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You read a book like this to get a feel for what's it would be like to be considered the GOLD STANDARD in electoral politics. Nobody in modern times has had the success or the good fortune to be on the winning side of so many Presidential elections. One of Baker's competitors is James Carville, the man who more than any other, helped Bill Clinton to defeat George HW Bush and his manager James A. Baker III in 1992. It was Carville who referred to Baker as the Gold Standard.

To understand James Baker, you have to understand where he is coming from. He was originally a Houston based "Society Lawyer" from a prominent family which allowed him to attend Princeton University. A "Society Lawyer" simply caters to the needs of very rich people. Whatever it is they need, the lawyer fixes it, quite a nice life if you can do it.

Baker also has a wonderful, gregarious personality. In person, he is charming to a fault, and a total class act. You have to like the guy. The question one needs to ask is how did Baker parlay a general legal practice in Houston, and morph it into becoming probably the second most important person in government under two successive Presidents.

Even more interesting is how did Baker survive his entire tenure in Washington without being either destroyed, or contaminated by the system. He was able to walk away from his experiences, which were quite extensive, without anybody laying a glove on him.

I was involved in a conversation with former President Nixon on this topic many years ago. The President felt that there were only 250,000 people in the United States that counted. These people own the media, the corporations, they control the institutions, and they have the wealth. The President felt that if you stripped this entire group of their wealth, power, and positions, in ten years, the wealth and power would be right back where it started from.

I submit to you that James Baker made himself the indispensable man to whoever he came into contact with. If you strip Baker of his power and position, within a few years he would be right back in the thick of it. Was there some luck involved? You bet there was, and this book is full of stories where so much luck was involved.

He specifically mentions in the book that being a Marine during the Korean War, he was transferred to the Mediterranean, not Korea, where most of his associates perished in the war. Was it the luck of the draw that led to his Mediterranean assignment, or string pulling? We will never know, and he's not telling.

Here's a man that was George Bush's man, (the current President's father), during the 1980 campaign when Bush went head to head against Ronald Reagan for the Republican Presidential nomination. This was the second time Baker moved against Reagan. He was also part of Ford's team when Reagan challenged the seating President for the nomination in 1976.

What happens as a result? Reagan wins the nomination in 1980, and Baker joins the Reagan team. Having done a great job during the election process, he somehow manages against all odds to maneuver himself into the position of Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan. Previous to this, Reagan had always surrounded himself with people with very long track records with him. How did Baker manage to leap over every one of the loyalists?

The answer is that this is a very SPECIAL MAN. I have known a lot of people in Washington up close and personal. If you are perceptive, and interested, it really doesn't take long to figure out who's real, who's a phony, who gets things done, and who doesn't. There are very few people in James Baker's league. There are only two other people I can compare him to.

The first was Abe Fortas, a former Supreme Court Justice who was one of the most brilliant men to ever serve in government. I value a picture I have of him sitting in Lyndon Johnson's White House, not at the table, but in a seat by the window. It was obvious Fortas was pulling the strings in the room.

The second man, I would compare Baker to would be Clark Clifford. He was another magnificent power broker who served every Democratic President from Harry Truman forward for 30 years. What's interesting is that both of these men Fortas, and Clifford had problems late in their careers that tarnished their reputations. Baker remains untouched by scandal.

Nobody in the last 40 years has enjoyed better relations with the press than James Baker. I do not ever recall at any point while he served in government reading anything negative that was written about him. The only person that came close is Colin Powell, and Baker is at the game longer.

The reason is that nobody cultivated the press like James Baker. Did Baker leak to the press? He says no, but he does admit to providing background to reporters without allowing attribution back to himself. It was more than background. Baker probably provided anything, and everything the press required in order to keep his reputation intact. There is no other explanation for the continuous favorable press this man received during his entire stay in Washington DC, a truly cutthroat town.

