23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2001
Bob Woodward's "Shadow - Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate" is an insightful book about how the Watergate scandal affected the presidencies of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton. Politics and scandals have gone hand in hand all through US history, but it was the Watergate scandal that became the example of scandal so great that it could actually cause the downfall of the US presidency.
In the first part of the book, Woodward discusses the effects after the Watergate scandal, and how it has influenced the oval office. The Watergate scandal obviously affected the two presidents closest in time, Ford and Carter, the most. President Ford, because he pardoned Nixon (and the uproar that followed doing so), and Carter, whose promise of change, his promise of total ethics ["I will never lie to you"], stood in great contrast to the scandals involving Bert Lance and Hamilton Jordan. Discussed is also the Reagan and Bush's Iran-Contra scandal, including all of the details and questions regarding what Reagan evidently knew (or didn't). The second half of the book is almost exclusively devoted to the apparently endless scandals and moral blunders of the Clinton Administration, with particular emphasis on the Lewinsky scandal. Quite frankly, the first and second half of the book are like two different books. I found the first part of the book to be incredibly interesting, and then the second part, to be... well, "just another Lewinsky book"... But I did find the details which shows us how the Clinton-Starr battle(s) turned personal to be very interesting (and frightening). Woodward shows us how the Independent council has almost become a monster of its' own, no longer controllable by any political branch or office! I give credit to Woodward for explaining this in a way so that the lay reader can understand how the Independent Council Act has affected the oval office.
My motive for reading this book was to gain a better understanding of the Watergate scandal. Of how the Watergate scandal has changed the political culture of Washington, changed the function of the presidency, and also what effect the Watergate scandal has had on the role of the press in the American society.
The two disclosures in this book that surprised me the most, were about Bush and his attitude regarding the 1991 Gulf War, and Reagan, and his loss of memory *while* he was still in office.
Overall the book is well written and a good read. But unfortunately, the book hardly touches on Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, in comparison to the number of pages devoted to Clinton. Because of the number of pages devoted to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal I ended up feeling that I got more gossip than political history, and therefore not full value for my money.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2002
Ok, I admit it; I am a big fan of Woodward. I will read everything he puts out and probably enjoy it. With that being said here is another book of his that I will profess to really enjoying. For my money he is the best political writer in the business today. He has so many contacts that many times in reading the book you could swear he has the White House bugged. This book tries to tie in the Presidents sense "Tricky Dick" and draw a parallel to how they have all had some form of a "scandal" during there terms. With my professed admiration for Woodward it pains me to say this, but the premise does not really work in the book.
He details the issues each of the Presidents have faced but he really does not tie them together in the way I think he wanted to, which is that the power and complexity of the President almost assures a problem. Where I think he could have tied the theory together is that the press is all after the next "issue gate", and they more then anyone drive this issue of scandal journalism.
With this being said, you get all the standard Woodward items with the book, great details, wonderful he said - she said conversations that really make you feel like a fly on the wall, an easy to follow and well laid out book. The real gems of the book are the details of how the Reagan and Bush Presidencies handled Iran - Contra and what is probably the best record of the last two years of the Clinton scandal Fest and "Monica-gate". This is an interesting book that I really enjoyed. If you like Woodward you will like this book, if you are interested in Iran - Contra or the last two years of the Clinton presidency then this is also a good source of information.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
There is no doubt that Bob Woodward, author of "All the President's Men" and famed Washington Post reporter, is a highly talented writer with terrific connections throughout Washington D.C. Those qualities make "Shadow" fascinating reading, particularly with respect to Woodward's take on the various scandals that have swirled around the Clinton Presidency (i.e., Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate, and Monica Lewinsky). This is a compulsively readable work.
At the same time, there is an air of suspicion about Woodward's sourcing. Who did he talk to to get the quotes he got? For example, on page 360, he recounts a conversation among President Clinton, Bruce Lindsey, and Bob Bennett about an evidentiary ruling by Judge Wright in the Paula Jones matter. Bennett supposedly says, "The key thing is, don't go in and perjure yourself."
