HAIL TO THE CHIEF

THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF AMERICAN PRESIDENTS

Dallek (History/UCLA; Lone Star Rising, 1991; Ronald Reagan: The Politics of Symbolism, 1984; etc.) thoughtfully finds some common denominators of effective presidential performance. Why have some presidents become perennial heroes and others bywords for failure? Dallek delineates five qualities uniquely important to presidential leadership: vision, pragmatism, consensus, charisma (or the appeal of personality), and trust. Dallek then shows how the greatest presidents, like Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt, have displayed these traits in responding to national challenges as diverse as establishing the infant United States, waging the Civil War, and ending the Great Depression. Dallek also shows presidents failing by displaying an absence of these virtues: Herbert Hoover, for instance, lacked pragmatic flexibility, and John Quincy Adams failed to achieve consensus for his aim of advancing the prosperity of American society. To some extent, Dallek recognizes, the traits of success are contradictory and temper one another (a visionary whose vision leads him too far ahead of the popular consensus will fail, for instance); effective presidential leadership, he suggests, consists of maintaining a delicate balance. Assessing success or failure is also a matter of balance: The greatest presidents have suffered policy failures, sometimes major ones. Also, Dallek acknowledges that the qualities of presidential greatness are ultimately more elusive than his checklist of virtues would imply: Assessments of presidents while in office, have been notoriously inaccurate (Dallek cites disparaging evaluations by contemporaries of Washington, Lincoln, and FDR). Recognizing the ever-changing nature and complexity of the president's task, Dallek concludes that ``the study of how past presidents made large gains and suffered major defeats gives us little more than a useful general guide to executive actions.'' A provocative analysis of success and failure in the nation's most difficult job. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-7868-6205-X

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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