Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents

Robert Dallek, Author
Robert Dallek, Author Hyperion Books $22.45 (0p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6205-4
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Dallek's roster of great Presidents includes Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, FDR and Reagan, all of whom had clear, long-term visions of where they wanted to lead the nation. The most astute chiefs, in this UCLA history professor's assessment, were charismatic because they understood that the President is a privileged actor on the world stage and in our national mythology (Jefferson, Eisenhower, JFK). Effective leaders, he stresses, exploit consensus politics in the service of national renewal: for instance, Wilson's consolidation of the progressive impulse, Roosevelt's leading of a New Deal coalition and LBJ's support for affordable health care for the elderly. Other Presidents lost credibility and public trust through overreaching, deviousness, willful blindness or political crises (Andrew Johnson, Hoover, Ford, Carter, Nixon). Dallek seems intimately familiar with the quirks, strengths and flaws of all those who served in the White House, making this a trenchant, provocative, often surprising portrait gallery. Author tour. (Sept.)