Richard Norton Smith is a nationally recognized authority on the American presidency and a familiar face to viewers of C-SPAN, as well as The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Following graduation from Harvard in 1975, he worked as a White House intern and a speech writer for Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke. In 1979 he went to work for Senator Bob Dole, with whom he collaborated on several volumes of autobiography and political humor.
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), Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993), The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, which received the prestigious Goldsmith Prize awarded by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School, and has been described by Hilton Kramer as “the best book ever written about the press.” In October 2014 Random House published On His Own Terms, a monumental life of Nelson Rockefeller 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.
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 and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and the 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.
Much in demand as a speaker, 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, millions of television viewers heard him deliver 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 at work on a biography of President Ford. Twice a year he personally leads historical tours (www.presidentsandpatriots.com) emphasizing American presidents and history rarely found in the text books.
“There's no excuse for a dull book, a dull museum, a dull speech or a dull tour …” says Mr. Smith. “ … especially when dealing with history – the most fascinating subject I know.”