Lively yet overly detailed chronicle of the different paths various presidents have taken once they left the White House.
New York Times contributors Benardo and Weiss (co-authors: Brooklyn by Name, 2006) describe how different chief executives found ways to serve their country—and bank accounts—after their tenure in the nation’s top job. Timed to coincide with the addition of George W. Bush to the Former Presidents’ Club, the book’s narrative style makes it appealing to both general readers and history geeks. While some stories of recent vintage are well known, such as Jimmy Carter’s humanitarian efforts and election monitoring or Bill Clinton’s foundation and lucrative speaking career, the authors shed much light on earlier presidents. They deal at great length with Herbert Hoover’s work as chairman of a commission on government reorganization and John Quincy Adams’s efforts as an abolitionist congressman and defender of the enslaved Africans who mutinied on the Amistad. Benardo and Weiss rarely break new ground, but they admirably synthesize information from disparate sources. Extensively discussing Clinton’s outspoken and sometimes controversial efforts on behalf of his wife during the 2008 Democratic primaries, they clearly think that his actions besmirched the prestige of the presidency. The authors also spend a great deal of time discussing the history and workings of presidential libraries. These efforts by presidents to help shape their legacies have evolved into elaborate public-private ventures. Benardo and Weiss argue that there should be more rigorous scholarship when administering the libraries and more disclosure about donors. “Transparency in such library contributions would help citizens assess whether corporate donations or sovereign governments’ gifts influence a president’s policies,” they write. “A detailed federal budget exists for what taxpayers are providing to presidential libraries across America. Why not demand the same for private contributions?”
Readable approach to a significant aspect of presidential history that doesn’t always receive the treatment it deserves.