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Eyewitness To Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton Paperback – October 2, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Presumed to be 1st as edition is unstated edition (October 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743203224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743203227
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

David Gergen is probably the only person to have served at high levels in both the Reagan and Clinton White Houses--not to mention his posts in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He's a consummate Washington insider, a man who appears regularly as a centrist political commentator on PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and works as editor at large for U.S. News & World Report. Eyewitness to Power, his first book, draws upon this unique experience. It's part memoir, part political history, part portrait of White House culture, but it's mostly a meditation on what it takes to be a great political leader. Gergen focuses on the four presidents he has known best--Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton--and offers pointed assessments of each. He calls Reagan "the best leader in the White House since Franklin Roosevelt," and says Clinton "is one of the smartest men ever elected president and has done some of the dumbest things." Gergen does not hesitate to offer harsh criticism: Nixon was hateful, Ford was overwhelmed by his predecessor's scandals, Reagan was often detached, and Clinton was not in control of his appetites. Yet there's a reflective admiration for each man.

What makes this volume rise above the mountain of books on leadership (usually written for executives) is its spot-on observations about the way Washington works, drawn from years of experience: "Republicans like hierarchy and order; they're not like Democrats, as I saw later on, who thrive on chaos and creativity"; the Nixon view of Watergate "was the same as the Victorians had of adultery: the sin was not in the doing of it but in getting caught"; "In most institutions, the power of a leader grows over time. A CEO, a university president, the head of a union, acquire stature through the quality of their long-term performance. The presidency is just the opposite: power tends to evaporate quickly."

Gergen concludes by describing the seven leadership qualities a great president must have: personal integrity, a sense of mission, the ability to persuade, the ability to work with other politicians, a strong start after inauguration, skilled advisers, and the ability to inspire. Those traits, of course, will serve people well from all walks of life--and Eyewitness to Power will appeal not just to readers interested in the presidency but to anyone occupying a position of responsibility (or interested in getting there). --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Few observers are as qualified to comment on the merits of presidential leadership as is Gergen, having served as a speechwriter and adviser to fourchief executives. In these finely etched tales of his time with Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, Gergen not only explains what made these men tick but also draws broader lessons on what makes for presidential greatness. It begins, he says, with strength of character; then a president must have a clear and compelling vision of what he wants to accomplish, and must be able to communicate this vision to the American people. Organizationally, he must be able to work with other centers of political power, particularly Congress; be decisive in his early actions in office; and have around him strong and prudent advisors. Finally, he must inspire. This is a lot to ask of any leader, and Gergen admits that none of those for whom he worked quite had it all, though in his estimation Reagan came closest. Both Nixon and Clinton were men of brilliance, he says, yet harbored deeply flawed characters; Ford was honest and capable but never quite defined his goals. Reagan, for all his considerable virtuesAcourage, conviction, visionAtoo often allowed his inattention to detail and hands-off management style to derail his intentions. While some may debate Gergen's assessments, his own eye for detail and knack for narrative are to be admired. He brings to life the everyday world of the presidency and provides telling portraits of these fallible yet fascinating leaders. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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All in all Gergen has written a probative, very good book.
Edward F. Weber
His book summarizes those experiences, and then concludes with leadership qualities a President must have.
Loyd E. Eskildson
These are good lessons (told well) that I hope our next president understands.
Dan Sherman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Dan Sherman VINE VOICE on October 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Mike Donovan on December 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Dixon on August 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Jussi Bjorling on September 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Ruffini on July 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover
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.
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