on December 25, 2003
I think this is a pretty good book on the Presidency of the United States since Watergate. Of course, Mr. Woodward played a significant role in reporting Watergate and has written extensively about the Presidency since then.
This book examines the various difficulties and scandals the Presidents since Nixon have had and the shadow the legacy of Watergate fell on those events and affected how they were handled and perceived. The most significant event in the way these things played out was the creation of the Independent Counsel. While I was never wild about the Independent Counsels before I read this book, I have come to the conclusion that it was an awful idea and an abuse of our Constitution. While the office was designed to not be accountable to the President to afford a credible ability to investigate the Executive Branch, it has no reasonable boundaries or limits and is not subject to any of the checks or balances that enable our government to function as reasonably as it does.
Freed from any limits of time, budget, or public accountability it is not surprising that many, but not all, of these Independent Counsels end up pursuing all kinds of things apart from what they were originally charged to pursue. My chief conclusion from reading this book is that this was a bad law with worse execution and should never be revived. Good riddance!
Half of the book is devoted to the Clinton scandals. The other large section is Iran-Contra. How you perceive Woodward's balance and objectivity will be colored by your personal politics. I have to admit that I found my own reading of the book varied at different points because of my own view of these scandals and whether or not I agreed with Woodward or felt that his own political biases were creeping in (which is impossible to avoid). But all-in-all there is a lot of good reporting here and is written in way that is easy to read. There are lots of endnotes to document the sources for the various statements, meetings, and conclusions drawn.
I recommend the book highly.
on February 3, 2003
Heard the taped version of SHADOW: FIVE PRESIDENTS
AND THE LEGACY OF WATERGATE by Bob Woodward . . . it
is a very interesting, as well as disturbing, look at what it takes to be president in this country.
Because of Watergate, the press no longer takes a "hands off"
approach to what is being done in the White House . . . consequently, Woodward points out that all presidents--from Nixon through Clinton--seem to have had lapses in judgment, during which they either did not tell the truth or had others help cover it up for them.
I got a fresh perspective on Ford's pardon of Nixon, and though
I had thought I had known a lot about the Monicagate morass,
I now know even more (including a lot of dirt not uncovered
Fortunately, Woodward is only heard at the beginning and
the end . . . he does not have a great speaking voice, that's
for sure . . . the rest was narrated by James Naughton . . . his
impressive baritone voice made for easy listening . . . moreover, he actually sounds like many of the characters he portrays, such as James Carville, Ronald Raegan and Jimmy Carter.
on January 17, 2003
The first line in Micahel Lind's deeply provocative treatise on the modern American conservative movement UP FROM CONSERVATISM kicks you in the stomach, regardless of your political beliefs:"American Conservatism is dead." Like the political Nietzsche he is, Bob Woodward, in SHADOW: FIVE PRESIDENTS AND THE LEGACY OF WATERGATE, finishes that statement in this 500-plus page tome by saying, essentially, "...and Nixon has killed it."
None other than Gore Vidal has nicknamed America the *United States of Amnesia* so often that the trueness of it stops it from being funny. Yet any psychologist worth their salt will tell you the many reasons why memory, in a person or culture, is often the first thing to be EXORCISED. It isn't always something that leaves willingly. Bob Woodward brings common sense psychology--memory--back into the discussion of what has happened to the presidency, and America's relationship to it, since the quasi-psychotic Nixon disgraced it in the early 1970's. He reveals this with SHADOW, not by calling out and judging the Nixonians from the perspective of opinion, but via showing and analysing actual history. The degree to which the entire concept and institution of the American Presidency has been almost irrevocably debilitated by Watergate is the subject of this book, and it cannot be ignored in our time after reading it. In revealing the new cynically invasive psychic architecture of American politics, built on the destroyed remnants of the trusted Tao of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ and Kennedy, he offers a glimpse of what Watergate symbolized about Nixon's soul. And what that tortured soul has meant for American culture today, in the 21st century.
Doing this not only puts Monica Lewinsky into a less mythological perspective. It also puts all of the machinations that now go into politicking for your right to actually BE President long after you have been elected--Republican or Democrat--into a new, important, and ultimately saddening perspective. (The degree to which her very existence in the public mind is shown to be part of a desire of Clinton's powerful enemies to erase Nixon's legacy from the annals of history with the impeachment of a Democratic President is brilliant. That omen is ironically overshadowed, however, by the way he explains the uncontrollable political Frankenstein that was the Office of Independent Counsel. This evil genie, with its granted near absolute power, is what Clinton let out of the bottle; a bottle that, after Watergate, was thought never to be opened again. Without it, the reincarnation of the Salem witch trials with Kenneth Starr and the pornography of his reports would never have occurred.)
