He was a product of his father’s second marriage. The little boy born February 22, 1732, in the tidewater area of Virginia, had a knack for making it against the odds.

From Washington to Lincoln to Trump to Biden, these are the stories of each president’s childhood—told through fragments and quotes appropriated from more than 300 children’s books, pop history books and scholarly biographies.

Together, they tell the story of boyhood in America, a series of brief portraits that illustrate how growing up has changed and the hurdles have shifted.

From farm boys to aristocrats, a compendium of folklore and facts about the roots of American power.

America’s origin stories, the legends of our leaders, assembled in brief, fascinating compilations.

This updated edition includes a new final chapter on the boyhood of Joseph R. Biden, Jr.!

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Take a tour of American presidential childhoods

A pictorial pop quiz by author William Walsh

* About those numbers...

Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is the 46th President of the United States. But Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president, and he had only one boyhood... thus disrupting the numbering of boys. That's why Biden's boyhood is the 45th described in this book.

The original edition, Forty-four American Boys, was published in 2017.

Praise for the original

"It is said that at the heart of every cliché lies a grain of truth. Each line of this book flickers between cliché and truth, at turns inspiring and insipid, a device that propels a searing political critique. William Walsh demonstrates that, when done well, the selection and arrangement of previously existing texts can result in fabulously original literature."
— Kenneth Goldsmith, author of Capital: New York, Capital of the 20th Century and Wasting Time on the Internet

"In FORTY-FOUR AMERICAN BOYS, William Walsh limns a complete series of cabinet portraits that show how tales, memories, and artifacts create the story of a life. But, of course, these are not just any lives. These are about forty-four of the most ambitious men in American history. By witnessing their childhood, Walsh shows when the commonality of boyhood mixes with the seeds of idealism and determination—the early sparks for the eventual combustion that will create something larger than life. FORTY-FOUR AMERICAN BOYS is a meticulously crafted collage of myth, legend, and fact that tells us as much about these boys as it tells us about ourselves as individuals and as a culture."
— Adam Braver, author of Misfit, Mr Lincoln’s Wars and November 22, 1963

In the media

"Presidential biographies are usually cradle-to-grave tomes or at least cradle-to-end-of-term, written with the idea that a President’s early life somehow shapes his political destiny. There's even a version of this subgenre written for children, so kids can learn how to be like the young George Washington or the young Abe Lincoln... William Walsh explores not only these assumptions, but also the literature that’s built upon them. To create it, he read through hundreds and hundreds of presidential biographies, from Washington to Trump, and out of that experience assembled a singular book, one that takes us across 285 years of American history and into the boyhoods of forty-four men who shaped it, since 1801, from The White House. The result is fascinating: Walsh didn’t write a single word of it, and yet his book is clearly the result of a consummate literary talent. . ." - Marshall Poe in a podcast with William Walsh at New Books Network

". . .I think the lyrical tone comes from the collage of styles that come together in each chapter. There are books quoted from the 19th century—long, complex sentence structures—that are followed by simple sentences from contemporary early-reader books. Of course, I was always on the lookout for amazing sentences—some that were just rhetorically amazing, others that were amazingly fatuous. . . ." - William Walsh in an interview with Curtis Smith at Entropy

". . .I had a two last chapters ready, depending upon the outcome of the election (even though the outcome had seemed, based on all of the polls, to be so assured). The publisher had a revised cover ready before the morning news shows. . ." - William Walsh on The Lost Presidential Chapter at Pleiades

"Many years ago, I took one of my freshman comp classes to the library for a field trip. The goal was to teach them some elementary approaches to research. The subject for all of them was Elvis Presley. I wanted them to find three sources on the King of Rock, locate quotes within those sources to support a thesis statement, and document those sources per APA standards. One student headed straight for the children’s room. I followed and asked her, 'What’s the plan?'. . ." - William Walsh at Necessary Fiction

"This is a one-song playlist: Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” from his 1973 album There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. It’s an appropriate song for a book of appropriated texts on the childhood of the forty-four American Presidents because Simon appropriated the melody from Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion (1727), which Bach had appropriated from a secular German song called "Mein G'müt ist mir verwirret," written a hundred years earlier by Hans Leo Hassler.. . ." - William Walsh at Largehearted Boy

William Walsh is the author of Stephen King Stephen King, Unknown Arts, Ampersand, Mass., Pathologies, Questionstruck and Without Wax. His work has appeared in a number of journals, including Annalemma, Artifice, LIT, Rosebud, Quarterly West, Caketrain, Juked, New York Tyrant, and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. He is the editor of RE:Telling (Ampersand Books), a collection of literary fan fictions featuring the work of 30 authors.

William Walsh
Forty-Five American Boys:
Short Histories of Presidential Childhoods
228 pages
$16.00 paperback ISBN 9781944853822
$9.99 ebook

January 2021

He was a product of his father’s second marriage. The little boy born February 22, 1732, in the tidewater area of Virginia, had a knack for making it against the odds. . .

His father, with his thick moustache and hair combed back, was a stern, formal man who insisted on wearing a tie and jacket at home. A conservative Republican who admired Barry Goldwater, his father forbade his children from cursing. . .

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