Who is Woodward's source for this reporting? The endnotes state "Author's interviews with knowledgeable sources." Other than Clinton, Bennett, and Lindsey, who could be knowledgeable about the conversation? It is highly unlikely that Clinton was the source, and Lindsey and Bennett are both attorneys; for them to disclose the contents of the conversation would breach the attorney-client privilege and would constitute a great ethical lapse.
Yet, the conversation has an authentic feel to it. It sounds right. But Woodward's questionable sourcing, which dates back to "The Final Days," rears its ugly head here. Throughout entire passages that sound like they really happened, the reader is left wondering, How does Woodward know this?
In summary, I wouldn't pay full price for this book, but it is worth a few dollars if you can find it in a remaindered pile or a bargain section.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 1999
"Shadow" is Bob Woodward's latest book on the American presidency from Nixon to Clinton. I approached the book hoping to gain a better understanding of how Watergate had changed the political culture of Washington, the function of the presidency and the role of the press in American society.
Woodward's writing style is very meticulous. His training as a reporter flows through every page of the book. The detail of information in this book is facinating. Woodward's focus is on reporting the details behind various scandals from the Ford and Carter years up until Clinton.
Woodward offers alot of background on the now defunct Independent Council Law and the circumstances that prompted it after Watergate. He also provides insight into the streingths and weaknesses of the law and how each IC interpreted and approached his duties.
The weakness of the book is in it's interpretation of the events. Woodward offers some insights into the reason behind the various scandals but they are somewhat shallow. Woodward's solution to presidential scandal is to simply be "forthcoming with the facts." This seems somewhat naive. Not to say that politicians should not be honest and truthful, but are presidents supposed to be upfront about every misstep of their administrations given that the media and politcal adversaries are ready to pounce on the slightest sign of weakness? Woodward is quick to show how Clinton could have avoided his troubles at any number of junctures.
The book spends little time discussing how honesty and openness can occur given the nature of the Washington press culture or the culture of skepticism in general. Woodward interestingly enough has virtually no criticism of the press.
Because of its weakness in offering solutions, you come away feeling like you just read a supermarket tabloid cover to cover. The details are interesting but they are not really put together in a meaningful way.
Overall the book is well written and a good read. Just don't expect too much from it and you'll be quite pleased.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2000
I guess I wanted to read more reasons to not like Republican presidents and I expected Bob Woodward to provide that for me. What I really encountered was a balanced, insightful book that made me see events through clearer, more objective prose than I may have expected.
Contrary to other reviews, I was more enthralled with the perspectives of the Nixon-Bush era and really, I guess, just too darned tired of the Clinton stuff to do anything more than just read away.
Certainly readable and balanced. An exceptionally talented author.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2000
I don't like Bob Woodward, and so my opinion of his writing is not objective.
Nevertheless, he is an excellent writer, and this book is highly readable. One cannot put it down. Yet, I don't trust his version of events, and that distrust ruins it all for me.
The book was a gift. I would not have bought it, but I read it.
His partisanship, though usually disguised, is always present, and his opportunism and obsessive ambition makes everything he says suspect.
That said, if you can credit him, this is a good book. It is filled with details of the last five presidents, beginning with Gerald Ford and ending with Bill Clinton. Over half the book (593 pages, total) is about Clinton. Ronald Reagan gets a meager 79 pages. Jimmy Carter only 45.
One of the problems with the book is Woodward's tendency to fictionalize. For example, on page 303: "'Who is Hillary Clinton?' the first lady read that morning, January 5, in the Wall Street Journal. She shuddered."
Now, how in the world could Woodward know that Hillary Clinton shuddered? He was not there! Is that the kind of thing she would have told him in confidence? "I shuddered!" about reading a newspaper?
But, the book reads well and, if you can believe it, covers a lot of history.
Author of THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS: Our Journey Through Eternity
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 1999
Which is why this book ultimately fails. He takes a premise, makes it his title, then tries to link it together through five administrations and their different problems. Of course, the special prosecutor is a result of Watergate, but each of the special prosecutors were different, each case was different and it took Ken Starr's abuse of power to demonstrate that Antonin Scalia (of all people) was right in his dissent in the decision that upheld the law.
