Why is it that the ship beats the waves? This is a question Winston Churchill pondered
as he sailed from Great Britain to the U.S. in 1946 aboard the Queen Elizabeth with
12,000 retiring Canadian soldiers. He was on the upper deck of the ship early one
morning and watched as the ship knifed through wave after massive wave. The waves
were so many he thought, and the ship just one. Yet the ship prevailed. The reason,
he concluded, is that the ship has a purpose, but the waves have none.
I would have loved this book for this story alone. There is much more, however,
to make this book a good investment of time. Churchill Defiant is the story
of his post WWII life. It seemed over when his party was defeated in 1945, but another
remarkable phase of his career was yet to come.
An aside. In my collection of political memorabilia, I am pleased to have a great
Churchill autograph that I acquired 25 years ago in London, as well as a campaign
style button marking his famous Cold War address at Westminster College in Fulton,
Mo. (This is where Churchill first spoke of an "Iron Curtain" descending across
Words matter. People respond to stories, not facts and statistics.
A fascinating and insightful book on the revolution that has occurred over the last
decade in the newspaper industry. The Washington Post gave Dave Kindred
extraordinary access to their strategic and business debates. Why has the Post
struggled with its online business? How did Kaplan Enterprises become so important
to the Post? Kindred explains in an entertaining and provocative manner.
Competition can come from unexpected places. (Craigslist decimated the classified ad business.)
With the 2012 presidential election fast approaching, a look back 100 years to the
1912 election reveals some amazing parallels and a few surprising differences. In
1912, William Taft, the incumbent President, was under siege. His dear friend, mentor
and running mate, Teddy Roosevelt, had turned on him and was determined to recapture
the White House. A little known Governor of New Jersey, Woodrow Wilson, offered
hope to the Democrats, who had been on the short end of presidential elections for
two generations. And a Socialist candidate, Eugene Debs, mounted one of the most
successful third party campaigns in history. High drama, vitriol, back room deals,
sensational media and a surprising outcome - 1912 had it all.
have always been volatile, nasty and unpredictable.
This may seem like an odd choice, but it is a book (actually it's two volumes) worth
noting. Historians have long ranked Grant's memoirs as the best presidential autobiography.
For most people, Grant is best remembered as the grizzled, shabbily-attired Civil
War General who was never thought to be as smart or inspiring as Robert E Lee. His
presidency is remembered as one of the most corrupt in history. I have often wondered
what there was to Grant beyond these simple two-dimensional images. The memoirs
bring him to life in ways I never expected. He is very shrewd, reads people well
and is refreshingly self-deprecating.
The story behind the memoirs is fascinating. Late in his life, Grant suffered a
severe financial loss and was fearful his family would become destitute. Samuel
Clemens persuaded him to write his memoirs as a means of restoring his financial
health. Grant, who was suffering from throat cancer, undertook the task with a tremendous
sense of urgency. He moved to a cottage in upstate New York and wrote for 10 hours
a day until he finished. And then he died. The cottage has been preserved exactly
as it was on his last day. As Clemens predicted, the book was an enormous financial
success, netting his estate more than $500k.
A reminder that looks and image can be deceptive.
One of the best books I've read this year. Surprising, fascinating and provocative.
Like most people, I barely knew anything about President Garfield except that he
was assassinated and received poor medical care. As it turns out, he was an exceptionally
talented and capable leader. The story of his death has all the drama and suspense
of a great crime novel. Even non-historians will be fascinated by the series of
mistakes and blunders that characterized his medical care. One fascinating tidbit
- Robert Todd Lincoln was present at Garfield's assassination. He was also with
his father when he died and with President McKinley when he was shot.
Be very careful
who you turn to for advice. Garfield's aides and family trusted in medical experts
who were utterly unprepared and scientifically ignorant.
I read Unbroken while on a trip to Asia last year. It's the kind of book
where you dread turning the page, yet you can't stop reading. Laura Hillenbrand
discovered the story of Louie Zamperini while conducting research for her other
great book, Seabiscuit.
Louie Zamperini was an excellent athlete. At one time he held the record for the
fastest mile by a high school runner. In 1936, he was a member of the U.S. Olympic
team that competed in the "Nazi" games in Berlin.
But this story is about the extraordinary ordeal he went through as a downed airman
in WWII. Everything that happened to him after his plane crashed is beyond belief.
He survived longer at sea than anyone on record. Upon reaching land, he was immediately
captured by the Japanese and thrown in jail. His ordeal as a POW must be read to
His life after being released is equally miraculous. A special book, but brace yourself.