I happened to have picked up this book to read after reading Conason and Lyons' THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT--something which truly must be read in tandem with this if one is to really understand the social forces that also took center stage in the Clinton drama, despite their desire to still remain hidden. As such I found the Clinton chapters of SHADOW a rehash of previously digested material. SHADOW nonetheless, with its detailed meticulous analyses of the weaknesses and foibles of Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush and Clinton, and how these weaknesses became debilitating through the sins of their Watergate predecessor Nixon, cuts to the quick of our social consciousness today.
It is so important, it seems, for the American public not to have a historical perspective on anything that happens in politics. As if the pretense that all of it has no precedence somehow makes it more real or important--or worse, justifies an often hypocritically manufactured moral outrage. (I'll never forget the rage Clinton-haters would express at the mere mentioning of Sally Hemmings [Thomas Jefferson's slave mistress], Judith Exner [one of Kennedy's mistresses] or the broken first marriages of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, seemingly defending their right to believe Bill and Monica had ushered in the seventh sign of the Book of Revelations with their original sin.) Woodward's SHADOW destroys any validity that way of thinking had, and redefines the desire to be willfully politically/historically ignorant (as if ignorance buys someone moral virtue) as anything but sane. The book has a way of revalidating the entire concept and discipline of psychology, and its ability to explain the source of today's events, as it gives new strength to the battle weary line of Santayana: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
Anyone interested in a deeper perspective on the Clinton presidency, the presidency of both Bushes, and modern American culture would highly benefit from this powerful trinity: Michael Lind's UP FROM CONSERVATISM, Conason and Lyons' THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT, and this book. Woodward's SHADOW is extraordinarily well written, tremendously informative, and, even with its inevitable biases both in favor of journalism as it is presently practiced (Consaon and Lyons are fortunately not so kind--particularly to the Washington Post) and against the possibility of a president after Nixon inspiring the kind of faith and hope that those like FDR and Kennedy did (though he is almost right, Conason, Lyons and Lind will explain clearly why it could have happened but would not be allowed in Clinton's case), Woodward's masterful writing and storytelling skills hide a multitude of sins. Highly recommended.
on April 29, 2002
Woodward does an exceptional job of covering the impact of Watergate on the Nixon-Bush administrations. However, he is far too easy on the Clinton administration.
If we are to believe the Woodward account, every Clinton scandal was one big misunderstanding after another. Travelgate...Filegate...Fostergate...Paulagate...WhiteWatergate...Monicagate. The Clintons were being up front, but poor Starr and the Republicans just kept misinterpreting everything.
Nice try, Bob. But it just don't add up.
If this had happened just once or twice, that would be explainable. (After all, every administration has some bad apples. That's just a fact of life.)
However, the plethora of scandals reflects a systemic problem in the Clinton White House. A fundamental rule of leadership (to quote John Maxwell) is that WHO YOU ARE is WHAT YOU ATTRACT.
If Clinton had that many people in his inner circle who were so dishonest, then that reflects his own ineptitude as a leader.
That is the dirty secret: Clinton was extremely talented and intelligent, but lacked the character befitting a great leader. This is why his presidency will go down as a great case of "what could have been..."
on April 2, 2002
This non-fiction book will give you a relief from biographies that feel like textbook. Shadw refers to the last five presidents of our nation: Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George bush, and Bill Clinton. It talks about the scandals each had to face and how they coped with them. After Nixon resigned from office, Ford had to pull the ountry back from he Watergate scandal which was agreat challenge for him, and this book shows what lengths he went to. Woodward talks about how carter worked to end the Iran hostage crisis and how he would win the peoples' acceptance, Reagan's scandal with the Iran-contra cover-up and how he coped with that, George Bush's Gulf War, and the most famous scandal of all from the last decade: Clinton's scandal with Monica Lewinsky. But don't let that turn you away if you think you know everything. Woodward writes this nonfiction book as if it were fiction. It's entertaining and amusing to see what each president wen through, and it never feels like a straightforward textbook. Just remember that this is definitely not a history book; Woodward even says that this is an examination of the most important moments of the last five presidents.
on November 12, 2001
Bob Woodward who wrote "All the President's Men" and "The Final Days" has taken another stab at chronicling the importance of the Watergate Scandal in "Shadow". This book looks at the importance of Watergate in the context of subsequent presidencies.
There is alot of detailed recitation of scandals in different Presidential administrations here. They range from the absolutely silly (the investigation of whether Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter's Chief of Staff, snorted cocaine) to important ones (such as Iran-Contra under President Reagan and recently the Monica Lewinsky affair under Bill Clinton's Administration)
Watergate created a new climate for Presidents that is both good and bad. The good part is that Presidents have to take into account the fact that failure to behave ethically in office may result in resignation or impeachment. The bad part is that much of the modern presidency is now focused on "damage control" and avoiding scandals rather than simply governing. Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton all learned that media scrutiny is much greater and the Independent Counsel Law could be used to conduct witch hunts rather than investigate wrongdoing.
