The Hidden Lives of the Modern Presidents and the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Institution


 A mixture of juicy but hard-to-verify gossip and anecdotes about presidents from Secret Service agents (sworn never to reveal secrets), White House housekeepers, butlers, maids, and cooks, as well as media figures and politicians. A former Wall Street Journal and Washington Post reporter, Kessler (The FBI, 1993) has interviewed many named and unnamed sources who have worked at the White House. Currently, Kessler tells us, the White House employs a core of about 1,600 people (Herbert Hoover had approximately 50 employees) plus perhaps another 1,000 charged to other departments at a cost of over a billion dollars a year--although no one is sure exactly how much, since Kessler indicates that spending is uncontrolled and unaccountable. Also, Kessler's portraits reveal that no president is a hero to his valet (or to anyone else on the White House staff) and no First Lady a heroine to her housekeeper. Kessler's ``eyewitness news reports'' especially savage LBJ and Clinton, while drawing portraits critical of other presidents: the frugal, paranoiac Nixon and his $7.50 haircuts; the nasty, imperious, nitpicking Carter, whom Kessler depicts as the least-liked president; the popular but henpecked Reagan. Kessler depicts LBJ as a lying, uncouth tyrant who stole government property for his Texas ranch, and a contender for JFK's White House sexcapades title. More substantively, Kessler argues that LBJ ignored dire CIA warnings on Vietnam and followed the overly optimistic advice of the yes-men with whom he surrounded himself. Finally, Clinton is pictured as a poor manager and a deceitful figure who spends too much time pressing flesh while presiding over a staff that seems incompetent, unprofessional, and lacking in common sense and maturity. With substance calculated to irritate frustrated taxpayers as much as to entertain, Kessler's tabloid style is effective in enticing the reader to keep turning the pages.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-671-87920-0
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Pocket
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994


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