Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

White House Ghosts
Written by Robert Schlesinger

While my interest in politics is mild at best, my interest in politically-themed entertainment is intense. The West Wing, Frost/Nixon, Charlie Wilson's War... the list goes on. I love fictional politics, and I love the stories around real politics. Combine with that my love for the English language, and it's fairly natural that I would pick up White House Ghosts, a history of presidential speechwriters, from FDR to GWB.

Its appeal is probably limited, but if you find it interesting, Schlesinger has done a great job. The research was undoubtedly exhaustive, with interviews conducted for over two years prior to release. History tends to be boring when it is delivered without a sense of story. There has to be some element of narrative to keep the audience engaged, lest it become a laundry list of dates and facts. What Schlesinger does so well, is he presents the history of the speechwriters while imbuing it with a story, one that keeps you interested without seeming forced. He clearly hasn't had to wrestle the facts into a story, they fit there well on their own, but you begin to see the ways administrations handled and mishandled their speechwriting staffs, how one presidency learned the lessons of the previous one, or discarded them altogether. It's a fascinating read, and by the end of this book, you will be amazed presidents ever manage to give speeches at all. I don't believe a book on this subject could have been written any better, or any deeper, without becoming droll.

Grade: A-

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