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The Presidents Collection (American Experience) - documentary DVD / PBS DVD review
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating: 5 stars
  Studio: PBS/Paramount
DVD release: 26 August 2008   Runtime: 2255 min. (15 discs)
Format: Box set, Color, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Audio tracks (English - Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround), Closed Captioned, Mini-docs, Profiles, Filmmakers, Galleries, "Kennedy Family Tree," Teacher's Guide, Bonus videos

The spectacular PBS American Experience DVD Collection is stellar and truly should be required viewing for all high school students, if not all adult American citizens. It gives a comprehensive and in-depth look at some of the most fascinating Presidents our country has had. Nearly 35 hours of footage covers the following US Presidents:

  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Woodrow Wilson (2 discs)
  • FDR (2 discs)
  • Truman (2 discs)
  • The Kennedys (2 discs)
  • LBJ
  • Nixon
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Reagan (2 discs)
  • George H.W. Bush

My husband and I have not made it through the entire thirty-five hours yet, but we are slowly working our way through the discs. Footage and interviews (some with very famous influential people such as Mikhail Gorbachev) as well as historical documentation are collated to provide the viewer with a glimpse into the lives and presidencies of these great men. The DVD collection is informative as well as entertaining; PBS is known for its quality work with documentaries, and The Presidents Collection is no exception.

Hopefully in the future, PBS will have a second set including discs on Eisenhower, Ford, Clinton, and George W. Bush. It threw my husband a bit that the Kennedy disc covered all of the political Kennedys rather than just JFK, since this is billed as "The Presidents" collection. But these are minor quibbles and don't detract from the quality of the collection.

Each disc contains a pdf guide for teachers or others looking for further study and experiences. There are questions for discussion, additional activities, and vocabulary words specific to each president ("Iran-Contra" for Reagan, for example). This feature will be helpful for teachers wanting to assist their students in understanding the information presented. In addition, the Woodrow Wilson and Kennedys DVDs also contain multiple featurettes.

The discs are not all sappy, praise-filled biographies, either. PBS took a hard look at what each of these men did, and while there is definite praise for good things, there is also critical analysis as well. This elevates the collection in my eyes: it doesn't feel like a puff piece, but rather an in-depth critical study of the what these men accomplished - and failed to accomplish - during their Presidencies.

Although this DVD collection is a bit pricey, it is absolutely worth the price and viewers will not be disappointed with the depth of material presented. A must-watch for any history buff - but it could make a history buff out of anyone who watches this collection!


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reviewed by Melissa Parcel
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