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White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters Paperback – Bargain Price, December 30, 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"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
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found WHITE HOUSE GHOSTS to be a worthy book. We needed a book on presidential speech writers and this is that book.
What I felt were weaknesses: The title is silly. Read more
As an Australian - my US history knowledge is limited - however my passion for the West Wing and interest in Speechwriting made this worth a go. Read morePublished on December 9, 2012 by Chloe Sasson
I am rarely compelled to write a book review (especially a book I haven't quite finished yet), but I had to take a break from the Clinton chapter to give a little praise. Read morePublished on August 20, 2012 by Brittany Storoz
I can't tell you how many times I heard that the president writes their own speeches, now you'll know what the real speechwriters say.Published on January 9, 2011 by M. Fontanella
Book arrived in excellent condition...content follows a course I am taking at the university. Excellent andfast delivery.Published on March 3, 2010 by Grandma Judy
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? Read morePublished on February 6, 2010 by P. D. Hart
In addition to the insiteful writing on White House ghosts, I was struck by the opportunity to understand more about the Presidents being served.Published on April 10, 2009 by J. B. Peterson
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. Read morePublished on March 2, 2009 by Ian D. Griffin