Thursday, October 13, 2016

Book 46: The President's Club

"For the former presidents, the club can be a vital, sometimes surprising benefit of post-presidential life. They have relinquished power, but not influence; and so their influence becomes a piece of the sitting president's power. They can do more together than apart, and they all know it; so they join forces as needed, to consult, complain, console, pressure, protect, redeem."

Dates read: April 25-30, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Books are the best but hardest present to give. Someone liking a book you bought them feels so much deeper than liking a piece of jewelry or a new gadget. It feels like a genuine connection. But books-as-gifts are really hard to get right. What if the recipient doesn't care for the genre, or doesn't like the writing? It's not fail safe, but as a person who likes to buy books as gifts, I try to find a non-fiction book about something the recipient is interested in. Like The President's Club, which was a gift to my presidential history nerd husband and I borrowed because I thought it looked interesting too!

Despite having worked in politics for a few years now, presidents have never been a particular area of interest for me (perhaps because of my legal background, I tend to gravitate towards writing about the courts). Many presidential biographies feel too much like hagiographies for my tastes. But Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy's The President's Club covers an angle I wouldn't have given much thought to: how do those in the Oval Office relate to those whose tenure there is over, and vice versa? 

The list of former presidents is pretty short: there's only 43 of them, and there's never more than a handful (if any) still living. Assuming nothing happens to anyone before the end of Obama's term, there will be five of them. Many of them go on to do charitable work for causes they feel strongly about, but they don't tend to be the kind of people to just go away quietly once their time in the spotlight is over. They tend to meddle, either to the good or ill of the current tenant at the White House, and part of that depends on how the current president uses them. 

Gibbs and Duffy's book explores the relationships of the post-WW2 presidents, comparing and contrasting as they go along. As someone relatively unfamiliar with many of the presidents (I'm informed for an average person, but since the presidency isn't a particular interest, I'm not even close to actually informed), I found the book absolutely fascinating. I found it especially compelling to look at how each president related to their predecessor as opposed to those who came after them: for example, Truman's willingness to reach out to and ask for help from Hoover (and the close relationship they ended up having) informs his obvious hurt when Eisenhower apparently wanted nothing to do with him, particularly considering that they had been close during Truman's presidency and Truman had even encouraged him to run for office. Death and scandal unite the club, illustrating that for all of personal emotional threads that may or may not unite the men within it, it's really fundamentally about ensuring the legacy and protecting the role of the presidency itself.

I think there's a basic human urge to want to find people who have important things in common with you to hang out with. I know that one of the reasons I blog, besides enjoying the sound of my own voice (so to speak, anyways) is that I enjoy being part of a community of people who really love books and reading. I would never personally want to run for or become the president, but I can only imagine if I were to be, how grateful I would be to have the people around who'd done it before and be able to join with them when I was done to support the new kid. Even if politics isn't your usual thing, this book is much more about the relationships between people. I really enjoyed it and I think you will too!

Tell me, blog you have a favorite president?

One year, ago, I was reading: Unbelievable 


  1. I have had this book on my shelf for quite awhile and this was the perfect reminder to pick it up. Thank you!

    1. I really liked it...and with election time almost upon us, it would be a perfect topical read!