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White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters Hardcover – April 15, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Even George Washington relied on others for ideas and words for his great state papers. But Schlesinger, who teaches political journalism at Boston University, starts this snappy history, the first on its subject, with FDR, who inaugurated the modern practice of employing others to craft important policy statements. Administration by administration, the author takes us through a lively, often unforgettable cast of characters who both enlarged their presidents' visions and suffered from White House infighting and policy battles. He emphasizes how changes in the media (radio, television and the Internet) altered the settings and presentation of presidents' words. He ends with the current administration, its ghostwriters the first to step from the shadows and claim the limelight. Schlesinger's coverage is wide, his research comprehensive, his pace fast, his prose light. But surely there's much more to say about the way pre-FDR presidents went about conceiving and writing their major speeches, about what we may have lost (while also gaining) from the intervention of outside wordsmiths. And one wishes the author had sprung free of his material and ended with his own thoughts about what he's written, for no one knows more about this subject than Schlesinger. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Apr. 15)
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"White House Ghosts takes you into the minds and machinations of presidents in a way no other book has -- through the insights of succeeding generations of White House speechwriters. As a long-time student of the American presidency, I was constantly engaged, intrigued, and amused by this very smart and ambitious book." -- Tom Brokaw, author of Boom! and The Greatest Generation
"A president's words can frame an era or shape world history. That makes his speechwriters critical. Robert Schlesinger, son of one of the greatest, brings the flair of a storyteller and the insight of a scholar to the White House's obscure but glorious ghosts." -- Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
"Robert Schlesinger's White House Ghosts is a welcome addition to the literature on presidents. His book not only adds a significant dimension to our understanding of how presidential speeches were constructed but also deepens our knowledge of the way in which major policies were developed. Schlesinger has given us an altogether delightful and informative study that will become essential reading for anyone interested in the modern presidency." -- Robert Dallek, author of Nixon and Kissinger
"It's no surprise that the men and women who have written speeches for our presidents have stories to tell! What is a surprise is that Robert Schlesinger has dug up so many of them. White House Ghosts flows along with one rich anecdote after the next. All the major speeches (and several minor ones) are dissected. (Some presidents actually did some rewriting themselves. Imagine!) The book is fascinating. And funny. If you like reading American history, you'll love this book." -- Lesley Stahl, correspondent for 60 Minutes and author of Reporting Live
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Top customer reviews
What I felt were weaknesses: The title is silly. It sounds like one of the many cheap tourist books with silly ghost stories. Thankfully, it isn't that.
Secondly, I found only the briefest mention of Chris Mathews, who has become very well known as a ranting and slavish promoter of whatever causes he is supporting. His present notoriety suggests that he should have had a bigger role in WHITE HOUSE GHOSTS.
Similarly, James Humes deserved far more discussion than the couple of sentences devoted to his work. As a speechwriter to five presidents, he is unique among presidential speechwriters in number served, if nothing more; and there was more.