Eight presidents died in office, leaving 34 whose subsequent careers make up this remarkably revealing history. Journalists Benardo and Weiss (coauthors of Brooklyn by Name) point out that America's founders believed pensions smacked of royal privilege, so ex-presidents were on their own. Some have handled the transition more gracefully than others.
The invariably sensible George Washington remained solvent, while Jefferson, Madison and Monroe accumulated mountains of debt and died penniless. After the Civil War, entering business became acceptable, but in Grant's case, poor judgment led to disaster. Only when Truman, uninterested in exploiting his name, moved in with his mother-in-law did Congress vote pensions in 1958. Soon after, riches awaited those willing to speak and write memoirs. The authors dub John Quincy Adams and Jimmy Carter our leading postpresidents. Adams served 17 years in the House, a leading antislavery advocate. Carter's diplomatic and humanitarian activities won him a 2002 Nobel Prize.
Even without a formal post, say the authors, just a handful of former presidents have withdrawn into anonymity, and this well-researched, opinionated account does a fine job of filling a surprisingly empty historical niche.