Where the Presidents Went and Why They Went There

By Peter Hannaford Threshold. 338 pp. Paperback, $16

In “Presidential Retreats,” Peter Hannaford explores the places throughout history where our nation’s leaders have kicked up their feet. The result is an engaging book in which each president gets a chapter summarizing his time in office, complete with anecdotes about his private retreat. Hannaford dutifully begins the book with several places most Americans already know about, notably Mount Vernon, Monticello and Montpelier, the sprawling Virginia estates of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

‘Presidential Retreats: Where the Presidents Went and Why They Went There’ by Peter Hannaford (Threshold Editions)

There are also presidential homes that should be new to most readers, including Zachary Taylor’s place near Charles City, Va., which he called “Sherwood Forest” because he considered himself an outlaw, and Andrew Jackson’s old log-cabin homestead, Hermitage, near Nashville.

Despite a few factual errors — Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have ridden a “chestnut bay horse,” since there’s no such coat color — Hannaford deserves praise for the odd and interesting tidbits he’s compiled. Among them: Lincoln was the first and only sitting president to come under direct enemy fire in battle; Theodore Roosevelt’s massive chest muscles helped stop a bullet shot by a would-be assassin; and John F. Kennedy was the first president to have been a Boy Scout.

Hannaford also traces the history of a certain high-security presidential facility with a rustic vibe in the mountains above Thurmont, Md. President Dwight Eisenhower once campaigned to shut down the complex that Franklin D. Roosevelt dubbed “Shangri La.” But Eisenhower changed his mind after visiting the place and renamed it, in honor of his grandson, Camp David.

— T. Rees Shapiro