An aside. As a page on Capitol Hill in the early 1970's, I met members of the 1936
U.S. Olympic team. Also, in the 1980's, on a trip to Berlin, I slipped into the
Olympic stadium and jogged around the track where Jesse Owens had his moment of
glory. I later climbed into the box where Hitler and his cronies sat during the
games. I stood there on a cold December day, in an empty stadium, and thought about
the moment Jesse Owens landed a blow against Nazism.
This is a wonderful example of powerful, irresistible, unforgettable storytelling.
Everything about Warren Buffet fascinates me. Where did he come from? How did he
become such a good communicator and storyteller? What is he like personally? What
are his passions? What is the essence of his genius? Alice Schroeder was given great
access and it shows. At the same time, this isn't a total love fest. Buffet's personal
life is complex and unconventional and it's presented in an unvarnished manner.
A great read about one of the most important business leaders of the last 100 years.
Buffet is a
genius because he does two things better than anybody - his investment decisions
are based on his ability to synthesize an enormous volume of data and he communicates
simply and clearly.
This is a remarkable story. When I first heard of the book, I had little interest
in reading it. I was working for the Ways and Means Committee at the time of the
assassination attempt on Reagan, and I thought I knew all there was to know about
this tragic event. I was wrong. This is a gripping, minute-by-minute tale of what
happened at the hotel, GW Hospital and the White House. I was left with a greater
appreciation for the character and bravery of President Reagan and for the brilliance
of the medical team. At the same time, the actions of some of the President's senior
staff left a lot to be desired. Great reading for anyone interested in crisis management.
Even the most
sophisticated and deeply experienced organizations are often unprepared for a totally
foreseeable, high-risk crisis.
This book was a pleasant surprise. It is a richer, softer, more conciliatory and
more interesting story than I ever expected. Teddy Kennedy was at the center of
Washington from the moment he was born. I remember being in Senator Kennedy's office
and noticing a framed item on a wall from President Hoover. It was the congratulatory
note the President sent Joe and Rose Kennedy in honor of Teddy's birth.
His was a life of privilege, achievement, tragedy and personal failures. Many believe
he will go down as one of the greatest senators in American history. Others believe
he represents all that was wrong with America over the last 40 years.
Much like Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Kennedy pushed to complete his life story as he
battled an illness that he knew was going to take his life. I'm convinced that context
added depth and nuance to the book.
often have to overcome devastating personal tragedies.
One of my favorite books of the last 10 years. This is an absolute treasure. I have
read a lot about "President" Eisenhower and "General" Eisenhower, but very little
about "former President" Eisenhower. David Eisenhower, the President's grandson,
and the namesake for Camp David, is both the narrator of the story and an active
participant in many of the key events. It is a side of Ike few have ever seen. His
flashes of temper over things both big and little. The painful discomfort he felt
about open expressions of affection. And a love letter he wrote David when he went
off to school. Ike lived a life so big, it is almost impossible today to see him
as a regular guy interested in golf, raising cattle and grilling a steak. David
succeeds in making his grandfather very human - and even more admirable.
PS. Shortly after reading this book, I had the pleasure of attending a Nationals
baseball game with former Congressman Tom Davis, David Eisenhower and his son, Alex.
As it turns out, Tom and David were roommates at Amherst. We spent a great afternoon
discussing baseball trivia (David is extremely knowledgeable), the book and the
2012 presidential race. (I plead the 5th on his predictions).
There was a
time when compromise and moderation were considered admirable qualities.
Another one of my favorite books. The story covers FDR's last trip to Warm Springs,
Georgia, his sudden death, the arrangements to get his body back to Washington and
the funeral train to Hyde Park, NY. It is filled with rich detail - the mad rush
to find a suitable casket in Georgia; President Roosevelt's insistence that his
train always operate at a leisurely 30 mph; and the drama that played out between
Eleanor Roosevelt and her daughter, Anna, when the first lady learned that Anna
had facilitated meetings between her father and his longtime mistress, Lucy Rutherford.
In fact, Ms. Rutherford was with the President when he died.
The President's rail car, the Ferdinand Magellan, is currently in a rail museum
in Florida. This is the same car that Harry Truman used for his whistle stop campaign
in 1948. A number of years ago, a client arranged for me to have dinner in this
rail car. It was a special evening. I could feel the history.
of leadership is a challenge for most organizations. FDR was a brilliant leader,
but he let the country down by failing to prepare Truman for the job of President.
