they had attended the last discussion and planned to read all the books.
“Keep coming and tell all of your friends,” said Samayda of the next two discussions.
On May 9, readers will meet at the library to discuss Theodore White’s “The Making of the President 1960” with Petterson, and will conclude the series on May 23 by discussing the 2008 election, after reading Mark Halperin’s “Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime.”
Registration is now open for the rest of the series. To register or for more information, contact the library at 860-628-0947 or visit www.southingtonlibrary.org