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Michael Beschloss: Critical Moments, Critical Choices

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Michael Beschloss: Critical Moments, Critical Choices

Election 2008

Michael Beschloss: Critical Moments, Critical Choices

Michael Beschloss: Critical Moments, Critical Choices

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/94102192/94102476" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Michael Beschloss is author of The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 and other books. Alex Wong/Getty Images hide caption

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In Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989, historian Michael Beschloss takes a look at nine crucial moments when a president risked his political career for the good of the country, often by taking an unpopular or controversial stand.

In reviewing strong presidential stands — from George Washington's then-controversial peacemaking with England to Harry Truman's decision to recognize the newly formed state of Israel — the author drew on newly released material including presidential diaries, notes, and Oval Offfice recordings; he also reviewed interviews taped with former presidents once they'd left office. He concludes that while they all ultimately made courageous choices, "none of them was a saint; all of them wanted at times to do the wrong thing, to escape what might be political suicide."

Beschloss is a contributor to PBS' The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and presidential historian for NBC News; he's written eight books on U.S. presidents, including The Conquerers: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany.

This interview first aired on May 8, 2007.