As Americans choose and install a new president for a new century they could do no better than to read this work by one of our keenest observers of the modern presidency. Drawing on a quarter-century's immersion in the presidential record and scores of interviews, Fred I. Greenstein provides a fascinating and instructive account of the qualities that have served well and poorly in the Oval Office from Franklin D. Roosevelt's first hundred days to the end of the Clinton administration. Greenstein offers a series of bottom-line judgments on each of his eleven subjects and a bold new explanation of why presidents succeed or fail. Previous analysts have placed their bets on the president's political prowess or personal character. Yet by the first standard, LBJ should have been our greatest president, and by the second the nod would go to Jimmy Carter. Greenstein surveys each president's record in public communication, political skill, vision, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence. He concludes that the last is by far the most important. According to Greenstein, FDR provides endless positive lessons but is a source of warnings. Truman let his bizarre readings of history lead him astray. Eisenhower was wise but failed to communicate a vision. Kennedy had no vision. Reagan was Carter in reverse. It is Ford who is most unappreciated and genuinely interesting. Ford balanced many conflicting demands, kept his poise, and left the office much stronger than he found it. Presidents can avoid failure if they are willing to accept the warnings of failures past and act accordingly. But it is not only presidents who should read this book with care. Some flaws cannot be overcome nomatter how otherwise talented the man. Only three of Greenstein's eleven modern presidents were "fundamentally free of distracting emotional perturbations." When we choose our presidents, we will do well to listen to Greenstein and "Beware the presidential contender who lacks emotional intelligence. In its absence all else may turn to ashes."
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Princeton University's Fred I. Greenstein caps off an illustrious career as a presidential scholar with The Presidential Difference. This book won't fundamentally change the way anybody looks at the last 11 chief executives--Greenstein's earlier work The Hidden-Hand Presidency revolutionized the academy's view of Eisenhower--but it does provide a worthwhile series of minibiographies and analytical summations. Greenstein rates his subjects in several categories: communication, organization, political skill, vision, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence. His assessments can be quite frank: Roosevelt is the source of "endless positive lessons"; Truman "illustrates the cost of a defective communication style and a situation-determined approach to presidential leadership"; Ford is "underappreciated"; and so on. Who is Greenstein's favorite? It's clearly FDR, even though he confronts the question with an amusing anecdote about LBJ. Walking on a tarmac in Vietnam, an airman says, "This is your helicopter, Mr. President." Johnson replies, "They are all my helicopters." Writes Greenstein: "Each of the modern presidents is a source of insight, as much for his weaknesses as his strengths. The variation among them provides intellectual leverage, permitting comparisons and expanding our sense of the possible." And so, he writes, "They are all my presidents." --John J. MillerFrom the Back Cover :
"An excellent book. I support it wholeheartedly."--Dick Cheney, May 3, 2000
"A wonderful book. . . . For journalists, it is a great checklist as to what we ought to be--but probably are not likely to be--looking for in a presidential candidate."--David Broder
"Among the many excellent books on the American presidency, Greenstein's The Presidential Difference will occupy a unique position. Greenstein not only provides succinct descriptions of the person and presidency of every incumbent in the office from FDR to Clinton, but he also presents the reader with highly informed, judicious, shrewd, and entirely nonpartisan judgments about the qualities that have made for success and failure in that demanding office. His descriptions and evaluations make it a book that can be read with profit by everyone who cares about American political life, and, as appears to be the author's intent, particularly by future incoming presidents."--Robert A. Dahl, author of On Democracy
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