An ambitious work of both biography and political history written by one of the great journalistic power couples of the day. Peter Baker is chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and political analyst for MSNBC. Susan Glasser is a staff writer at The New Yorker composing a weekly column on life in Washington, and she’s global affairs analyst at CNN. In The Man Who Ran Washington, they tell the story of James A. Baker III, the once obscure corporate lawyer who became the indispensable man to four American presidents, a masterful power broker who ended up influencing the course of the United States for years. Now,at a time when politics in Washington is widely viewed as hopelessly broken and the art of deal-making is shunned if not forgotten, it’s nonetheless instructive and certainly fascinating to look back at how Baker operated and draw lessons, as the authors do, about the practice of compromise over confrontation and pragmatism over purity
Edward Ball, a onetime journalist and author of the award-winning Slaves in the Family, returns to his family’s history and pieces together the shameful story of a racist great-great-grandfather who took part in the re-establishment of white supremacy in New Orleans after the Civil War. Life of a Klansman provides a glimpse into the foot soldier ranks that populated early racist movements, and it carries particular resonance today as our country continues to confront racist violence and ideology. Indeed, as Ball calculates in his prologue, half of all white Americans living today have a family link to a Klansman. But most don’t realize it. What Ball has done powerfully in his book is claim this difficult past, show it can be done, reckon publicly with this legacy of white supremacy, and try to learn from it.
In his previous book, The Gatekeepers, Chris Whipple, a former journalist and TV producer and now a documentary filmmaker, explored the role of White House chiefs of staff in defining the presidencies in which they serve. In The Spymasters, he looks at another group of highly influential Washington officials—those who’ve led the Central Intelligence Agency over the years. While drawing on interviews with most of the ex-directors still alive, the book is not meant, as Whipple says at the start, to be a formal history of the CIA. Rather, it’s an examination of how the directors have shaped the agency and world events. Those who’ve led the agency are a varied bunch, ranging from experienced intelligence officers to former politicians, military commanders, and academics. The best, Whipple contends, have been those who got close to the presidents they served but were never partisan.