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. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.


A master storyteller’s character-driven account of a storied year in the American Revolution.

Against world systems, economic determinist and other external-cause schools of historical thought, McCullough (John Adams, 2001, etc.) has an old-fashioned fondness for the great- (and not-so-great) man tradition, which may not have much explanatory power but almost always yields better-written books. McCullough opens with a courteous nod to the customary villain in the story of American independence, George III, who turns out to be a pleasant and artistically inclined fellow who relied on poor advice; his Westmoreland, for instance, was a British general named Grant who boasted that with 5,000 soldiers he “could march from one end of the American continent to the other.” Other British officers agitated for peace, even as George wondered why Americans would not understand that to be a British subject was to be free by definition. Against these men stood arrayed a rebel army that was, at the least, unimpressive; McCullough observes that New Englanders, for instance, considered washing clothes to be women’s work and so wore filthy clothes until they rotted, with the result that Burgoyne and company had a point in thinking the Continentals a bunch of ragamuffins. The Americans’ military fortunes were none too good for much of 1776, the year of the Declaration; at the slowly unfolding battle for control over New York, George Washington was moved to despair at the sight of sometimes drunk soldiers running from the enemy and of their officers “who, instead of attending to their duty, had stood gazing like bumpkins” at the spectacle. For a man such as Washington, to be a laughingstock was the supreme insult, but the British were driven by other motives than to irritate the general—not least of them reluctance to give up a rich, fertile and beautiful land that, McCullough notes, was providing the world’s highest standard of living in 1776.

Thus the second most costly war in American history, whose “outcome seemed little short of a miracle.” A sterling account.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-2671-2

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2005

Did you like this book?