Richard Nixon was not the first president to tape-record conversations inside the Oval Office--that was Franklin Roosevelt. Nor was he the last, although one would think after Nixon's disastrous experience with taping that the succeeding occupants of the White House would have learned better. Since they didn't, we have Inside the Oval Office
, "a cockpit voice recorder of the presidency" written and compiled by William Doyle. Doyle combines transcripts of taped Oval Office conversations--from FDR to Bill Clinton--with his assessment of each president's executive abilities. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, John F. Kennedy showed what Doyle calls a pragmatic leadership style: "self-control, a call for multiple opinions, the discipline to think several steps ahead, and the ability to put himself in 'the other guy's shoes.'"
Among the book's highlights: Franklin Roosevelt briefing cabinet members and congressional leaders after the bombing of Pearl Harbor; Dwight Eisenhower talking to the British prime minister during the Suez crisis; John F. Kennedy talking to Mississippi governor Ross Barnett during the fight over integration of the University of Mississippi; Lyndon Johnson meeting with military advisors about U.S. involvement in Vietnam; Richard Nixon talking with Chuck Colson about monitoring Henry Kissinger's calls to the press (and the "smoking gun" tapes in which Nixon discusses the Watergate cover-up with John Dean and H.R. Haldeman); and the transcripts of videotaped meetings held by Ronald Reagan on the Soviet Union. Anyone interested in history and the presidency will no doubt find Inside the Oval Office full of revealing and fascinating material. --Linda Killian
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From Publishers Weekly
Seven of the 11 U.S. presidents since the Depression have secretly recorded meetings and telephone conversations in the White House. Many of these recordings have been locked away in official archives, lost or forgotten. Doyle, who won a Writer's Guild award for a documentary on the same subject, uses these recordings to present an impressive, illuminating account of how presidents from FDR to Clinton managed the day-to-day operations of "the world's most dangerous office." Combining interviews, meticulous historical research and transcripts of the tapes themselves, Doyle peeks behind the wizard's curtain to show us the nation's chief executives at work: FDR thundering at the "damn Jap" who demanded that the U.S. evacuate Hawaii; Eisenhower sternly prodding the British prime minister to cease hostilities in the Suez; Johnson browbeating a senator into serving on the Warren Commission. We learn what time presidents woke up (in Truman's case, 5:30 a.m.), if they took naps (Reagan, every day) and what time they went to sleep (well past midnight for Johnson). We see them trading quips with the White House press corps and dispatching troops to international hot spots. We also see them digging their own graves, via Johnson and Nixon transcripts on Vietnam and Watergate. Doyle's running commentary on the transcripts provides a plethora of instructive and sometimes disheartening insights into the hidden machinery of the Oval Office. Quoth Bill Clinton: "I get treated like a mule. Whenever I'm at my desk I end up with these lists of people to call. I'm supposed to call every junior congressman about every vote.... I don't have time to think." Reading this book is a little like peering through a keyhole at history.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the