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VINE VOICEon October 27, 2000
I read this book knowing that Gergen had worked (mostly in the communications area) with four presidents -- Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. He has always impressed as a intelligent, fair-minded commentator on the political scene who is not overtly partisan, always a good thing in a commentator. This book helped maintained the tradition, in that it gavce what I though were very fair portraits of the presidents Gerger worked with -- sometime admiring, sometimes not.
The book has a number of strengths. Part of is political history, part biography. You a get sense from reading the books of what the times were in which each president served and what the public expected and got from them. He is quite frank in discussing what the strengths and weaknesses of the presidents were (with some side reflections on Carter and Bush) and tries to sort out why some presidents are successful and others not. I found most of his appraisals (one at a time and then in summary) both well-articualted and generally convincing.
I know one reviewer here says Gergen namedrops -- I don't think he does. He is mostly telling an "I was there" story and then giving his sense of what it all meant. He is in no way aggrandizing or trying to clain an unreasoable role for himself.
For me, the best part of the books was discussion of what makes a president effective (admittedly something that changes with time). It seems to a mix of character, ability to connect with people, and in terms of leadership, the ability to focus on a few issues (esepcially early in a term) and to build consensus in the country. These are good lessons (told well) that I hope our next president understands.
My one hope on this book is that Gergen revisits it or at least fills us in some forum us on how the new president is doing. The book is a nice mix of history and an interpretation of presidential leadership.
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on December 26, 2000
EYEWITNESS TO POWER is an excellent book on several levels.
One, David Gergen is obviously a pro who has, "been there, done that," and has some truly fascinating insights into the daily workings of the White House under Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. I was most taken with his fair treatment of all of these leaders.He tells many tales of the men - warts and all. Gergen offers praise that might surprise you at times and gets tough at times on presidents he clearly admired.
Two, Gergen does a remarkable job of describing the Nixon White House - before, during and after Watergate. He has plenty bad to say about the demons that haunted Nixon and the hurt it did our country. However, he also looks at Nixon in a balanced perspective that stresses the intellect of the former president and his truly amazing abilities in the international arena. It is during Gergen's look at the Nixon presidency that we see the highs and lows all equally presented and Gergen telling it as he saw it. It is clear he had a great respect for Nixon's strategic mind. At the same time, he gives us an intriguing look at Nixon's personality that foretold his downfall.
Three, This is a book about leadership. EYEWITNESS TO POWER should be read by all of those in positions of leadership - whether in the public sector, private enterprise or running a local organization. He focuses on the leadership abilities of all four of these men and has some very astute observations that will benefit men and women to become better and more effective leaders.
Four, Gergen comes from the communications field. This brings a superb look at these presidents from the perspective of a speechwriter and offers much help to those starting out in public relations and/or journalism.
Finally, Gergen, as a Republican, had an interesting tenure with President Clinton that is described with wit and with a sense of disappointment with what might have been. He is clear about his respect for Bill Clinton's political mind and calls him one of our brightest presidents. On the other hand, he saw a president not quite grown up and "settled down" (no further explanation necessary). However, the bottom line on Bill Clinton is he thinks he is a good man who has a few character flaws that prevented him from being a possibly great president. This portion of the book is very fair and balanced from a lifelong Republican political operative.
I can highly recommend EYEWITNESS TO POWER, not just for political or history junkies, but for anyone who is looking to lead a company, an organization, or maybe even a nation! Gergen, with great insight - gives us a great read.
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on August 17, 2000
I was fascinated to read about the day-to-day working behavior of Clinton, Ford, Reagan and Nixon from a true insider. Without being a "kiss and tell" author, Gergen gave me keen insight into the personal behavior of four fascinating Presidents and their use of power. Gergen also draws 7 relevant guidelines for evaluating future Presidents -- a timely roadmap for November 2000 !
