Our thanks to Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, authors of The Presidents Club--selected as one of the top 10 Best Books of the Month for April--for this exclusive look at other books exploring the public and private sides of the "Oval Office experience."
Because there is no Oval Office owner’s manual, and because, as John F. Kennedy observed, “there is no experience that can possibly prepare you adequately for the presidency,” presidents study one another. They read the diaries, devour the biographies; Herbert Hoover even wrote an entire book about Woodrow Wilson, and Eisenhower painted portraits of Lincoln and gave them as Christmas presents. “This is my presidential library, from Washington through Bush,” Bill Clinton told us, gesturing to a wall of shelves in his private office. He was just finishing Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington, which he considered “brilliant,” and as we talked about the rules and rituals of this very small fraternity, he retold stories not just of heroes like Lincoln and Roosevelt but the distinctive trials of Franklin Pierce and Rutherford B. Hayes.
As we set out to tell the story of The Presidents Club--a history of the private relationships among modern American presidents, their backroom deals, rescue missions, secret alliances and enduring rivalries--we followed their lead, reading the work of presidential scholars and journalists who have explored the private sides of public men. It is one thing to watch how they wield their power; another to reckon with what it costs them. That is the bond that brings them together: no one else knows what it is like to sit in the chair.
The story of the club starts with the most unlikely of all presidential alliances: the one between Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman. For those wanting to understand the extraordinary rise of a man called “the accidental President,” David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Truman remains the skeleton key: rich, gripping, graceful and fair. As for Hoover, Richard Norton Smith’s An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover offers a complex portrait of a compelling character who was too often reduced to a caricature.