He also doesn't have a bad word to say about anybody else. He simply doesn't burn bridges. This attitude goes all the way back to his days as a society lawyer. If you never say anything negative about people, you have an opportunity to have them all as clients. Everybody loves James Baker. I particularly enjoy reading a book like this because you pick up certain ideas, and possibilities about politics that you will just never learn any other way, because there's just so much noise out there that it's overwhelming. Let me give you a couple of notions:

· "When wounded, stop the bleeding immediately" - Here Baker is telling us that when it goes bad for you in politics, you have to deal with the issue immediately and kill the issue. Don't wait, or you're dead. An example would be Senator Kerry's failure to respond to the misleading Swift Boat accusations made against him in the 04 Presidential election cycle.

· "First time out, win or lose, you learn a lot" - He's telling you that there is no substitute for experience. You may not win the race the first time, as Baker lost with Ford in 1976, but it prepared him for 1980, where he became the gold standard in politics.

· "Proximity is POWER" - Yes, absolutely. You want an office close to the President. The closer the office, the more power you absolutely have, and are perceived to have.

· "Tax hikes without spending restraints never balance the budget, Congress always spends the new money and more" - How brilliant is this statement. It explains perfectly the last six years under a Republican dominated Presidency, and Congress. Whoever is in power spends money. It doesn't matter who it is, or what party he's from.

· "Image Trumps Substance" - Wow, did he get this one right. It's all about PERCEPTION, or better yet, take credit for all miracles occurring within 50 miles.

· "Better to assume the worst, and try to do something about it, than to assume the best, and get blindsided" - This is a lesson we could all take with us.

· "Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance - He learned this from his father, and mentions it many times throughout the book. Practicing what he called the five P's held him in good steed throughout his career, and he continues to practice this behavior today.

If you have an interest in politics and history, you would do well to take the time to peruse this book. It's an easy read, Baker is not looking to sell you, or persuade you in this book. Read it, and you will learn what life at the top of Washington was like during a very interesting period in our nation's history. Good luck.

Richard Stoyeck
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on October 9, 2006
In reflecting upon the life of James Baker through his second memoir 'Work Hard, Study . . . and Keep Out of Politics!' the one thing that continued to stay in my mind is Baker's openess that one of the reasons why he stayed in politics was 'power'. What a refreshing statement: the Truth! This is not so minimal a statement when reading the many self-serving political memoirs published, particularly from the Reagan-era politicians who have published throughtout the years. The life of Jame Baker is quite remarkable, and the sharing of his life and decisions as shared in this memoir are encompassing of service to this nation well done. I may not necessarily agree with all the decisions made by Baker during the years he served 3 different presidents, but I do respect the man and the integrity of this book. There rings certain truths throughout, and his openess about 'power' provide a sense of credability to his perspectives.
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on October 15, 2006
I did not know a great deal about James Baker before I read this book, but I mean it as a compliment to the clarity of his reminiscences when I say I think I do now. In the field of political autobiography, it is not always the case that one emerges knowing more about the author and subject than when one began. From the pages of his book I discern that James Baker is not without wit, albeit at times a distinctly biting one. He is also less a statesman than a politician, and less a politician than a man with protective loyalty to his friends. He is perhaps above all someone with a talent for inserting himself into a situation and calling on a lifetime's worth of well-placed contacts when there is a need to get things done. In short, to his party and to its inner circle, Mr. Baker is invaluable.

James Addison Baker began his adult life as an apolitical Texas Democrat, and emerges today four decades after he took up campaigning as a form of therapy (after his wife's passing) as an elder tactician of the Republican Party. His is the sort of book that will deservedly please Republicans, understandably miff Democrats, raise a few eyebrows and hackles here and there among independents, and ultimately I fear its anecdotes about such varying matters as families ties surpassing race, the "real" way politics in America works, his compliments on the brilliance of Presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush, as well as others with whom he has served---in short the best part of the book---will unfortunately be lost on many who purchase it for strictly political reasons.

