Richard Norton Smith

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Smith in 2014

Richard Norton Smith (born 1953) is an American historian and author specializing in U.S. presidents and other political figures. In the past, he worked as a freelance writer for The Washington Post, and worked with U.S. Senators Edward Brooke and Bob Dole.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in Leominster, Massachusetts, in 1953, Smith graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1975 with a degree in government. Following graduation he worked as a White House intern and as a free-lance writer for The Washington Post. He became a speech-writer for Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, and then Senator Bob Dole, with whom he has collaborated on numerous projects over the years.


Smith's first major book, Thomas E. Dewey and His Times, was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize. He has also written An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover (1984); The Harvard Century: The Making of a University to a Nation (1986); and Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993).[1] In June 1997, Houghton Mifflin published his biography of Robert R. McCormick The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, which was later reprinted by Northwestern University Press in 2003. It received the Goldsmith Book Prize awarded by Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1998.[2]

In October 2014 Random House published On His Own Terms: A life of Nelson Rockefeller. Smith took fourteen years to write the book and claims that he spent about $250,000 of his own money on the project.[3] In an interview with C-SPAN, he said that Random House provided an advance of $50,000 for the book.[3]

Between 1987 and 2001, Mr. Smith served as Director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa; the Dwight D. Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas; the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Reagan Center for Public Affairs in Simi Valley, California; the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, Michigan respectively.

In December, 2001 Mr. Smith became director of the new Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. There he supervised construction of the Institute's $11.3 million permanent home and launched a Presidential Lecture Series and other high profile programs. In October, 2003 he was appointed the first Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, a four building complex in Springfield, Illinois. The Library opened to the public in 2004 and the Museum opened the next year.

In 2009 Smith was invited by Congress to be one of two historians addressing it on the two hundred anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Earlier, he delivered the final eulogy at Gerald Ford’s Michigan funeral, a role he repeated at Betty Ford’s request when she was laid to rest beside her husband in 2011. Smith is currently[when?] at work on a biography of President Ford. Twice a year he personally leads historical tours [1] emphasizing American presidents and history rarely found in the text books. In March 2014 students at Purdue University went on a historical tour with Smith. This tour was called, The Civic Communicators: Lincoln to Reagan. Among the many stops were: Lincoln Presidential Library, Hoover Presidential Library, Grouseland, and the George Rogers Clark Memorial.


Smith's Rockefeller biography was described by Douglas Brinkley as “one of the greatest cradle to grave biographies written in the past 50 years,” and tagged in advance by Amazon as one of the fall’s Twenty Big Books in Biography and Memoir. On his McCormick biography, historian David M. Kennedy called it a "candid and colorful biography".[4]


  • Thomas E. Dewey and His Times. Simon & Schuster, 1982.
  • Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover. High Plains Publishing, 1990.
  • Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation. Houghton Mifflin, 1993. ISBN 0-395-52442-3.
  • The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick. Northwestern University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-8101-2039-6.
  • On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller. Random House Publishing Group, 2014. ISBN 9780375505805.


  1. ^ "Patriarch". Booknotes interview on C-SPAN. February 21, 1993. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Goldsmith Book Prize". John F. Kennedy School of Government. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Brian Lamb. Q&A; C-SPAN. October 19, 2014.
  4. ^ David M. Kennedy (July 13, 1997). "Whatever It Is, I'm Against It". New York Times. Retrieved January 3, 2010. 

External links[edit]