cover image First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (and Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents

First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (and Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents

Gary Ginsberg. Twelve, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0292-5

Ginsberg, a corporate executive and former Clinton administration official, debuts with an entertaining group portrait of nine U.S. presidents and their best friends. All of these friendships are marked by “deep, abiding affection between the two individuals,” according to Ginsberg, who details how some changed policies and bolstered careers, while others damaged reputations. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson’s friendship lasted more than 50 years and produced more than 1,250 letters. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s campaign biography of Franklin Pierce helped his friend win the presidency, but led to fierce criticism from the author’s “abolitionist peer group.” Edward House was Woodrow Wilson’s closest adviser and the architect of his foreign policy, until the two men had a falling out over the terms of the Paris Peace conference (First Lady Edith Wilson’s dislike of House didn’t help matters). Margaret “Daisy” Suckley didn’t advise Franklin Roosevelt, but served as his confidante and archivist, while Cuban-American banker Charles Gregory “Bebe” Rebozo got branded as Richard Nixon’s “bagman” during the Watergate scandal. Ginsberg’s succinct and lucid profiles are buoyed by colorful insider details, including Vernon Jordan’s joke to Bill Clinton about why he refused to take golf lessons (“I’m just trying to destroy one more stereotype about blacks, that we’re all great athletes”). Readers will delight in this intriguing look at the human side of the presidency. (July)