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on September 17, 2000
Many people have written insider memoirs of the White House. Gergen's is different primarily because he draws interesting contrasts among the different administrations (and different political parties) for which he worked. The book is at its best when Gergen steps into the background: his career, while often impressive, is not especially interesting, and he doesn't have terribly profound insights into himself. When making observations about Reagan and (especially) Clinton, however, he's at his best.
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on July 13, 2001
David Gergen has written a very worthwhile book even if his conclusions are not very original (in the introduction, Gergen admits this himself). The New Republic has called Gergen the guardian of Washington's conventional wisdom (and they meant it as a compliment). Eyewitness to Power is in keeping with this fine tradition, and doesn't stray much beyond it.
Essentially, Gergen offers his inside assessment of the four Presidents he has served -- Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. His account of the Nixon years is very balanced, but the most distant of all: as a mid-level staffer in an Administration that limited access to the Oval Office, Gergen could only get so close. Nonetheless, his informed speculation about both the grandiose aspirations and the dark side of Richard Nixon is enlightening and poignant. How could a man who accomplished so much feel so insecure as to pursue that catastrophic a course of action against his political opponents? We will never know, but Gergen lays out the evidence nicely.
The Reagan section is really the only place where Gergen can be faulted for not including more reflections on his day-to-day experiences. As a former top aide in the Reagan White House, one would expect more in the way of such recollections. For the most part, though, Gergen spends his time synthesizing others' accounts of Reagan, and fortunately, he does an excellent job of it. Though perhaps not his primary purpose in this book, Gergen proves his worth as an historian.
Only during the Clinton years do we get any sort of "kiss-and-tell" accounts. Beyond the titilating forebodings of Monica, Gergen does give the serious reader useful revelations on the early Clinton White House: how Clinton's flawed transition hobbled his ability to govern, how the youthful Arkansas Governor viewed the '92 campaign as a practice run for 1996, how Clinton had never expected to win early on, and how this hurt him when he got to the White House. Because the Clinton section is so short on the historical inquiry that dominate the book's earlier sections, Eyewitness to Power is a somewhat skizophrenic -- but still valuable -- work.
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on September 11, 2000
In the preface to this meditation on presidential substance and style, Author David Gergen makes one of the great understatements of our time: "I do not promise that these thought will be strikingly original." As Gergen predicts, this book shows little imagination, and he could just as easily have written that he is, in fact, presenting an extended exercise in the conventional wisdom. Nevertheless, Gergen worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, as well as on President Bush's campaign, and with President Carter after he left office. As a result, Gergen has had the opportunity to know every chief executive of the United States since1969, and he must have some insights into the essential elements of presidential leadership. At least that is what I expected.
What I am about to do is a bit unfair because I am taking Gergen's words out of context, but here are a few examples of Gergen's less-than-incisive observations: "Like so much else in the Nixon operation, the zeal to win, to control every detail, to make the trains run on time, went completely overboard;" "Jerry Ford had a mind of his own about what he wanted;" "There was a continual jockeying for power and for Reagan's ear;" and "Clinton had slipped on one banana peel after another." Gergen is one of the current crop of journalists who have raised political punditry to an art form. He is not Walter Lippmann, but neither is Gergen, a graduate of Harvard Law School, an ink-stained wretch or a hack. And that is why I expected more from him.
