A well-paced, exhaustively researched biography of Robert Strauss, the well-connected lawyer, politician, businessman and diplomat known in some circles as “Mr. Democrat.”
Readers interested in national politics will find McGarr's first book packed with compelling stories about her subject's varied and intriguing career, the evolution of the Democratic Party from the 1950s to the ’90s and the changing tone in Washington during the same period. A wealthy and successful Texas lawyer who began his career as an FBI agent, Strauss established himself as an important figure in state politics by the ’50s, served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1972 to 1977, U.S. Trade Representative and special envoy to the Middle East under President Carter and U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and, later, Russia under President George H.W. Bush. By disclosing her close personal connection to her subject in the book's introduction—Strauss is McGarr's great-uncle—the author is clearly attempting to de-fang potential critics. McGarr likely learned this handy trick from “Uncle Bob” himself. As she frequently notes, despite having come under occasional fire for influence-peddling throughout his years in politics, Strauss' disarmingly frank manner kept his reputation virtually unsullied. Though ingratiating, McGarr's candor about her relationship to her subject nevertheless casts doubt on her portrayal of a man toward whom she clearly feels deep affection and loyalty. Her exclusive access to Strauss himself—as well as to dozens of high-level politicians and media personalities who worked with him—both strengthens the book and undermines it. Though enriched by many funny, revealing quotes and anecdotes, the book draws heavily on material almost exclusively provided by people who like and admire the subject. By all accounts, including McGarr's, Strauss has a Texas-sized personality and an ego to match. Many of his business dealings were ethical only in the sense that he never believed he was doing anything wrong. McGarr seems at pains to argue that, even if Strauss' actions weren't always strictly above-board, his intentions were. It is worth reading the book to decide whether Strauss is a wise elder statesman of a bygone era or merely an effective practitioner of politics as usual.
Neatly structured and highly readable debut featuring a commanding central figure.