How is it that Budweiser, the self proclaimed "King of Beers" and the Goliath of
the U.S. beer market, couldn't survive as an independent company? For years, I have
been telling clients that the most dangerous position is "Biggest, Best, First and
Most." Anheuser Busch is proof of this axiom.
The Busch family was obsessed with obtaining more than 50% market share in the U.S.,
and they succeeded. But the laser-like focus that allowed them to achieve this goal
blinded them to the risks they faced from global competitors. Augie Busch assumed
he would be the acquirer, not the acquiree. He was wrong. It is a story of ambition,
family squabbles, high finance, poor decisions and the loss of an American icon.
no matter how big or successful, is vulnerable.
A terrific book from one of my favorite authors, Lynne Olson. A few years back,
she wrote The Murrow Boys, the story of Edward R. Murrow and the creation
of the powerhouse news team he built at CBS. Citizens of London focuses
on Murrow again as well as the American Ambassador to Great Britain, John Gilbert
Winant (who replaced Joe Kennedy) and Averell Harriman.
This is less about WWII and more about the remarkable lives of these three individuals.
The hook, of course, is Winant, a figure largely lost in history. Olson portrays
him as an heroic figure that understood what was at stake and fully committed his
life and position to helping Great Britain leverage maximum support from the U.S.
An aside: my colleague Peter Fenn, a great guy and brilliant political strategist,
worked for Pamela Harriman in the '80s and had a chance to meet Averell Harriman.
Remember, Harriman, a rail tycoon and FDR's roving ambassador, was one of the few
people who had close personal relationships with Churchill, FDR and Stalin.
In the middle
of a crisis, perspective is everything. Joe Kennedy wanted America to stay out of
the fight. Winant knew we had to go all in.
From literally her first breath, Alice Roosevelt Longworth lived a life of drama.
On the same day and in the same house, Teddy Roosevelt experienced life and death
in a way that few people have known. Within a matter of hours, his first child,
Alice, was born, his wife, Alice Lee, died from childbirth, and his mother passed
away in his arms.
Many historians believe this day must be understood to fully appreciate the arc
of his life and Alice's as well. It was in response to these tragedies, for example,
that the future President abandoned his daughter and set off for the Badlands. It
is said that he never spoke his wife's name again.
To say that Alice was ahead of her time is an enormous understatement. On politics,
fashion, gossip, parenting, women's rights, sex - and a host of other social, cultural
and political topics - she was multiple generations ahead. Imagine in today's 24-hour
media cycle, a daughter of a popular former President, and wife of the Speaker of
the House, who has an affair with an influential Senator and has his child.
When I first arrived in Washington, Alice Roosevelt Longworth was still holding
court at her house in Dupont Circle. Her life is proof of how brief the American
story is. John Hay, Lincoln's personal Secretary, served as her Father's Secretary
of State. And in the 1950s and 60s she was a booster of Richard Nixon.
An invitation to one of her dinner parties was considered a major coup. The guest
list was always fascinating and the conversation was predictably combustible. Famously,
she kept an embroidered pillow on her couch with the following saying: "If you don't
have anything good to say about someone, come sit beside me."
A reminder again
that we are all shaped by our earliest experiences.
Like millions of Americans, I am fascinated by our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln.
I think he is the most extraordinary and important figure in American history. I
have often wondered what the world of the 20th Century would have been like if Lincoln
had negotiated an end to the Civil War that resulted in a divided continent. Would
Germany have prevailed in WWI or WWII? If the U.S. were composed of two (and likely
more) sovereign countries, we have to assume that many of the great American accomplishments
of the 20th century - the defeat of Nazism, victory in the Cold War, landing a man
on the moon - would not have occurred.
This book is about the end of Lincoln's life and the amazing spectacle of his death
and burial. On a parallel track, it also follows the end of Jefferson Davis' tenure
as President of the Confederacy and his death and burial in 1889.
Lincoln's funeral was anything but traditional or conservative. It was, in fact,
the greatest spectacle in the history of the Republic. This is not an exaggeration.
His body (without the benefit of modern embalming products) was placed on a train
and transported more than 1600 miles over a two week span. The itinerary was a simple
reversal of the path he followed when coming to Washington for his inauguration
in March of 1861. (A little known footnote to history - a young Teddy Roosevelt
stood in the doorway of his family home in New York and watched as the President's
body passed by.)
I am very fortunate to have a number of Lincoln items in my political collection,
including a funeral fan and printed program from one of the services.
requires vision married up with courage and determination.