... enchanting ... The author wraps history and humanity in a sparkling package ... It’s an inspired idea that will thrill anyone who loves life stories woven into presidential history ... By far the strongest chapter in Ginsberg’s book—and the chronicle of a relationship that changed history—was Harry Truman’s friendship with Eddie Jacobson ... Gary Ginsberg has written in First Friends a romp of a read. Enjoy!
... [an] entertaining and enlightening romp through interpersonal presidential relationships ... Unfortunately, the book is organized chronologically, so the first pairing is Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, founding friends whose relationship manages to be the least interesting of the lot. The author, being a journalist, should have known better than to lead with such a relatively dull duo. For compelling peculiarity, skip to Richard Nixon and Charles 'Bebe' Rebozo.
Mr. Ginsberg is too loyal a Clintonite to state plainly that Mr. Gore’s 'friend deficit,' as he delicately puts it, made him ill-suited to the presidency. But clearly it signaled a problem. It is a problem that, as Mr. Ginsberg shows, presidents usually manage to avoid. This is Mr. Ginsberg’s first book after a career as a communications executive at various companies, including News Corp. The book’s strongest chapters relate friendships in which the president might have been expected to lose touch with an old friend but didn’t, and in which the friend never tried to take advantage of his valuable new connection ... The author is even more protective of John Kennedy ... the effort to present the 35th president as a swashbuckling intellectual, working out the implications of highfalutin conversations about democracy and leadership he’d once had with his Oxford-educated friend, is straight from the Camelot School of Kennedy Studies ... The sloppy dependence on liberal mythmaking shows up in the Nixon chapter, too ... The book’s earlier chapters—Thomas Jefferson’s reliance on James Madison, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s catastrophic loyalty to Franklin Pierce—work well as history. But the closer Mr. Ginsberg gets to the present, the more he recites the consensus views of his chosen party. By the last chapter, on Bill Clinton’s friendship with the late Vernon Jordan, we aren’t reading historical inquiry so much as political opinion on familiar controversies—and I need no more of that.
Some presidents have...had very striking friendships ... Out of these liaisons and more, Ginsberg has crafted an insightful series of biographies, showing just how these friendships thrived and survived and were consequential for the nation’s history.
A Clinton administration insider delivers a fruitful survey of the roles that close friends have played throughout presidential history ... Ginsberg does nothing to improve Nixon’s reputation as he recounts how the president eventually brought the straight-arrow Rebozo into the criminal conspiracy that ended his tenure in the White House—with Rebozo urging Nixon not to resign until the very end. There’s no real thesis in Ginsberg’s capably spun story, but there are plentiful insights. A fresh, well-written take on the lives of our presidents.
... an entertaining group portrait ... Ginsberg’s succinct and lucid profiles are buoyed by colorful insider details, including Vernon Jordan’s joke to Bill Clinton about why he refused to take golf lessons ... Readers will delight in this intriguing look at the human side of the presidency.