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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great lessons for any speech writer
Schlesinger describes the men and women who acted as speech writers to every President from FDR in 1932 to George W. Bush in 2001. Each administration is given a chapter. Each President's relationship with his speech writers is outlined with an analysis of one or more key speeches. Sometimes an Inaugural Address; sometimes the State of the Union address; or a speech on...
Published on October 30, 2008

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing, Quick & Easy Light Reading
It was quick, easy, amusing read; lots of historical anecdotes from each White House since FDR....but apart from that, I can't say I know much more about what makes for a good speech, a good speechwriter, or a good Presidential speaker now than I did before I read the book.
Apart from figuring out that speeches written by committee don't make for memorable prose, the...
Published on July 6, 2008 by Reckless Reader


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great lessons for any speech writer, October 30, 2008
Schlesinger describes the men and women who acted as speech writers to every President from FDR in 1932 to George W. Bush in 2001. Each administration is given a chapter. Each President's relationship with his speech writers is outlined with an analysis of one or more key speeches. Sometimes an Inaugural Address; sometimes the State of the Union address; or a speech on foreign or domestic policy; once a resignation speech.

What's fascinating is the unique relationship each President had with his speech writers and other close advisers. The games they played. The office politics. The late nights. Who `owned' the speech and at what point and to what extent the President gave direction. The best were intimately involved. Sorensen and Kennedy were so close that someone observed "When Jack is wounded, Ted bleeds." Carter kept speech writers at arms-length and "didn't much like the idea of using them, ever." It showed.

In some administrations, White House staffers would rail against the power of a speech writer to make policy. In others, the speech writers were emasculated scribes left out in the cold.

What's absolutely fascinating for anyone who has worked in communications in large commercial organizations (as I have) is how eerily familiar many of the trials and tribulations of the role supporting a CEO is to that of the White House Ghosts. Here's some which had a familiar ring:

* Eisenhower's speech writer Bryce Harlow only agreed to take on the role "on the condition that he get to spend a great deal of time around the president so as to best understand how Ike liked to express himself, what his concerns were, how to capture the man's voice." (p. 82)

* Eisenhower advising Harlow not to circulate a speech too widely for review. Ike himself was a speech writer (for MacArthur in the Philippines) and is quoted as saying "..one thing I know: If you put ten people to work on a speech, they'll kill anything in it that has any character." (p.85)

* JFK used speechwriters to counter the "diplomatic blandness" the State Department bureaucracy produced. Echoing the same tin ear that many high-tech Product Marketing departments have when asked to submit speaking points for a CEO speech, the recipe the State Department used "was evidently to take a handful of cliches...repeat at five minute intervals...stir in the dough of the passive voice...and garnish with self-serving rhetoric." (p.131)

* Speech writers in the Kennedy White House influenced strategy and policy "The two roles - writer and policymaker - were symbiotic. .. Active participation made accurate articulation likely.." (p.149)

* In the Nixon White House Kissinger put the speechwriter "through so many drafts with short deadlines and with such insistence on his own organization and language" that the writer said "I'm sick of being Henry's stenographer." (p.206)

* Regan's speech writer Josh Gilder observed that "writing the speech was a small part of (the) job". "Navigating a draft through the rounds of edits required political skills, negotiations, and compromises." (p.343)

* In the Clinton White House the speechwriters claimed that the president only stuck to the written text about half the time. (p. 408) The writers would boldface the text they needed him to say.

Been there. Done that. If you'd like to know what the job of a speech writer is all about, rad this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating for anyone interested in presidential history or speechwriting, June 26, 2008
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R. C. Kopf "curtis kopf" (Seattle, WA United States) - See all my reviews
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as a speechwriter, this book was manna from heaven for me. there are few books around that look at modern presidential speechwriting in depth. it also has a broader appeal as a presidential history that gets you right inside the inner circle of modern presidents. the book is well written, excruciatingly researched and filled with funny, inspiring and humanizing anecdotes.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read, April 29, 2008
Schlesinger has summarized the presidencies from FDR to W. How each president used, or not, the skills of their respective 'ghosts' shows one and all that words do matter; as well as the wisdom of our first executives when it came to choosing their wordsmiths. Witty and full of details, each chapter of this book is a joy. Indeed, this a must read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who Wrote It? Who Said It? Who Came Up With The Idea?, June 15, 2008
'White House Ghosts' seeks to answer the questions of who wrote the best Presidential speeches and lines, which President gave the speech, and who came up with the ideas at the core of those speeches. Often times, other than who said it, those questions are not easily answered but Schlesinger still weaves a great historical accounting of presidential history, communications, and policy development since FDR. At its best, Schlesinger makes clear that speechwriting is a collaborative effort that brings together a President's vision with the wordsmithing of a talented writer with the time to spend on a speech. At its worse, speechwriting appears to drive policy development and changes because a good line was created, so the policy must follow through. Perhaps even worse is when a line has no relation to policy at all (see President George W. Bush's second inaugural). Schlesinger's exhaustive research brings you into each presidency, shows you how the President interacted with the speechwriters and how some of the most famous, and important, words of the 20th and early 21st century came about. A must for any student or fan of presidential history.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and insightful. Great read for those with an interest in Speechwriters., May 22, 2008
By 
Scott K (Sydney, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Even though I live in Australia, I have long been fascinated with U.S. politics. Especially since GWB walked into the job. It made your politics a lot more interesting. (Good or bad, make your own decisions, I have certainly made mine.)

