David Pietrusza has written a number of well-received books on presidents and presidential elections, but he has no desire to take a real close look at more recent history.
“I have half an eye on Trump, but the history I write requires a lot of time to give you some perspective,” said Pietrusza, an Amsterdam native and Glenville resident who will be giving a virtual presentation on the U.S. presidency Sunday at 7 p.m. for Washington, DC History & Culture, a non-profit group based in the nation’s capital with nearly 50,000 members. “I used to do commentary on breaking news, and I would think to myself, ‘man, let’s wait 48 hours until more stuff comes in.’ Spiro Agnew called it instant analysis, but I like to have decades of information to work with.”
Along with eight presidential works, Pietrusza has produced three books on the history of baseball, and most recently he published a personal memoir, “Too Long Ago,” about growing up in Amsterdam.
“I fought against doing this for a variety of reasons,” said Pietrusza, whose book came out in October of 2020 and is subtitled, “A Childhood Memory: A Vanished World. A Family. A City. A Rust Belt Tale.” “What could go wrong? Who can I offend? A memoir is about yourself and can be very personal, sometimes even painful. Then you wonder to yourself who’s going to be interested in reading it.”
At the insistence of a friend, Pietrusza grudgingly went ahead with the project.
“My wife and I took out this woman to dinner, one of our closest friends, who asked me to do it as a gift for her,” said Pietrusza. “I decided to cut it off at college and maybe I’ll come up with 20,000 words. Well, I came up with 80,000 words, writing about Amsterdam. Sometimes these stories die if you don’t tell them, and they deserve to be remembered. It’s done pretty well so I’m happy I did it. It was a relatively painless process.”
Pietrusza was recently interviewed by former WGY newsman Bob Cudmore for his podcast, “The Historians.”
“Dave Pietrusza has created a detailed memoir that Amsterdam natives wherever they may live will find fascinating,” said Cudmore, who also recently featured Pietrusza in one his Daily Gazette columns, Focus on History. “He recounts in poignant and fascinating detail his upbringing in the former Rug City. Dave is well suited to this task because of the books he has researched and written on American presidents and baseball.”
Another Amsterdam historian, Michael Cinquanti, who was elected mayor of the city in November of 2020, hasn’t had the time to read Pietrusza’s memoir yet, but it’s definitely on his list of things to do.
“Dave is a really talented writer, and he really brings the words on the page to life,” said Cinquanti, who has also written books on the history of Amsterdam. “I was thrilled to hear that he was doing a book on Amsterdam. I’ve read his book on 1920 and his book on the Can-Am Baseball League, and he is a masterful writer. He’s a great storyteller.”
A 1971 University at Albany alum who retired as a state worker in 2007, Pietrusza has developed a national following as an author since that time, initially with books on baseball before switching to presidential politics. Prior to writing his memoir last year, he produced “TR’s Last War: Theodore Roosevelt, The Great War, and a Journey of Triumph and Tragedy.” Also, along with writing two books on Calvin Coolidge, he has produced four works that focus on significant years in presidential politics, including “1920,” “1932,” “1948,” and “1960.”
The 1920 work, subtitled “The Year of the Six Presidents,” was named one of the best books of the year in 2007 by Kirkus Reviews.
“That book was very well received and is probably the prize of the fleet,” said Pietrusza. “It was quite a year and it’s still being looked at as a possible six-part TV series. Greenlighting projects during this time is not so easy, but we’ll see what happens with it.”
Pietrusza’s favorite president and perhaps the most underrated is Calvin Coolidge, a Vermont native, Massachusetts governor and U.S. vice president who became president upon the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923 and then was elected to his own four-year term in 1924.
“I was kind of shy and closed-mouth as a kid, and it was also hard for Cal to go up and meet people, so I can identify with that,” said Pietrusza. “He was also a very good writer, perhaps because he was so terse. But he wrote a beautiful passage about his mother that is like poetry. For clear, crisp prose it’s a great read.”
Union College alum Chester Arthur, U.S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman are four more very fascinating chief executives according to Pietrusza.
“It’s interesting to see how the presidential rankings change over time,” he said. “Truman went out looking pretty much like a dud, and many people thought Eisenhower was just sort of marking time. Those are two men in my lifetime whose ratings have improved, and Chester Arthur from our own backyard and Grant, who also has a strong tie to this area, have had rising reputations.”
While the COVID-19 Pandemic has curtailed Pietrusza’s in-person book talks, he is becoming quite comfortable with on line presentations. He has done programs for the Calvin Coolidge Association, Fordham University and two high schools in the past year.
“I actually hosted my own Zoom event over the holidays, and I’ve done a lot of others where you sit in with other people,” he said. “Moving to this format you can actually draw more people, and sometimes it’s a lot better than going outside on a dark and stormy night.”
Pietrusza and Cudmore are planning on doing two live events with the Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam sometime in February. The first event will be a Zoom presentation on Feb. 9, a Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
“Previously, authors would just be up at the podium and let it rip and maybe answer a few questions at the end,” said Pietrusza. “Now you see guys sitting down in a chair with a moderator bouncing questions off of you. Well, we’re going to do that with Bob, because he was the obvious choice, and we also hope to do a limited crowd, socially-distant event at the museum, also in February.”
In all of his research on some of the most significant men in world history from the 20th century, one name keeps on popping up: Roosevelt, and not necessarily Teddy or Franklin.
“I never made a conscious decision to write about the Roosevelts, but you just can’t avoid it,” said Pietrusza. “You keep on bumping into them. In my books on 1920, ‘32, ‘48 and ‘60, the person who shows up in all of them, and not just as a footnote, is Eleanor Roosevelt. Even in 1960 she’s there, and I ended up liking her more than I thought I would.”
Pietrusza’s presentation on Sunday at 7 p.m. is free to the public. For more information visit https://www.meetup.com/DCHistoryAndCulture/events/275493060/