Those interested in how the Washington, D.C. political game was played in the last quarter of the twentieth century will benefit by reading this biography of Bob Strauss, which weaves many a good political story into its fabric.
Beginning with the subject's early days (Jewish family, Texas Longhorn, FBI agent), it then quickly focuses on his mature legal and political life, starting in the Big D (John Connally and formation of what became the prestigious Akin Gump law firm) followed by his gravitation to the power emanating from the nation's capital. Mr. Strauss' long sojourn on the Potomac was highlighted by the growth of his law firm, varied national Democratic Party political campaigns, and his stints in public service, such as his successful tour of duty as the Special Trade Representative. The book culminates with the capstone assignment of his career, U.S. ambassador to the collapsing Soviet Union.
This biography is not authored by a disinterested historian:Kathryn J. McGarr is a relative of Mr. Strauss. She loves him and it, while tempered, shows in her book. The plus side of this kin relationship is in an access and attention to her subject's life details and inner motivations that may have eluded someone not as close to his family and friends. This is especially true given that Mr. Strauss was a personality driven success story, whose intertwined political and legal career was grounded on a gift for friendships (with important political, media, and business leaders of all stripes) and a larger-than-life-sized public persona (to a good extent self-generated) as an insider and deal maker.
As an aside, those interested in the history of deal making in Washington, D.C. might be interested in reading "King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward" by Kathryn Allamong Jacob (2010), a very good history set in the Gilded Age.
on March 3, 2012
"The Whole Damn Deal" was a very enjoyable book for a political junkie like myself. The book covers the life and career of Robert Strauss, a man whose experience, connections, abilities, coupled with a Texas-size ego made him a Washington power broker. Highlights of his career have included being the former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, US Special Trade Representative under President Carter and US Ambassador to the Soviet Union/ Russia under President George H.W. Bush. Weaved throughout that service, Strauss emerged as a Washington "super-lawyer", who put his wealth of knowledge and connections to work for his Washington law firm's private clients. Over the years, Strauss became both a man to know, and a man in the know in the nation's capitol.
There are many interesting stories in this book, written by a relative of Strauss, Kathyrn J. McCarr, spanning from years spent in Texas politics with LBJ and John Connally, to his years as DNC Chair trying to resurrect the Democratic Party after the 1972 election debacle, as well as his relationships with Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush. As a lawyer, who once looked to develop a lobbying practice, I found the stories of the evolution of Strauss' law firm, from a small two-man operation in Texas in the 1940's to a powerful Washington mega-firm fascinating. Another story in the book that I found very interesting was Strauss secretly being called to the White House by the Reagan's to advise the President at the height of the Iran-Contra scandal in the mid-1980's.
Overall the book was very enjoyable. The only thing holding me back from a "5 Star" review was that the ending of the book seemed rather abrupt, which left me a little disappointed and wanting more. But despite that, there is definitely much to like about this book, beginning with the origin of the title and running all the way throughout.
on October 30, 2012
If you care about the intersections of law, politics, public affairs, and public interest in the late 20th Century, you've heard of Bob Strauss. This is a wonderful, captivating biography of a great and successful public figure who understands human nature better than many of the politicians he served; who blends a grand combination of chutzpah and humility. This book is hard to put down, in the same way that many found it hard to resist Bob Strauss' personality.
It's telling, it's funny, and anyone who reads it will learn some lessons they can apply in their own lives.
The book doesn't slight his faults, but you come away feeling that a few more Bob Strausses would be a great thing for the country.
on February 10, 2012
Very good and well written biography of Robert (Bob) Strauss by his great niece.Traces,with no holds barred, Bob's life from Princeton,Texas through the University of Texas, to being a named Partner in a national law firm :Chairman of the Democratic Party; money raiser extraordinary;ability to work across party lines and retire from public life as Ambassador to Russia appointed by George H.W. Bush.
on August 29, 2012
Ms McGarr has produced an insightful, accessible and exceptionally well written book about one of the ablest politicians of either Party since WWII. Robert Strauss' nearest contemporary in influence was the late Clark Clifford. If the styles of the two men were in stark contrast- Clifford the silky smooth and circumspect urbane insider, Strauss the earthier and more direct operator- both understood the importance of a quick mind, a non-ideological approach to problems, and (not least) sharp elbows when negotiating among others jockeying for position and power. This book is a timely and worthy complement to the exhaustive study of political power- its acquisition and application- by Robert Caro in his multi-volume biographical study of Lyndon B. Johnson, and in his earlier classic, The Power Broker, a profile of Robert Moses. What a sight it would have been to have seen Strauss and Moses negotiate!