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Friday, February 1, 2013

The Presidents Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity (audiobook) by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

Very Interesting History of the Modern Presidency

Published by Simon and Schuster Audio in 2012
Read by Bob Walter
Duration: 22 hours, 1 minute

Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, both editors at Time, have delivered a very listenable, fascinating look at each American president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. No matter their political persuasion, their life experiences or their qualities as a human being, all 12 of these men share one thing: they were once President. This is an exclusive club and it seems that just about every president has looked to a former president for a shoulder to lean on, advice or even as a personal envoy sent to convey a sense of urgency to the message.

The story is told in a rough chronological order starting with Truman. When Truman was President there was only one other member of the Presidents Club: Herbert Hoover. Yes, the same Hoover that Truman and FDR disparaged for 12 years. However, to his credit, Truman sent out feelers and discovered that Hoover was still willing and able to help. Together, they set up the ground rules for this "club." Hoover was tapped by Truman to help re-organize the Executive Branch and to get food to Europe at the end of World War II (Hoover did this at the end of World War I as well) and to help re-organize the Executive Branch.

Gibbs and Duffy discuss how each President interacted with his predecessor and his successor and even other presidents (for example, Nixon interacted with every President from Truman to Clinton). Gerald Ford had a similar lengthy history. They also discuss how the "Club" grew and shrank over the years. During Bill Clinton's presidency, there were as many as six members (Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush41 and Clinton). At one point in the Nixon years, there was only Nixon.
The current "Presidents Club" membership: George H.W. Bush (41),
Barack Obama, George W. Bush (43),  Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

If you are a political junkie or a fan of modern American history, this anecdote-filled book is a must-read. It gives a different feel for the men, their personalities and their legacies. For example, I was surprised at how often Johnson reached out to Eisenhower for advice and reassurance concerning the Vietnam War.  I was even more surprised at how often Johnson was out hustled politically by Richard Nixon. I know Johnson was a world class politician, but Nixon maneuvered him and manipulated him throughout 1968. Johnson fared no better in his post-Presidential years.

Nixon comes off as talented but very deeply flawed. The authors quote longtime advisor to multiple presidents Brent Scowcroft calling Nixon a "shit" and former President George H. W. Bush (Bush41) referred to him as "first-rate intellect but also a third-rate person." However, you do have to admire how Nixon calculates how to get to the forefront of American politics again and again and again. Reagan comes off surprisingly cold. Carter, as an enigma. Gerald Ford comes off as principled and maybe even heroic for his decision to pardon Nixon and destroy any chance he had to be elected. The Clinton-Bush41 friendship was a joy to learn about and the source of some of the best stories.

Leadership lessons abound in this book. Every president had his own style in office and some even managed to exert a large influence long after they left office. Some Presidents chart the general path and expect their subordinates to follow it. Others are intimately involved in so many decisions that they are spread too thin. Some are charmers. Some intimidate. Some scheme and plan every move. No matter the president, Gibbs and Duffy take the reader behind the scenes and give a sense of the times and the way their administrations worked.

I found this audiobook to be thoroughly enjoyable. Bob Walter's narration was excellent. He varied his rate, read with a lot of emphasis and made a 22 hour long audiobook fly by. I particularly enjoyed his very slight inflections he put in his quotes. For example, his LBJ quotes had a small amount of Texas twang and his Reagan quotes had his characteristic tone to them (If you were alive during the Reagan Administration, think about his famed "Well...").

I rate this audiobook an enthusiastic 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Presidents Club.

Reviewed on February 1, 2013

Note: This audiobook was provided to me free of charge by the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox's Solid Gold Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review. I honestly thought this was an exceptional audiobook.

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