Cover image for Eyewitness to power : the essence of leadership : Nixon to Clinton
Eyewitness to power : the essence of leadership : Nixon to Clinton
Gergen, David R. (David Richmond), 1942-
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2000]

Physical Description:
382 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
JK516 .G493 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
JK516 .G493 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
JK516 .G493 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Fresh from the political wars, where he served as a White House adviser to Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, a campaign aide to Bush, and a close-up reporter of Carter, David Gergen assesses the key leadership lessons they offer for coming presidents. None possessed sufficient qualities to achieve the greatness historians reserve for Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt. A great leader must have seven core elements: personal character that inspires trust, a moral vision for the nation's future, the political skills of both a lion and a fox, a capacity to mobilize followers through the modern media, an ability to recover from defeat and face future crises, an ability to attract and listen to wise advisers, and a capacity to bequeath a workable legacy.

Gergen has watched these chief executives deal with decision making, with conflicting advice, with their private lives, the task of defining and conveying their goals, and their success or failure at capturing the public's imagination. Henominates a team of all-stars from the past nine presidencies.

From this smart and savvy book emerge lessons of leadership that stretch far be

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

What can readers learn from recent presidents' successes and failures and from 1999's welter of events? Two of Washington's more thoughtful commentators have suggestions. Gergen stumbled into the Nixon White House and later served the Ford, Reagan, and Clinton administrations. His focus here is on the nature of leadership, particularly the leadership strengths and weaknesses of his four presidential bosses and, in a final chapter, the types of leadership Americans should seek in electing future presidents. Currently U.S. News & World Report editor-at-large, public-service professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and News Hour with Jim Lehrer commentator, Gergen seems a quintessential "centrist," more fiscally conservative than many Democrats, more socially liberal than many Republicans. His analysis of the achievements and inadequacies of the presidents he served is nuanced and enlightening. Intimate without wallowing in tabloid tidbits, Gergen's description of his work at the White House offers a valuable sidelight on history, plus pointed thoughts on what qualities citizens truly need from their presidents. Remember 1999? The impeachment trial and war in Kosovo, negotiations for peace in the Middle East and northern Ireland, Columbine and Amadou Diallo, the JFK Jr. crash, the growth of the Internet and Y2K fears. Off Camera is a journal of 1999 from ABC News correspondent and Nightline anchor Koppel. Fans of the show will immediately recognize this volume's "voice": Koppel in print "sounds" just like Koppel on the tube. What's different here is that the journal-keeper allows himself to express opinions (and readers learn a bit about his personal life). Koppel's early comments on Kosovo, for example, are quite negative (perhaps reflecting the influence of Henry Kissinger?), but he admits to overreaction when Milosevic withdraws. The shifting demands of the media also come in for thoughtful consideration. ^-Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Few observers are as qualified to comment on the merits of presidential leadership as is Gergen, having served as a speechwriter and adviser to fourchief executives. In these finely etched tales of his time with Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, Gergen not only explains what made these men tick but also draws broader lessons on what makes for presidential greatness. It begins, he says, with strength of character; then a president must have a clear and compelling vision of what he wants to accomplish, and must be able to communicate this vision to the American people. Organizationally, he must be able to work with other centers of political power, particularly Congress; be decisive in his early actions in office; and have around him strong and prudent advisors. Finally, he must inspire. This is a lot to ask of any leader, and Gergen admits that none of those for whom he worked quite had it all, though in his estimation Reagan came closest. Both Nixon and Clinton were men of brilliance, he says, yet harbored deeply flawed characters; Ford was honest and capable but never quite defined his goals. Reagan, for all his considerable virtuesÄcourage, conviction, visionÄtoo often allowed his inattention to detail and hands-off management style to derail his intentions. While some may debate Gergen's assessments, his own eye for detail and knack for narrative are to be admired. He brings to life the everyday world of the presidency and provides telling portraits of these fallible yet fascinating leaders. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Prominent national journalist Gergen is a familiar face on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and ABC's Nightline, among other outlets. He has moved in and out of government for more than 30 years, and here he offers his insights into the leadership qualities of the Presidents he served and those he witnessed, beginning with Richard Nixon and ending with Bill Clinton. As one might expect, Jimmy Carter does not fare well, though he is respected, while Ronald Reagan and Clinton do. Gergen first worked in the Nixon administration, but his loyalty does not prevent him from perceiving and describing the dark side of that regime. The author worked for Clinton for a time, and his observation is that the man had no mechanism for sorting out the input that was hitting his highly intelligent and capable mind. Still, he was a genius at inspiring his followers and persuading others that he cared deeply for them. Gergen found Gerald Ford to be an effective and honorable man, defeated by the events into which he was forced to play. The best leader chooses skilled operators whose strengths and conflicts bolster one another and give the President multiple perspectives from which to view the issues of the day. Stylishly written, this book would have been better if Gergen had not taken on the task of reading it himself; his enervating pacing and nearly lifeless intonation prove once again that it is not always wise. Recommended for modern political history collections. Don Wismer, Cary Memorial Lib., Wayne, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.