cover image The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency

The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency

John Dickerson. Random House, $30 (656p) ISBN 978-1-984854-51-3

60 Minutes correspondent Dickerson (Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History) takes an evenhanded and insightful look at the evolution of the American presidency. He lists the myriad, and often contradictory, roles played by modern-day presidents and argues that the demands of the office have evolved far beyond what the founding fathers intended. The problem is compounded, Dickerson writes, by the disconnect between what the public and the media expect of presidential candidates (“impulsive, winner-take-all displays of momentary ash”) and the qualities actually needed to do the job well (“restraint, deliberation, and cooperation”). He explains that presidents weren’t expected to immediately travel to scenes of natural disasters until 1965, when LBJ visited tornado victims in Indiana and hurricane victims in Louisiana, and provides perspective on Trump’s norm-shattering by contending that the job became “almost impossible” long before he took office. Dickerson’s proposed fixes include assigning most ceremonial duties to the vice president and choosing candidates based on their ability manage “black swan” events. Drawing on illuminating interviews with former White House officials and presidential historians, Dickerson packs the book with intriguing arcana and colorful quotes, including LBJ’s comparison of the presidency to a “hootchie-kootchie show.” This entertaining history rises above the political fray to cast even the most maligned chief executives in a new light. Agent: Tina Bennett. (June)