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Fraternity: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents Hardcover – September 28, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400054648
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400054640
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,842,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

With his warm, affable syndicated columnist's voice, bestselling author Greene (Once Upon a Town, etc.) searches out the coterie of U.S. ex-presidents, that "smallest and most exclusive fraternity in the world." Starting with a rare 1983 tête-à-tête with Nixon, Greene interviews Carter, Bush Sr. and Ford. (Reagan's absence is due to his illness; the obvious omission of Clinton is never explained.) Avoiding talk of policy and politics, Greene delves into the safe minutiae of presidential lives: he peppers the fraternity with inane queries about exercise routines ("Is the Secret Service around when you do your sit-ups?"), wardrobe, favorite songs and movies (Ford's is Mrs. Doubtfire), the novelty of sleeping in the White House and wounded feelings over partisan name-calling. Above all, he goggles at their unfathomable fall from exalted supercelebrity to approachable semicelebrity. "Can you just go into a clothing store?" Greene demands of Ford. "What about that whole thing of going into the changing room?" Greene's few wrestlings with the meaning of the office ("It's like you're president of every town," he blurts to a preternaturally patient Bush) can verge on the inchoate. Carter, with a more substantial postpresidential public life than the others, receives the most substantial profile as a serious, tight-lipped micro-manager.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Bob Greene's back, and the good news is he's found a topic that doesn't have anything to do with his younger self or with growing up in the bucolic 1960s. The bad news is he manages to inject himself into the middle of the narrative anyway. When last we saw Greene, he had just lost his job as a Chicago Tribune columnist over an inappropriate relationship; he's been lying low ever since the scandal, shunning the usual TV mea culpas. Instead, he's used the time to brush up a manuscript he had been apparently working on for a while: American history through the lenses of five past presidents--Nixon, Carter, Bush, Ford, and Reagan. Beginning with an interview of Nixon at his nondescript New York office and ending at a dinner that Ronald Reagan was supposed to attend but didn't because of Alzheimer's, the interviews find Greene working the "man-behind-the-president" angle. Consequently, there are many questions along the lines of this one to President Ford: "What is your favorite movie?" (Mrs. Doubtfire!) Still, the presidents' postpresidential lives come through interestingly. As usual, though, the book is as much about Greene as the "fraternity" of presidents. What Greene felt, what Greene was thinking, what silly metaphors he was imagining: "If my visit with Jimmy Carter had been a meal, it would have been a little like an endless smorgasbord; with Bush . . .it would have been more like a sandwich." Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on December 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
It's not unusual for people to visit presidential libraries and museums or collect presidential memorabilia. There is even a surprising number of people who seek out presidential gravesites (and write books about it, like C-SPAN's Brian Lamb). But it's far rarer for someone to attempt to meet and spend time with former presidents themselves. This book is the story of Bob Greene's effort to collect the whole set.

As other reviewers have noted, this book is as much about Greene as it is about the living historical markers he sees the ex-presidents as having become. Americans have lived with president as Caesar, president as criminal, even retrospectively, president as demigod. Now we have president as tourist souvenir.

Back during the 1992 campaign, when that young woman asked then-candidate Clinton the famous "boxers or briefs" question, I remember thinking, "You have a chance to ask a likely future president a question, and that's the best you could do? Shame on you." I had something of the same reaction to this book. Greene explicitly set out to be non-political and non-confrontational, and if that's the direction he had to take to get in the door, than so be it. But it makes Greene's subjects -- whom, he argues, have fallen from exalted heights and are all mournfully cognizant of what they have lost -- seem even more banal to wind up sitting in their living rooms, offices, or hotels discussing sweaters or college football with Bob Greene. Only Jimmy Carter comes across as really *doing something* -- and consequently Greene in those chapters is reduced to part of the hyperkinetic Carter's entourage instead of being the sole object of hours of his subjects' attention, as he is in most of the rest of the book.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on October 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Bob Greene's quest to meet and interview all five living Presidents in the early 1990s has a few moments of surprise, but it's mostly reflective of how ex-presidents lead pretty normal lives.

He begins with Nixon who might be the oddball in this fraternity. He's the most serious about himself and the office of President. He's a very formal man who admits to Green that he never called Eisenhower, Ike, in their private meetings. It was always General or Mr. President. Further, Nixon's best friend, Bebe Rebozo, always addressed Nixon as Mr. President from the day he was elected onward even when they were alone.

Greene's meetings with Carter revealed how hands-on the guy is. Whether he is seeing to one of his charities or meeting with his fellow faculty members at Emory University, Carter is on hand and active. Greene's experience would lead one to believe that Carter's immersion into things may have been a hindrance to his presidency where there were just too many concerns to handle personally.

George Bush 41 revealed himself as a decent chap during a 1994 meeting in Chicago when he and Jeb were in town to address some businessmen. Since Jeb was running for Florida governor that year (He lost) and brother George W. was running for Governor of Texas that same year (He won) Greene lets the episode be as much about passing the baton as anything else.

Ford seems such a normal guy because unlike the others who have books to write, charities to tend to, or sons to groom, Ford is just plain retired playing golf in Palm Springs. The Ford visit is interesting because he talks with Betty alone when Gerry is outside doing a golf documentary shoot. He asks her some of the same questions he asked the former president and he gets different answers.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nelson Aspen on November 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Bob Greene's breezy, nostalgic journey to chat with 5 of our former Chief Executives is a great book to give as a gift, or to pleasantly pass the time in a single sitting. His enthusiasm and humor shine through in his chatty chapters with Nixon, Carter and Ford...all three statesmen come off as interesting, intelligent men (even Nixon with his always astounding idiosyncracies). With the elder Bush, however, Greene seems to have less to work with, so fills out the chapter with his own reflections on the man and his legacy. The final chapter, on Ronald Reagan, is certainly poignant as no interview was possible due to the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.

Greene is a great writer and I'd suggest a follow up on either the former First Ladies or the women of the Senate, entitled SORORITY.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Buck Leonard on November 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If it has one weakness, it is the same weakness as Greene's books about Michael Jordan. After a certain point, there is a feeling that you are hearing a man telling his innermost thoughts to famous people to see what they think about his thoughts. On the one hand, it's interesting. On the other, it's narcissitic. One wonders if this was a quest for information or validation. But you do come away with the feeling that it takes a common and uncommon man to become president. Only an uncommon person could have written this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gary Turner on March 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Bob Greene has penned a very readable work about five past Presidents: Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush I. Instead of asking them the age old questions, he asks them things like: "what is your favorite movie?" and "do you shop for clothes like a normal person does?" I sensed he took them by surprise with many of his questions. You get to see a side of these men you have never seen. The saddest part of the book comes when he goes to interview Reagan right after he has made his Alzheimer's announcement.
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