Even more interesting to me are the Presidents speechwriters. I realise there may be plenty of good books available on this topic which I could have bought, however I was always waiting for that up to date and new book which inevitably had to be released.

For me, this is that book. I am sorry that I do not have the ability to write a comprehensive review. My writing skills do not allow, which is probably why I am fascinated with the skills of a Presidential Speechwriter.

If, like me, you are a layperson who simply enjoys reading about these remarkable writers and how they interact with their Presidents, I am sure you will not be disappointed with this book.

Also, Mr. Schlesinger writes in such a way that even though this book looks imposing, with almost 600 pages, it is nice to read and easily digestible.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing, Quick & Easy Light Reading, July 6, 2008
It was quick, easy, amusing read; lots of historical anecdotes from each White House since FDR....but apart from that, I can't say I know much more about what makes for a good speech, a good speechwriter, or a good Presidential speaker now than I did before I read the book.
Apart from figuring out that speeches written by committee don't make for memorable prose, the anecdotes don't really add up to much--- not much insight as to what FDR, JFK, and RR shared in common, if anything, that made them great in this department, versus what Carter and the 2 Bushes shared, if anything, that made them so mediocre....
Look for a fun read, but don't look for any analysis or depth of understanding...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great, but wanted more, July 30, 2011
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This is a great book for those of us who believe in the importance of words. However, one is left with the impression that there was so much more. Maybe because I read it immediately after the impeccably detailed prose of "Team of rivals", I kind of resented that whole administrations, specially the recent ones, where everything is out there, saved and in the cyberspace, were dispensed in 10 pages. Also, the author is very kind with George W. Bush, making him sound much more eloquent than what he appeared in real life. If he is, and was not coming across- I somehow doubt it, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt- that by itself was an interesting story that the author left out. Also, the editing was a bit choppy, with words missing here and there. Maybe it was my edition. However, I recommended it to everybody interested in political history and strategy, and also, on management and the challenge of running an efficient company, team or administration.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good history, February 6, 2010
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This book has interesting insights on the presidential speechwriting process -- who knew Truman's speeches for the 1948 whistlestop train tour were FLOWN out from Washington? One would expect this book to be well written, since it's about writers. That's not the case. The text seems choppy and jumps along with rough transitions between surprisingly dull prose. I wonder if the manuscript was longer and the editors took a machete to it?
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Book!, April 4, 2008
By 
Matt B. (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
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Not your normal, outside-the-classroom reading, but pick it up. If you're even the slightest bit interested in politics, Washington, or behind-the-scenes anecdotes of the Presidency, this is a must-read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting perspective, July 8, 2008
Schlesinger reviews each of the Presidential speech writers, from FDR through W. I found the book became increasingly engaging as he approached the modern presidential speech writers though that may be because they were the Presidents that I grew up with. The chapters on Reagan, Clinton and W are particularly interesting in that they provide a glimpse behind the idiosyncratic personalities that shaped much of our modern policy.

Of the Bush team, he writes, "The troika [Skully, Gerson, McConnell] gathered to prepare the State of the Union. For eight, nine, ten days running, the routine would be the same: The three sequestered themselves in McConnell's office and word-by-word, line-by-line, wrote the speech. After several days, McConnell's office resembled, as he put it, 'the back of a cheap restaurant' - coffee stained papers piled up, books of food, half-full coffee cups and water bottles lying around. McConnell, who kept a supply of Wet Ones towelettes on hand, endured the chaos with good humor". (p. 476)
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White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters
White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters by Robert Schlesinger (Paperback - December 30, 2008)
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