American presidents are unlike other heads of state. Their lives and deeds echo far beyond the shores of their own land. More than any royal dynasty, the men who have occupied this high office have shaped the destiny of the world. That is why, as an African-American prepares to join their ranks for the first time, millions of people of all nationalities are hoping that Barack Obama's inauguration will mark a turning-point in human affairs.
This week-long series of booklets is a celebration of the most important job on Earth. It chronicles the achievements and failures of some of the most influential people who have ever lived. To read their stories in sequence is to feel the great tides of history at work: the clashes of ideologies, races and empires; the painful evolution of democratic principles; the noble and dubious military adventures; the panics, crashes and recoveries. Drawn from a wide range of sources (including, in most cases, official White House biographies), these are narratives that will inform your understanding of both past and present. In selected cases, leading historians such as Norman Stone, Lisa Jardine and Simon Schama have written definitive essays to add further perspective.
The remaining presidents are dealt with in articles which will be published on independent.co.uk over the next six days.
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