SECOND ACTS by Mark K. Updegrove


Presidential Lives and Legacies After the White House
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Ex-presidents from Truman to Clinton: how they coped and carried on, and where they stand today.

Updegrove, a former publisher of Newsweek and president of Time Canada, credits late Time White House correspondent Hugh Sidey for guidance on framing his study of former U.S. presidents in the postwar era. His introduction effectively instills the historical mood: Initially, a national leader’s stepping aside voluntarily in the bloom of health was an unnatural act, simply without precedent or rules, until George Washington set the general hands-off tone for White House retirees. Not long after, however, the once-ineffective John Quincy Adams was essentially drafted back to Washington by congressional voters in his Massachusetts district, served nine successive terms and was an abolitionist force at the time of his death, in 1848. In Quincy Adams, the author sources the thread of “second act” redemption that resonates with the likes of the disgraced Richard Nixon, the undistinguished (in office) Jimmy Carter and even Bill Clinton, who despite leaving with the highest performance rating (65%, besting Ronald Reagan’s 64%) of any postwar president, felt and showed he had a lot of explaining to do. Both Carter, the only ex-president to have been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and Nixon, Updegrove observes, “Were able to successfully pursue foreign-policy goals left unfinished.” But there is poignancy as well, for example, in LBJ’s dissipative relapse with cigarettes and booze that contributed to his death at 64—exactly when a computer model had predicted he would die based on family health history; or in Nancy Reagan’s dashed hopes for an Edmund Morris biography that ultimately portrayed her then-failing husband not as a Mt. Rushmore figure but the familiar yet enigmatic “Dutch.” In one priceless vignette, Harry Truman, harried by Bess to mow the lawn, intentionally does it on Sunday morning, to her deep chagrin as passing churchgoers take reproving notice.

No bombshells, but revealing in detail and context.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 1-59228-942-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Lyons Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2006


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