But back to Woodward. He revels in inside stuff, in reporting EVERYTHING that everybody said to everybody else. Some of it is ego _ if he and his helpers interview 1,000 people, then everything they say is in the book. If someone prominent doesn't want to be interviewed, like George Bush, then Woodward runs his "Dear Bob'' letter telling why. This country and journalism owe a debt to Woodward for Watergate. But what he's written since is stuff that can't find the forest for the trees. He substitutes anecdotes for summary judgement, which is where he fails most. When Bush writes to Woodward that he's tired of the personal dirt-digging, he's identifying the biggest problem in politics in the last two decades. I don't agree with Bush's politics, but I agree with him on what politics has become. Woodward's book is an example _ Watergate and Iran-Contra are public policy gone amuck. Monica is personal standards gone amuck. There's a big difference and Woodward knows it. But instead of telling us, he uses anecdote and gossip about all of it.
It's a shame. This could have been a book summarazing American politics in the last quarter-century. Instead, it's an overreported mishmash.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2001
In this book, Woodward attempts to take one of the pivotal events of American politics-the resignation of Richard Nixon--and analyze how it has affected the Presidencies of those following Nixon. An ambitious assignment, to say the least, but one that Woodward does not necessarily fulfill. Woodward's biggest problem is that he does not start out with a clear thesis, which makes it difficult to follow how the phenomenal amount of information presented fits together. The only clear point that Woodward makes throughout the book is a rather obvious one: that Watergate has significantly impacted the Presidencies of Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. After reading the book, I would draw the conclusion that the enduring reason for this affect, beyond the increased skepticism of the President by members of the media, is the Independent Council provision, which Woodward suggests has caused endless scrutiny of peccadilloes by investigators who feel they have to bring charges to justify their investigation. If this was indeed Woodward's point, I think he would have been better served to make it clear in the beginning of the book and show throughout the book how his evidence supported this thesis.
However, the storytelling in the book makes it worth reading. You may forget why you're reading it, but Woodward uses his numerous high-level sources to give a fascinating retelling of many of the scandals that have lurked in the media through the last thirty years. He pays close attention to detail, trying to help readers who are unfamiliar with the events surrounding various investigations understand what was happening and who was involved. Because of this, I would still highly recommend this book, despite its occasional lack of a cohesive argument.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 1999
As a political professional, I've read most of Mr. Woodward's books. In the main, they are fairly authoritative. So is this one. Sadly, one of the lessons touted by the author with regard to these scandals are that Presidents should be more open. A novel conclusion for a reporter! If I see any consistency in all of the stories of scandal, it is that each President has a blind eye to the subject of their particular scandal and, even after anguishing attempts to deal with it, still don't "get it." The other consistencies are that when Republican Presidents do wrong, they get Republican investigators, and when Democrats do wrong they get Republican investigators. And, finally, the longer the Independent counsel law exists the longer the investigations take...with no accountability to the public's need for information on their elected officials. Sadly, these lessons escape our intrepid author. BTW, the sections on the other presidents are more interesting than that based on the Clinton escapade. It would have been a better book if it remained more balanced or was grouped by lessons learned / missed rather than by administration.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2001
Woodward claims to be writing about the "legacy of Watergate," and what reporter is better qualified to do so? But he has a hard time sticking to that goal, and his efforts to justify each juicy tidbit with historical significance are increasingly herniating as the book plods on. Really, this is Woodward's book about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment events of 1998. He does a workmanlike job of that, but others have done better with the same information. He tries to make the book about "five presidents," but Clinton's travails get more than half the book to play around in. The first half of the book is excellent, though. There, Woodward concisely handles the scandals faced by Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush -- remember the Bert Lance Affair? me neither -- and shows how an ever-more-suspicious media and public influenced each White House's handling of the same. For the first 200 pages alone, the book is worth the read by students of the presidency. But if you're just looking for Clinton dirt, dig elsewhere.