Book Review: “The Presidents Club” (Nancy Gibbs & Michael Duffy)

One of my guilty pleasures, outside of reading John Grisham and Robert Whitlow, is reading books on presidential history. Ever since I discovered at the ripe old age of 8 that I had the same last name as one of our former presidents, I have been fascinated with the office and the men who served our nation in this capacity.

I have had the joy of reading dozens of books about our former presidents and even the privilege, thanks to a dear friend, to meet one of them in person several years back. Of all the books I have read, The Presidents Club is by far the most fascinating. Gibbs and Duffy capture the essence of the office in a way that few writers are able to accomplish. Interestingly enough, they also provide an in depth look at the relationships between current and former presidents in such a way that you feel as though you are in the room as the events transpire.

Here are some things I learned and processed through as I read:

1. Easy decisions do not make it to the president’s desk. It is easy for us in the public to play Monday morning quarterback concerning every decision our president makes. The problem with this is that we often have such a limited perspective of what is going on that our opinions would prove simplistic and ill informed if we had the same information before us that he possesses. I use to think that I would love to be the president… not so much now.

2. The president is a lonely person. Even though it appears that the president is always surrounded by a group of people, Gibbs and Duffy explain that every president in recent history has opined that he is the loneliest person in the world. This is sad but understandable. The presidency is an island unto itself – none who find themselves on this island return the same.

3. Every president is worried about his legacy. Regardless of temperament or political party, every president is concerned with how they will be remembered in the history books. Carter has spent his life, post-presidency, trying to overshadow his “failed” presidency. Bush (43) is convinced that his presidency will be remembered much differently that his final approval numbers seemed to indicate. It appears that there is a deep thread of insecurity imbedded in the office.

4. Lines of morality are often crossed in the presidency. I was absolutely blown away by the scandals surrounding the office – everything from Kennedy’s skinny dipping with female interns in the White House pool to Watergate to Clinton’s impeachment for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Power can often breed corruption and we have witnessed moral compromise by many of our presidents. It is clear that the president needs our prayers.

If you are interested in presidential history like me, I would encourage you to get The Presidents Club and read it for yourself. I’m sure you will be amazed, disgusted, and fascinated at different points throughout!