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.
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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 CooperCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved