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The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III Hardcover – Illustrated, September 29, 2020
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"An illuminating biographical portrait of Mr. Baker, one that describes the arc of his career and, along the way, tells us something about how executive power is wielded in the nation’s capital. . . often has the feel of a novel."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Enthralling, comprehensive . . . The authors rightly highlight the dimensions of Baker’s illustrious career that show so much about what is broken in the current American political system."
—The New York Times Book Review
“The Man Who Ran Washington . . . will rank alongside it as among the very best books about American political life in the late 20th century.”
—The Washington Post
"Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, a husband and wife team, deliver a masterly biography."
"A fascinating look at political power."
—The New York Times
"Immensely informative, nuanced and judicious."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
—The Financial Times
"A sweeping history as well as an intimate biography, the book is also a fascinating study of how to acquire power in Washington and how to use it to maximum effect."
"Accomplished . . . Exhaustively reported and fluently written."
"American political culture is broken, but it hasn’t always been that way. James Addison Baker was —the consummate master at actually getting things done in Washington."
—The American Conservative
“Nobody was better at getting things done than James A. Baker. In a book that is at once fascinating, coolly revealing, and at moments touching, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have given us a biography worthy of one of the most important figures of the late American Century. If you want to understand power in Washington—or anywhere, for that matter—this is the book for you.”
—Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, authors of The Wise Men
“To capture the sweep and relevance of one of the most influential figures in American life requires two of the great reporters and observers of our time. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have written a grand, precise, and engaging American tale that gallops from Houston Country Club to the convention floor, to the Oval Office and all over the globe, capturing James Baker’s ambition, influence, and style as well as telling the story of power and America at the end of an age.”
—John Dickerson, author of The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency
“A fascinating perspective on power and influence. . . in their nuanced portrait of Baker, he emerges as far more interesting than his taciturn image as White House chief of staff, secretary of state, secretary of treasury.”
—The National Book Review
“A riveting and, at times, moving read.”
—Derek Burney, Policy Magazine
“Baker and Glasser pull no punches . . . a delicious read for lovers of history.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
"If you love palace intrigue and are interested in the behind the scene workings of the executive branch of the federal government at its highest echelons, especially the Oval Office, then Baker’s and Glasser’s book about the extraordinary life of James Aldrich Baker III should be at the top of your reading list."
—New York Law Journal
“Exhaustively reported and fluently written, the book, appropriately for its subject, is a throwback. Like Theodore H. White’s Making of the President series, it celebrates the traditional arts of American politics and governing—not excluding strategic deception, faux histrionics, horse-trading, turf-guarding, lethal leaking, and ass-covering—all in a good cause.”
—Edward Kosner, Commentary Magazine
“Publication of the Baker biography could not have been better timed, because never has the Republican Party needed someone like Jim Baker as bad as it does today, with Donald Trump’s ham-handed, if not treasonous, attempts to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election.”
“Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s The Man Who Ran Washington is an erudite, searching, affectionate biography. Showcasing elegant writing, critical detachment, and encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. presidential history, every page glows with excellence. It’s an epic study of how one brazen Texan married the crude American political power dynamic with old-fashioned velvet diplomacy to help win the Cold War. A stunning achievement!”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race
“No one has ever captured James Baker’s historical importance and essential nature as well as Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have in this superlatively reported history. This is a history not only of a man but of late twentieth century politics in America, and though there are some things I saw from a different angle, that isn't the point. The point is that a great history of a serious man has been produced, and deserves huzzahs and cheers.”
—Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and author of What I Saw at the Revolution
“The Man Who Ran Washington is a must-read tour de force of political history and biography. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, two of our best journalists and scholars, bring us the life of one of the nation’s most important secretaries of state and presidential counselors, showing James Baker near the center of more than thirty years of important American and world history.”
—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidents of War
"In the best of the biographic tradition, the authors tell of an important and consequential man in a consequential era."
—Neil Hassler, RealClearDefense
About the Author
- Publisher : Doubleday; Illustrated edition (September 29, 2020)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 720 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0385540558
- ISBN-13 : 978-0385540551
- Item Weight : 2.3 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.3 x 1.8 x 9.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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on the history of impeachment. He covers Trump for the NY Times along with Maggie Haberman
and others, and is generally fair. His wife Susan Glasser founded Politico, probably the most important
of the new online journals, and now is with the New Yorker. The New Yorker is very liberal and generally
not a fan of President Trump under David Remnick. They do TV separately with MSNBC and CNN.
Jim Baker, no relation, was the first secretary of state that I knew. So it was surprising for me to
learn that foreign policy was not his specialty (it was that of Bush 43, who had served in the
military, UN, CIA etc.). He was not a specialist in languages, but was street smart and could read
body language and emotions. This was in contrast with Kissinger and Nixon, who were very book
smart. The authors interviewed Baker a lot, but this is not an authorized biography because he
didn't review the finished product. They also relied a lot upon Margaret Tutwiler.
Baker's friendship with Bush Sr. went way back, decades before they became prominent politicians.
Beginning in the 70s, we are introduced to the GOP establishment with figures like Gerald Ford,
Bob Dole, Al Haig, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. Baker campaigned against Reagan twice, for
Ford in 1976 and Bush in '80. But when Reagan won, he became the chief of staff and part of the
"troika" with Deaver and Regan, eventually becoming the most influential of the competing factions.
As a figure of the establishment, he emphasized getting things done, and contributed to Reagan's
working with Speaker Tip O'Neill, who was as liberal as the Gipper was conservative. He knew the
political history of LBJ when he was a Senate leader working with Eisenhower, and then Sen. Everett
Dirksen doing the same with LBJ. Baker was not trusted by the more ideological Reaganites, but
was affirmed by Reagan as a true Reaganite at the end of his service. Later in the Reagan administrations,
Baker served as Treasury secretary, and so the book's emphasis moves to economic issues, taxes and
the stock market, along with Iran-Contra.
Baker was a strong partisan, but in multiple directions-against the Democrats but also the more
conservative Republicans, such as Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich and Jack Kemp, who had an infectious
intellectual passion unbounded by his field of responsibility. On the international level, Maggie
Thatcher generally pulled Reagan and Bush Sr. toward more hardline views. This is understandable-
with Germany's reunification, it was only a few decades after the attacks on Britain. As Bush's
secretary of state, the book turns to the all-important end of the Cold War on all its levels
with Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The election of 88 brings the "Read My Lips" speech written by Peggy
Noonan (along with 1000 points of light and kinder gentler), Lee Atwater and Willie Horton.
As a kid I often heard about "Reagan and Bush" but they were two very different men with
different strengths and weaknesses.
It's a fascinating book as the different eras bring up the names of the various politicians and journalists
who were part of the scenery. In the 2000 election with the Florida recount, Baker negotiated with
Warren Christopher, his successor as Secretary of State for Bill Clinton. Another thing I learned was
that Dick Cheney, while one of the hawks for the first Gulf War, was not as rigid as he was in his later
days. This would be an interesting thing to explore. The authors also have great respect for Condi
Rice throughout her career.
In the Obama era, Baker lamented the loss of the solid center. With Trump's defeat of Jeb, most of
the Bush clan were very anti-Trump. Baker remained a loyal Republican through all the different
iterations, and was not a never-Trumper in 2016. But as 2020 came along he finally followed his
grandfather's advice and stayed away from politics! The saga continues with Trump's covid hospitalization
and this week's contentious debate.
Baker and Glasser spent eight years on the project and they had the full cooperation of Baker. They not only discuss Baker’s public life, but we get a real sense of his private life as well. The authors had access to Baker’s lover letters to his first wife who bore him four children and died way too young of cancer. We then see Baker marrying one of his wife’s friends who brings three children to the marriage. It truly was a Brady bunch with an eighth child thrown in later. Baker was a devoted husband, but his children suffered from a myriad of problems involving drugs which were not helped by Baker’s absence caused by his very public life.
Jim Baker is scion of the Houston establishment. Until his late 30’s he had no interest in politics while he was building a very successful law practice. He enters politics through his tennis buddy, George H.W. Bush who was elected as a congressman from Houston. They essentially become brothers along with the sibling rivalry that entails. As Bush rises in Washington, so too does Baker. So much so that Baker runs Ford’s 1976 campaign for president and he then runs Bush’s primary campaign in 1980. After Reagan’s nomination Baker becomes a key figure in Reagan’s campaign that leads him to becoming his chief of staff.