Let me point out now that this book is NOT about Baker's political neutrality, nor was it expected to be, but one of its strengths is that I think James Baker wrote candidly. That's also one of its weaknesses, for while I admired the similar candidness that went into Jesse Helms' memoir last year, this book does make Baker come across a few times as something of a power-hungry, vindictive man. I think in large part Baker used this often interesting re-telling of his role in modern political affairs as a platform to get even a time or two with those against whom he feels grudges, particularly former Vice President Al Gore, whose attacks on both Baker and Baker's boss, former President Bush, during the 1992 White House race became as Baker seems to have seen it, a little too personal.

What is interesting about Baker's book is of course its recounting of his service in several Republican administrations, and also his role as a major behind the scenes player in the election campaigns that placed many of those politicians there. Baker most recently was a strategist who oversaw the current President Bush's 2000 White House run, and while there does seem some merit in his reminder that the final Supreme Court decision that settled the disputed 2000 election was rendered 7-2, in my opinion I couldn't help but see Baker leaving behind some of his candidness and resorting to becoming a hard-line strategist even after that particular battle is long over.

This is a relatively short and surprisingly fast-flowing sort of trek back through the life of an extremely well-connected man, and while I disagree with Baker on many issues, I did think much of what he had to say was interesting and that it serves as a unique view into a realm of politics typically closed-off to most of us.
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on February 4, 2007
If you enjoy politics, you will like this book. If you are a Republican, you will love this book. James Baker is a remarkably talented and highly successful man. This book takes you through his life as a Marine, Lawyer, Politician, Campaign Manager, Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary, Sec. State, Troubleshooter and Wise Man. It is also personal with reflections as a son, husband, father and friend. In all of these diverse roles, he demonstrated many qualities: character, honesty, toughness, kindness, generosity, loyalty and impressive productivity.

Of all the stories in politics, I was struck by two. The first involved Dan Quayle; Baker felt that when Bush 41 ran for reelection, Dan was a drag on the ticket and if he had graciously offered to resign in favor of a better Veep, Bush 41 may have won reelection. Dan refused to take the hint and the rest is history. Quayle's wife, Marilyn scores a contemptuous footnote because she sneered dismissively at Bush 43's frat boy presidential qualifications. The second story involved Al Gore. Baker did not take kindly to Gore's attack on his and Bush 41's integrity during the 92 reelection bid. Gore made wild unsubstantiated charges regarding Saddam Hussein, a bank and Bush/Baker. Payback came by way of Baker's role in the 2000 Florida recount.

The book has a lot of humor. One story relates to a picture that he gave Gorbachev after Iraq invaded Kuwait. It showed Saddam on one side and a condom on the other. The inscription read: "For the prick who did not know when to withdraw." Baker says Gorby laughed uproariously. Other fascinating anecdotes abound, both personal and professional. I enjoyed this book very much and my respect for Jim Baker, which was high to begin with, has grown immeasurably.
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VINE VOICEon March 24, 2007
Memoirs are one of the best sources of influencing oneself on "best practices". James Baker is universally acknowledged as one of the most talented and effective public servants to serve at the pleasure of his President, in this case, Presidents (Ford, Reagan, Bush 41, and special projects for Bush 43). In my humble opinion, only Clinton's Treasury Secretary Richard Rubin approaches the success Baker had serving under Reagan and Bush 41 in the modern era.

Because Baker previously wrote a tome on diplomacy, The Politics of Diplomacy, I was hoping this book would focus more on the general principles Baker employed that yielded such successful results. Unfortunately, besides his "five Ps" stressing a daily discipline to focus and prepare, Baker applies a characteristically humble approach that yields a lot of great stories, but very little lecturing on his keys to success.

I recommend the book as an extremely interesting perspective on modern American history from a very unique perspective or as a guide to an improved perspective on why Reagan and Bush 41 were such successful Presidents in areas Baker supported. I do not recommend this book if you are looking to understand how someone like Baker with little to no training or experience in technical subjects like economics and statesmanship could be so successful as Secretary of Treasury and Secretary of State.

Here are some interesting tidbits that makes for a good American history lesson:

How Baker would meld political objectives with popular policy initiatives - an example was how Baker fought Kissinger and Cheney from within the Ford Administration to protect America's textile trade while they fought to free up trade with China. The Baker vs. Kissinger chess match on manipulating the President and policy is a great story on how internal fights are played within the same team.