In essence, Woodward sees good in what has occurred, but also argues that the American Presidency is now a diminished office because of all the scrutiny from the press and legal profession that is a direct result of Watergate and the enactment of the Independent Counsel Law.
My greatest complaint about Woodward's book is that he could spend more time analyzing and less time simply regurgitating history. He tells us what happened, but fails to suggest alternatives or ways that we could have both ethics in government, yet avoid diminishing the powers of the Presidency. Admittedly, this might be difficult. However, Woodward doesn't even make the effort. His failure to really make an attempt to do so a serious disappointment to me as a reader.
The redeeming feature of the book is that it is good, solid reporting and accurate contemporaneous history. Those who are interested in a behind the scenes look at modern presidential scandals should read this book.
on October 24, 2001
In this book, Woodward attempts to take one of the pivotal events of American politics-the resignation of Richard Nixon--and analyze how it has affected the Presidencies of those following Nixon. An ambitious assignment, to say the least, but one that Woodward does not necessarily fulfill. Woodward's biggest problem is that he does not start out with a clear thesis, which makes it difficult to follow how the phenomenal amount of information presented fits together. The only clear point that Woodward makes throughout the book is a rather obvious one: that Watergate has significantly impacted the Presidencies of Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. After reading the book, I would draw the conclusion that the enduring reason for this affect, beyond the increased skepticism of the President by members of the media, is the Independent Council provision, which Woodward suggests has caused endless scrutiny of peccadilloes by investigators who feel they have to bring charges to justify their investigation. If this was indeed Woodward's point, I think he would have been better served to make it clear in the beginning of the book and show throughout the book how his evidence supported this thesis.
However, the storytelling in the book makes it worth reading. You may forget why you're reading it, but Woodward uses his numerous high-level sources to give a fascinating retelling of many of the scandals that have lurked in the media through the last thirty years. He pays close attention to detail, trying to help readers who are unfamiliar with the events surrounding various investigations understand what was happening and who was involved. Because of this, I would still highly recommend this book, despite its occasional lack of a cohesive argument.
on August 28, 2001
Woodward claims to be writing about the "legacy of Watergate," and what reporter is better qualified to do so? But he has a hard time sticking to that goal, and his efforts to justify each juicy tidbit with historical significance are increasingly herniating as the book plods on. Really, this is Woodward's book about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment events of 1998. He does a workmanlike job of that, but others have done better with the same information. He tries to make the book about "five presidents," but Clinton's travails get more than half the book to play around in. The first half of the book is excellent, though. There, Woodward concisely handles the scandals faced by Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush -- remember the Bert Lance Affair? me neither -- and shows how an ever-more-suspicious media and public influenced each White House's handling of the same. For the first 200 pages alone, the book is worth the read by students of the presidency. But if you're just looking for Clinton dirt, dig elsewhere.
on May 16, 2001
This book is admirable for the ambition of its scope, covering as it does each presidential scandal since Watergate and how each president dealt with those scandals. The chapters prior to the last half of the book, which is all on Clinton, turned out to be much more interesting than the chapters on Clinton's scandals. I bought the book mainly for the Clinton chapters, but found the chapters prior to be much more enlightening and engrossing.
Woodward's handling of Reagan and Iran/Contra was very fair I thought and avoided getting weighted down by speculation or uninteresting minutiae. This part of the book was very well done and I thought Reagan came off quite well in these chapters, mainly because of Reagan's efforts to take the necessary steps to get to the bottom of the scandal. Conversely, Reagan's denial that this was an arms for hostage deal was alarming. But Woodward shows Iran/Contra to have been bad policy, well-intentioned though it may have been, more than it was intentional wrongdoing by the president or those close to him.
The chapters on the first George Bush were a little unfair and didn't adequately convey the injustice of Lawrence Walsh's indictment of Casper Weinberger for withholding of evidence, nor the real justification behind Bush's subsequent pardon of Weinberger. This indictment was largely the result of a screw up on Walsh's part resulting from his searching in the wrong place for Weinberger's subpoenaed personal papers, papers which Congress, not Weinberger, were in possession of. Woodward deals with this exculpatory information inadequately.