It is generally recognized that Baker set the gold standard for White House chiefs of staff. While working for Reagan he controls the various factions within the White House and puts together a congressional coalition to pass Reagan’s economic package through Congress in 1981. He also keeps a lid on an effort to militarily intervene in Nicaragua during the first term. His absence in Reagan’s second term opened the way to the Iran-Contra scandal that almost brought down the Reagan presidency. His one black mark as chief of staff was his attempted bullying of Fed Chairman Paul Volcker.
In 1984 Baker runs Reagan’s successful “Morning in America” reelection campaign and he then moves on to become Secretary of the Treasury. As treasury secretary he pushes through Reagan’s monumental 1986 tax reform act. The authors ignore the key role that Houston’s Rice University economist on leave to the treasury Charles McLure had in fashioning the underlying framework for the new tax law.
Baker also was the architect of the 1985 Plaza Accord that orchestrated a global policy to devalue the dollar. That was done without Volcker, a mistake in my opinion. The authors ignore two key side effects of the accord. First it created a sea of global liquidity that created the Japan stock bubble and led to a flood of money into the global real estate market. Both Japanese stocks and global real estate would crash in 1990. Second the weaker dollar led to a temporary renaissance in Midwest manufacturing which would become of great help to H.W. Bush’s election in 1988. Baker then resigned as Treasury Secretary and ran Bush’s presidential campaign.
In 1989 Baker becomes Secretary of State where he orchestrates a successful end of the Cold War and German reunification. We also see Baker hiring Democrats on his staff including Dennis Ross. Along the way makes friends with Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze. While dealing with German reunification issues Iraq invaded Kuwait triggering the first Gulf War. Baker organizes an international coalition and gets Russia to go along and China to abstain at a critical U.N. meeting. With the Gulf War over Baker tried to broker a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This led to the Madrid Conference of 1992 which ultimately paved the way to the 1993 Rabin-Arafat meeting in 1993. To me his strong arming of Israel was a bit much, but it did get results.
With the 1992 Bush campaign in disarray Baker returns to the White House. His efforts were to no avail as Bush lost to Clinton. He then goes back to private life where he spends much time working for private equity giant Carlyle Group relaxing at his primitive Wyoming ranch.
With the Florida recount jeopardizing the 2000 election of George W. Bush, Baker is called back into action to aid the Bush family. He organizes the Bush efforts and puts together an all-star legal pick up team consisting of now Senator Ted Cruz, now Chief Justice John Roberts and now Justice Brett Kavanaugh. They win in the Supreme Court with Republican super-lawyer Ted Olson arguing the case.
After that Baker returns to private life, but he still finds the time to co-head an Iraq study commission in 2007. He his now 90 and Baker and Glasser shine a light on his personality and his service to our country.
Top reviews from other countries
When then treasury secretary Don Regan suggested they switch jobs, Baker jumped at the chance and became Secretary of the Treasury. It was in that capacity that he stepped in, on Reagan's behalf, to rescue one of the most important initiatives of the Reagan presidency, the Free Trade Agreement with Canada, which was foundering under the ineptitude of the designated American chief negotiator and his boss, the trade representative. Among other achievements, Baker, a non-economist, brokered the Plaza Accord which reordered major global currencies to America's advantage.
When his friend, George Bush, ran for the presidency in his own right, Baker again was called upon to run the campaign. It is remembered as a ruthless affair (tying his opponent to a murderer and rapist) but was successful. Baker then assumed the post to which he had always aspired, Secretary of State. His achievements in that position are too numerous to chronicle here but of special note was the skilful handling of the disintegration of the Soviet superpower, a sure prescription for disaster in less capable hands than the Bush/Baker team. Baker stood above the fray during Bush's run for re-election, for as long as he could but towards the end, when the situation was hopeless, he was again called into the breach to run the campaign, too late.
Two Clinton terms later, in 2000, Baker was again called into service to the Bush family when the scion, George W. Bush, was fighting for his political live in the presidential election in Florida. Baker skilfully masterminded the no-holds-barred campaign that ultimately resulted in the decision by the Supreme Court, split on strictly party lines, to stop the (re)counting when Bush was a few hundred votes ahead in the State of Florida, giving W the win in the electoral college (while losing the popular vote). Following the 9/11 disaster, Baker was again called in to determine, with a leading Democrat as co-chairman, what had gone wrong and what could be done in future.
Baker could not bring himself to support Donald Trump in 2016 and was not invited to serve in that administration.
This is a fine biography by two superb journalists, the wife and husband pair of Susan Glasser and Peter Baker. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for any student of American public policy.