Baker supports David Gergen and Lou Cannon's claims that Reagan was much more moderate in his policy actions than his rhetoric; Baker labels it "pragmaticism" with several interesting examples through-out the book, especially in regards to Reagan's ability to reach across the table to reach a moderate solution, Tip O'Neill and Gorbechev being two examples.

Baker critiques Richard Rubin's fiscal policy at Treasury. Since Rubin is acknowledged as one the most successful Treasury Secretaries since Alexander Hamilton, it's rare and beneficial to hold his record to the light by one of his predecessors. Here is Rubin's excellent memoir: In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington

While you will get an honest assessment that the condition of the country has not been well served during the Bush 43 era, you will get very little criticism from Baker as he continues to serve Bush 43 on special projects, the latest being the Iraq Study Group.

As an American history book - buy it, as a lesson in leadership - pass, which is our loss.
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on August 15, 2011
The prequel to "The Politics of Diplomacy" (1995), former Secretary of State James A. Baker III's "Work, Study Hard and Keep Out of Politics!" shows us the man and his missions in full. It's an impressive sight.
First thing you should know that the book's title is the sentiment of Baker's grandfather. Baker himself was well along this route as a Houston business lawyer until his first wife (she was into Republican politics, he was a spectator Democrat) died and left him a distraught young widower with four sons. The friendship of George H.W. Bush and the love of Susan (Baker's second and current wife) put Baker back together and on the road to becoming one of the 20th century's great statesmen.
The devotion to the three presidents he served (Ford, Reagan, and Bush 41) and longtime aides (Dick Darman, Margaret Tutwiler) is as copious as Baker's useful advice about politics and diplomacy ("diplomacy is the continuation of politics," he sagely notes). The book deserves to be required reading in civics classes.
Baker's love for Reagan is one of the wonderful elements in the final chapter - "A Single Bluebell" - but it comes out even earlier. As Margaret Thatcher noted at RR's 2004 funeral, Reagan had a gift for talking enemies out of their forts and turning them into friends. Although the Soviets are the most obvious example, Baker reminds us this applies to some degree to him and Poppy Bush as well. Reagan was comfortable enough in his own skin to put former foes on his squad, Baker admiringly notes.
The secretary incorporated Reagan's example into his own character. "Work, Study Hard..." is refreshingly free of ideology and partisan complaints about the media. Baker doesn't isolate people unless they've more than earned it (witness: Saddam Hussein). The word "neoconservative" doesn't appear in the book although Baker and his realism would seem the obvious choice to lead the critique of neocon overseas tomfoolery. Instead of launching on Bush 43, Baker tells us why it was important to 43's success that Baker not have as large a role as he had in 41's White House.
Baker's faith shines through in that section and others such as when he puts Ariel Sharon in the peacemaker camp (now that's generosity).
Other sparkling emeralds handed us by this deep-hearted Texan, mined from his quiet faith, include realization that the rough-and-tumble of politics and legislation with input from the opposition party ultimately serves the nation well and - this one the neocons don't get - "As the world's remaining superpower we occupy a uniquely preeminent place in world affairs. This sets up natural anxieties, resentments, and jealousies, and makes it all the more important that we exercise our power in as understated and collaborative way as our national interests permit." (p. 307, hardback edition).
Now that I've said some nice things about the book, let me get a bit critical - Baker's ideological belief in "free trade" (the only breach from conservatism I can detect in his character) is misguided. Free trade's impact on the American people is mixed at best (tons of cheap junk at Wal-Mart and our manufacturing base in tatters). The appendix about Baker's time as Treasury secretary is intellectually lackluster compared to the rest of the book. Baker condemns U.S. "protectionism" after World War I (does he mean to censure the policies of Reagan's favorite president, Calvin Coolidge, which produced the Roaring Twenties?). Bretton Woods is mentioned but Baker makes it sound like the creation of the IMF and World Bank were the major benefits. Hardly. Fixed exchange rates and the fiscal discipline they engender was the best thing about Bretton Woods. Supply Side guru Robert Mundell favors fixed exchange rates but most Republicans only have ears for the tax-cut portion of Supply Side.
Expecting Baker to be as good at economics as diplomacy is probably too much to ask. We should follow Baker's pragmatism and realize not everyone will fill every jar we try to pour him/her into. This is especially important in assessing Reagan and his legacy. As Baker writes, Reagan was a pragmatist although many of his students and fans don't wish to believe this. This sets up Republicans for continuing disappointments as when Richard Viguerie wrote recently that Republicans seeking the 2012 nomination are lacking "a Ronald Reagan." Reagan himself wasn't "a Ronald Reagan" under this kind of wistful and wishful thinking.
Knowing when to walk away is another of Baker's advice gems. Had he run for president in 1996 and won, our author could have supercharged Middle East peace in the name of his martyred friend Yitzhak Rabin and found a willing and intelligent partner in Ehud Barak (elected 1999). It was not to be. But the secretary had time to turn his hand toward an organization (Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy) that has and will continue to work toward worthy goals many years into the future. Private life also unearthed two branches of his family including one connecting Baker to one of the presidents he served. Which one? Read my lips - read the book.
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on January 1, 2007
For anyone thinking about about government service as a career, this is the book to read. This should become a text book for university political science departments.

