Ten essays that attempt, with varying success, to define presidential character. Wilson, who owns a communications company and produces television programs with Pulitzer Prize-winning Truman biographer David McCullough, has asked an impressive group of historians, journalists, and politicos to address the subject. Using the examples of ten modern-day presidents, these writers attempt, by a combination of biography and analysis, to reach some conclusions about the character of our national leaders. The first thing that becomes obvious, however, is that there is no presidential gene, per se; these ten men share no single trait except the desire to lead. The second is that success in the presidency is not always proportional to the laudability of the president's character. Hendrick Hertzberg, for instance, calls Jimmy Carter a ""saint"" but argues that ""not even his most fervent admirers would place him in the top ten"" of our greatest presidents. And James Cannon's sympathetic picture of Gerald Ford is one of a bona fide boy scout who never even dreamed of being president--a characteristic that showed in his largely unimpressive record as commander-in-chief. Among more successful chief executives: Doris Kearns Goodwin's elegy of FDR shows a man whose greatest asset as a president was his unflappable optimism. Stephen Ambrose presents Dwight Eisenhower as the epitome of trustworthiness. The most engaging piece by far is from McCullough on Harry Truman, who comes across as the most human and lovable of the men described. Richard Reeves's on JFK is the least satisfying, focusing heavily on the late president's ill health to illuminate his character. Soon to be a PBS special hosted by Jim Lehrer, an enjoyable glimpse of the lives of our recent presidents.