At once scholarly, imaginative, and great fun.




From William McKinley to Barack Obama, a prizewinning historian looks at the tortured marriage of public relations and the modern presidency.

Woodrow Wilson loathed all the “ ‘campaign mummery’ of shaking hands and sweet-talking supporters.” Adlai Stevenson called merchandising candidates for high office “the ultimate indignity to the democratic process.” Both can blame Theodore Roosevelt for transforming the presidency and for recognizing the power of “the bully pulpit” to shape and mobilize public opinion. Since Roosevelt, all aspirants to and occupants of the Oval Office have taken elaborate pains to construct and nourish their public images, carefully crafting their own versions of events and presenting them to voters as “truth-telling” or “transparency.” Opponents reliably label their efforts as mere publicity, advertising, ballyhoo, news management, propaganda, or, in today’s fashionable locution, “spin.” Greenberg (History/Rutgers Univ.; Calvin Coolidge, 2006, etc.) cruises chronologically through more than 100 years of spin, packing his narrative with minibios and sharp commentary on the journalists, pundits, and intellectuals who’ve closely observed the spin machine through the years. He chronicles the succession of speechwriters, press secretaries, pollsters, admen, consultants, TV gurus, and campaign managers, each of whom gave the machine a distinctive whirl. And, of course, he assesses the presidents, gold-standard spinners like FDR, JFK, and Reagan, chief executives who were surprisingly good at it—Coolidge, Truman—some who were surprisingly bad—Harding, Wilson—and some, like Hoover, Johnson, and Carter, whose presidencies began well and then spun out of control. As Greenberg chronicles the evolution of spin, noting the technological innovations that have caused the machine to revolve ever faster, piling up colorful, informative stories about the notable spinmasters, charting the dizzying effect of the constant campaign and the supercharged executive on the voters, readers will wonder whether to cry at the implications for our republic or to simply laugh at the spectacle of it all.

At once scholarly, imaginative, and great fun.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-06706-4

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.


Noted number cruncher Sperling delivers an economist’s rejoinder to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Former director of the National Economic Council in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the author has long taken a view of the dismal science that takes economic justice fully into account. Alongside all the metrics and estimates and reckonings of GDP, inflation, and the supply curve, he holds the great goal of economic policy to be the advancement of human dignity, a concept intangible enough to chase the econometricians away. Growth, the sacred mantra of most economic policy, “should never be considered an appropriate ultimate end goal” for it, he counsels. Though 4% is the magic number for annual growth to be considered healthy, it is healthy only if everyone is getting the benefits and not just the ultrawealthy who are making away with the spoils today. Defining dignity, admits Sperling, can be a kind of “I know it when I see it” problem, but it does not exist where people are a paycheck away from homelessness; the fact, however, that people widely share a view of indignity suggests the “intuitive universality” of its opposite. That said, the author identifies three qualifications, one of them the “ability to meaningfully participate in the economy with respect, not domination and humiliation.” Though these latter terms are also essentially unquantifiable, Sperling holds that this respect—lack of abuse, in another phrasing—can be obtained through a tight labor market and monetary and fiscal policy that pushes for full employment. In other words, where management needs to come looking for workers, workers are likely to be better treated than when the opposite holds. In still other words, writes the author, dignity is in part a function of “ ‘take this job and shove it’ power,” which is a power worth fighting for.

A declaration worth hearing out in a time of growing inequality—and indignity.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7987-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.


The chief White House and Washington correspondent for ABC provides a ringside seat to a disaster-ridden Oval Office.

It is Karl to whom we owe the current popularity of a learned Latin term. Questioning chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, he followed up a perhaps inadvertently honest response on the matter of Ukrainian intervention in the electoral campaign by saying, “What you just described is a quid pro quo.” Mulvaney’s reply: “Get over it.” Karl, who has been covering Trump for decades and knows which buttons to push and which to avoid, is not inclined to get over it: He rightly points out that a reporter today “faces a president who seems to have no appreciation or understanding of the First Amendment and the role of a free press in American democracy.” Yet even against a bellicose, untruthful leader, he adds, the press “is not the opposition party.” The author, who keeps his eye on the subject and not in the mirror, writes of Trump’s ability to stage situations, as when he once called Trump out, at an event, for misrepresenting poll results and Trump waited until the camera was off before exploding, “Fucking nasty guy!”—then finished up the interview as if nothing had happened. Trump and his inner circle are also, by Karl’s account, masters of timing, matching negative news such as the revelation that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election with distractions away from Trump—in this case, by pushing hard on the WikiLeaks emails from the Democratic campaign, news of which arrived at the same time. That isn’t to say that they manage people or the nation well; one of the more damning stories in a book full of them concerns former Homeland Security head Kirstjen Nielsen, cut off at the knees even while trying to do Trump’s bidding.

No one’s mind will be changed by Karl’s book, but it’s a valuable report from the scene of an ongoing train wreck.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4562-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?