cover image FRATERNITY: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents

FRATERNITY: A Journey in Search of Five Presidents

Bob Greene. Crown, $24 (284pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-5464-0

With his warm, affable syndicated columnist's voice, bestselling author Greene (Once Upon a Town , etc.) searches out the coterie of U.S. ex-presidents, that "smallest and most exclusive fraternity in the world." Starting with a rare 1983 tête-à-tête with Nixon, Greene interviews Carter, Bush Sr. and Ford. (Reagan's absence is due to his illness; the obvious omission of Clinton is never explained.) Avoiding talk of policy and politics, Greene delves into the safe minutiae of presidential lives: he peppers the fraternity with inane queries about exercise routines ("Is the Secret Service around when you do your sit-ups?"), wardrobe, favorite songs and movies (Ford's is Mrs. Doubtfire ), the novelty of sleeping in the White House and wounded feelings over partisan name-calling. Above all, he goggles at their unfathomable fall from exalted supercelebrity to approachable semicelebrity. "Can you just go into a clothing store?" Greene demands of Ford. "What about that whole thing of going into the changing room?" Greene's few wrestlings with the meaning of the office ("It's like you're president of every town," he blurts to a preternaturally patient Bush) can verge on the inchoate. Carter, with a more substantial postpresidential public life than the others, receives the most substantial profile as a serious, tight-lipped micro-manager. Agent, Eric Simonoff at Janklow & Nesbit. (On sale Sept. 28)

Forecast: While Greene's approach can make the exes look like feckless retirees,he has an undeniable knack for picking and softballilng subjects of great general interest; expect vigorous sales. Election fatigue will also send readers into their past president's presents.