American Presidents and the Perils of Power
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 The perils of posthumous editing have struck this anthology of presidential scrutinizing by America's premier pundit (Nine Scorpions in a Bottle, 1994, etc.), who died in 1992. Editor Schmuhl (American Studies/Univ. of Notre Dame) might have remembered that less is more; any political commentator whose career spanned half a century is by nature prolific and, no matter how brilliant, slightly redundant. Schmuhl makes some poor choices in selecting and organizing Lerner's work (one essay, ``Desire and Power in the White House,'' is simply an expanded version of its immediate predecessor, ``Eros and Power''). Ideas, structure, and even phrasing are duplicated throughout the collection. Most of these pieces focus on presidents of this century, though some attention is paid to Lincoln and Jefferson. The strength of the book is Lerner's voice, undimmed through 50 years of closely following the White House scene. His personal knowledge of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, and Nixon give those portraits a powerful immediacy, and he is unflinching in his assessments of their effectiveness or lack thereof while in office. Roosevelt was ``the greatest president of the century,'' while Truman gets high marks in retrospect but not, the reader will notice, in Lerner's contemporary columns from Truman's era. Another section reproduces Lerner's play-by-play columns from the 1940 to 1992 political campaigns, profiling the issues, the victors, and the also-rans. As such, this section offers the most compelling you-are-there realism and stands in a direct contrast to the essays of the first section, which are quite reflective. The strong middle segment contains in- depth profiles of six commanders-in-chief. One wishes that Schmuhl had exercised a bit more restraint and foresight as editor, because the sum of this collection does not do justice to the richness of its parts.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 1-55970-339-3
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996