Why does this book fail to provide depth of insight? This is what I suspect happened: The publisher, and perhaps Gergen himself, wanted to get it into print during the 2000 campaign. The text covers a lot of ground, and given the self-imposed deadline pressure, there simply was not time for judicious rewriting and careful editing. As a result, a lot of the prose is flabby, and there is at least one embarrassing gaffe, when Gergen refers to "Mr. Chips goes to Washington." (Film enthusiasts certainly will recognize "Mr. Chips" as the much-beloved English schoolteacher, while "Mr. Smith" was the unsophisticated senator.) Nevertheless, I believe that this is a good book which has the potential for greatness. For instance, about midway through the book, Gergen writes: "At the heart of leadership is the leader's relationship with followers." That may border on triteness, but I believe it is an important concept. If Gergen had carefully examined the leader-follower relationship for each of the presidents he studies, we might have gained real insight into how the public decides who will lead and then how the president goes about leading. Instead, too much of this book is devoted to inside-the-Beltway blather. The descriptive chapters of this book are, therefore, somewhat disappointing. The final chapter, entitled "Seven Lessons of Leadership," is prescriptive but also less than persuasive. For instance, Gergen asserts that "integrity is the most important [personal attribute] for a president." That may be a valuable principle for a civics class, but I submit that it has little to do with practical reality. Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were well known for their ethical lapses and each got elected president twice. Jimmy Carter was a man of high character but a nearly utter failure as president. And telling us the president must have a "capacity to persuade," tells us little we do not already know. No one can get nominated, let alone elected, without the power of persuasion, but some presidents are better preachers from the bully pulpit than others. The question, of course is: Why? For all of his experience in public life, Gergen has not yet given enough thought to the lessons he can draw from that experience.
Sometime before the election of 2004, I urge Gergen to return to his computer, cut the text by about one-third, but triple the penetrating analysis. The result, I predict, would be a genuine contribution to the popular literature about what it takes to be a leader in the most powerful elected office in the world.
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on February 18, 2003
In the days of tell all books written for a quick buck, Gergan's work is not only impressive but also refreshing. Gergan leaves the dirty little secrets writing to others while he shares his experiences severing four different Presidents.
He focuses a lot not only on the personality of the presidents but also their management style. He also takes into account the factors that influenced each administration.
Eyewitness to power mixes together part of Gergan's autobiography, presidential history, and lesson on management.
If your interested in the inner workings of White House, stop watching television shows and read Gergans work for true insight on how four different Presidents operated their White House staffs.
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VINE VOICEon March 28, 2005
This book really helped coalesce in my mind that sometimes it's not the party, it's the man. By serving Presidents from both parties, Gergen forces Republican and Democratic readers to set aside their party loyalty to confront the reality that both parties have had recent Presidential successes and failures.

For example, I was a proud Reagan youth who didn't vote for Clinton in 1992 However, by 1996 I had to admit that Clinton was doing an excellent job of leading the country in spite of my party's obstructionist activities that only hurt the country. Gergen explains how Clinton was able to overcome and succeed in spite of opponents intent on political destruction rather than serving their country.

Gergen also provides excellent examples of what many of us realized by 1984 about Reagan, that while his rhetoric mainly appealed to the conservative right, Reagan was truly a President to all Americans and governed from the middle.

If are you interested in presidential politics and care more about the country than you do about your party, this is a great case study. If you are a senior manager responsible for large numbers of people, this book is also an excellent manual on managerial success using your own style and approach. If you are looking for ammunition to do battle against ideological opponents, this is not the book for you.
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VINE VOICEon June 29, 2004
Eyewitness to Power was an unexpected pleasure. I have watched Gergen as a pundit for years and thought that he, while articulate, was a little too milktoast for me. I picked up this book on a lark, and once I began to read it, never set it down.
I have read countless business books on leadership in business. Most, if not all, paint the picture of the perfect unerring leader. Gergen, on the other hand, writes about what he observed - the strengths and the warts of those he served while in the White House. As a result, he has written what has become my favorite book on leadership.
Leaders come in different shapes and sizes, with different skills and experiences. And Gergen shows how each of these Presidents used their unique skills and experience to lead. Some better than others.
This is a book that should be a must read in all MBA programs as it tells the story of real leadership and not some fictional, unattainable ideal.
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on February 27, 2004
After giving a first hand account of four U.S. Presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton), David Gergen provides qualities which make a good leader. This, however, though it is the conclusion of the book, isn't the most beneficial part of the book. By giving in depth accounts of four different presidencies you see how one President runs the country so much different form another. Also it gives the analysis of events from a point of view that is very uncommon. It really makes it so you can begin to know the real men who served in the oval office, not the man that the media portrayed. Sure, Gergen has his biases, but if you can look through them, you can get an amazing picture of the some of the more recent Presidents.
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