James A Baker, one of the most experienced men in the history of public service,effectively and distinctly covers his career in a way that the reader feels that they are a part of this fasinating trip through the history of the last 30 years.

The great thing about the book is that Baker is a humble person who acknowledges those individuals with whom he worked during this period. The reader not only gets a great perspective of history unfolding but also of a great man who, as he tells his story, credits those who were significant in the process.

This is a book to understand recent history and the challenges of living and working in Washington D.C. , as Baker will instruct the reader how he feels one should navigate through the shoals of the politics of our nations capital.

Finally, this is a well written book that is fun to read and one that should accompany a long airplane ride.
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on July 4, 2008
Mr. Baker is by all accounts a man of both high talent and great decency. The country would be well served if more folks of his capacity worked in the public interest.

As an admirer, I was left frustrated. For someone who so faithfully advocates "preparation", he tells very little about the specific preparation that propelled him to success in so many different environments - the law practice, campaigns, public service in the White House, Treasury, Secretary of State and beyond . His special skills seem to include becoming a trusted advisor to the powerful, negotiating deals, cultivating media relationships, ingratiating himself with established interests globally. If Mr. Baker's goal here was really to teach and mentor, rather than to sponsor a puff piece aimed at pre-empting history, would he not have discussed his approach to negotiation? Would he not have delved more deeply into the organization skills that resulted in his being hired by Reagan, even though he had worked for Ford and Bush, Reagan's political opponents? Would he not have discussed how specifically he struck the balance between disclosure and protect his client's interests via the media? As a strategist at the pinnacle, surely his hard work during all those six-and-one-half day weeks yielded some insights he could share.

It has been said that political biographies often neglect to address the means of ascent. This is certainly true of Mr. Baker's book. It reads more like a stringing together of information already in the public domain than a "revelatory" memoir. Let's hope he will try again.
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on December 20, 2013
This book provides detailed insight into the development of numerous events and political outcomes involving a number of political administrations from what now seems like a different era.

Although perhaps not its purpose, one cannot fail to note the obvious contrast with the approaches, actions, and effectiveness, of our current politicians and public servants. While the book provides an enlightening perspective, I pray it does not identify an irreversible trend.
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on January 11, 2007
Anyone interested in the complexities of political thinking will learn a great deal from reading this book. Written in a conversational style, as though Baker were talking to a friend, this book combines touching elements of his private life, particularly the death of his first wife, and a myriad of insightful stories and observations about American politics from the inside, including errors in judgment he made along the way. Throughout, Baker hammers home a theme that has guided his life, which he learned from grandfather: Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. It is a lesson that everyone ought to remember. After completing this book, I bought his earlier book on The Politics of Diplomacy.
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