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The Modern American Presidency

Lewis L. Gould

Foreword by Richard Norton Smith

New in Paperback: February 2004
xvi, 302 pages, 36 photographs, 6 x 9
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1330-4, $15.95 (t)

Also available in cloth:
ISBN 978-0-7006-1252-9, $29.95 (t)




Table of Contents, Foreword, and Introduction in pdf format

Chapter 6 - The Souring of the Modern Presidency: John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson in pdf format

Their idiosyncrasies and failures were as diverse as their accomplishments. William McKinley tracked press opinion before Richard Nixon was even born. Calvin Coolidge utilized radio and press conferences long before today’s spin doctors. And John F. Kennedy brought the culture of celebrity to the White House.

The president of the United States may be the most powerful man in the world. But even though all of our modern presidents have acted in what they believed to be the country’s best interests, Lewis Gould suggests that most of them fell short of the challenges of an impossible job. To treat the modern presidency as a success story, he claims, is to falsify the historical record.

The Modern American Presidency is a lively, interpretive synthesis of our twentieth-century leaders, filled with intriguing insights into how the presidency has evolved as America rose to prominence on the world stage. Gould traces the decline of the party system and the increasing importance of the media, resulting in the rise of the president as celebrity. He traces the growth of the White House staff and executive bureaucracy. And he shows us a succession of men who have increasingly known less and less about the presidency, observing that most would have had a better historical reputation if they had contented themselves with a single term.

Engagingly written for general readers while firmly grounded in scholarship for classroom use, this book takes a no-holds-barred approach to occupants of the Oval Office. Gould marks the accomplishments of lesser-known presidents—Taft’s anticipation of the budget office, Harding’s plans for a Defense Department—and casts higher-profile personalities in a fresh light, whether revisiting Nixon’s preoccupation with reelection, exploring why the effort to remove Bill Clinton weakened the impeachment power, or contemplating George W. Bush’s efforts to wage war against terrorism.

As Gould observes, today’s presidency is so bogged down in media manipulation, fund-raising, and self indulgence that it is no more capable of grappling with difficulties than it was a century ago. The Modern American Presidency advocates the radical rethinking of what the nation needs from its chief executive and gives us the understanding we need to go about it.

“An astute primer in executive power and privilege [and] a concise, intelligent survey of the transformations of the White House over the past century.”--Publishers Weekly

“From the days of McKinley through the tumultuous days after September 11, Gould has written the freshest and most original study of the modern presidency. His portraits of the leaders are vividly drawn, insightful, and often surprising. . . . Destined to be a classic.”--Steve Neal, political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times

“Anyone interested in the presidency will want to read Lewis Gould’s The Modern American Presidency. It is a compelling analysis and critique that lays bare the current strengths and weak-nesses of the office and reminds us that the presidency remains a work in progress.”--Robert Dallek, author of Flawed Giant: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1960–1973 and Hail to the Chief: The Making and Unmaking of American Presidents

The Modern American Presidency is that rare achievement: an informative synthesis that does not shy away from strong, provocative judgments. Gould has a great eye for the telling quotation and the narrative is a pleasure to read. These qualities make it ideal for the general reader who wants an overview of the presidency.”--Richard J. Ellis, author of Presidential Lightning Rods and editor of Founding the American Presidency

“A joy to read and pleasantly provocative, Gould’s masterful work is perfect for classroom use.”--History: Reviews of New Books

LEWIS L. GOULD is Emeritus Professor of History and a Fellow of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. His numerous other books include The Presidency of William McKinley and The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt in the American Presidency Series, Lady Bird Johnson: Our Environmental First Lady, and The Spanish-American War and President McKinley.


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