The sections on Clinton I found both naive and perhaps a bit biased. Woodward whitewashes Whitewater and the early Clinton scandals, seeming to wave a dismissive hand at them. He omits important information that points to Clinton's culpability in these scandals. The most serious Watergate-like aspect of the early Clinton scandals is touched on at best lightly and Woodward seems to see nothing suspicious in this activity, that being the massive pay off of the Clinton crony who knew the most about where the Clinton bodies were buried so to speak, former associate Attorney General Webb Hubbell. Hubbell immediately went silent after receiving these pay offs, even reneging on his just completed immunity deal for cooperation with the independent counsel. Woodward even underplays the amount of money given Hubbell by various Clinton associates such as the Lippo Group and others.
With the Lewinsky scandal, Woodward again overlooks pertinent facts pointing to Clinton's being guilty of impeachable offenses, and is at best dismissive of the seriousness of the charges against Clinton, even at times defending Clinton against charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. Woodward does a great deal to overlook Clinton's subversion of the judicial process and tries to portray it as nothing more than a sex scandal and an act of poor judgment on Clinton's part. Woodward refuses to see the deeper Constitutional and ethical issues that were at the heart of this scandal, rather than just the sexual aspects of it. I found it troubling that the chapters about the impeachment and then subsequent Senate trial seems to spend more time reviewing the arguments of the defense, while minimally reiterating the evidence expounded by the House Impeachment Managers and others attempting to hold Clinton accountable.
Woodward is even so naive in the epilogue as to claim that Clinton never conspired with anyone to cover up the truth nor asked anyone to lie. He seems to forget the little coaching session Clinton had with Betty Currie, a future witness, in which Clinton encouraged her to remember things that were not true. But further, Woodward just assumes that Clinton and his confidante Vernon Jordan never had any conversations about how to buy Lewinsky's perjury as Jordan's subsequent and extraordinary actions in trying to secure a job for Lewinsky and get her legal help indicate. It's amazing that Woodward would simply accept that these activities occured in a vacuum and that Jordan and Clinton did these things merely out of the goodness of their hearts and with no purposeful orchestration. How could a nose with the journalistic skeptism of Woodward's not sniff out the fishiness of one of Washington's biggest power players, Vernon Jordan, being enlisted into the service of a former White House intern who hadn't worked there in over 18 months and in whom Clinton had shown no further interest after that time, that is until she showed up on the Jones trial witness list?
Further, Woodward is obviously very disdainful of Ken Starr, even at times taking unnecessary personal cheap shots at Starr. Michael Weisskopf's book "The Truth at Any Cost" is a much more balanced and fair treatment of Ken Starr and his investigation. Starr is much more believably portrayed in that book than the inaccurate characture Woodward draws in this book, one seemingly drawn based on a anti-religious bent on Woodward's part.
While Woodward's writing is always very well done and his ability to ply insiders for information is unparalled making his books fascinating reading, this book would have benefitted from a little more journalistic detachment and a little less editorializing.
on March 22, 2001
Bob Woodward's "Shadow - Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate" is an insightful book about how the Watergate scandal affected the presidencies of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bill Clinton. Politics and scandals have gone hand in hand all through US history, but it was the Watergate scandal that became the example of scandal so great that it could actually cause the downfall of the US presidency.
In the first part of the book, Woodward discusses the effects after the Watergate scandal, and how it has influenced the oval office. The Watergate scandal obviously affected the two presidents closest in time, Ford and Carter, the most. President Ford, because he pardoned Nixon (and the uproar that followed doing so), and Carter, whose promise of change, his promise of total ethics ["I will never lie to you"], stood in great contrast to the scandals involving Bert Lance and Hamilton Jordan. Discussed is also the Reagan and Bush's Iran-Contra scandal, including all of the details and questions regarding what Reagan evidently knew (or didn't). The second half of the book is almost exclusively devoted to the apparently endless scandals and moral blunders of the Clinton Administration, with particular emphasis on the Lewinsky scandal. Quite frankly, the first and second half of the book are like two different books. I found the first part of the book to be incredibly interesting, and then the second part, to be... well, "just another Lewinsky book"... But I did find the details which shows us how the Clinton-Starr battle(s) turned personal to be very interesting (and frightening). Woodward shows us how the Independent council has almost become a monster of its' own, no longer controllable by any political branch or office! I give credit to Woodward for explaining this in a way so that the lay reader can understand how the Independent Council Act has affected the oval office.
My motive for reading this book was to gain a better understanding of the Watergate scandal. Of how the Watergate scandal has changed the political culture of Washington, changed the function of the presidency, and also what effect the Watergate scandal has had on the role of the press in the American society.
The two disclosures in this book that surprised me the most, were about Bush and his attitude regarding the 1991 Gulf War, and Reagan, and his loss of memory *while* he was still in office.
Overall the book is well written and a good read. But unfortunately, the book hardly touches on Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, in comparison to the number of pages devoted to Clinton. Because of the number of pages devoted to the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal I ended up feeling that I got more gossip than political history, and therefore not full value for my money.