In this latest work, Herman (Sex with Kings) embraces the salacious details of some of the more well-known sex scandals of specific presidents: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as sprinkling in less well-known affairs and some long-forgotten ones (such as Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson). Herman adroitly exhibits her storytelling prowess in blending the documented gossip of the time with personal details from interviews and memoirs to write a book that is both historical and wildly entertaining. At times, the narrative seems to glory in the lascivious details of the often-lurid sex lives of the presidents, which may attract or repel depending on the reader; however, there is a fair balance of historical background to counterbalance it. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the work also notes a concerning trend in the frequency of affairs between presidents and interns, and the power dynamics between men and the women who report to them. VERDICT Written much like a tell-all, this historical yet approachable look at the sex lives and scandals of several U.S. presidents will appeal to history buffs as well as a large general audience.—Stacy Shaw, Denver
Herman, who has written about the sex lives of royalty, turns to politicians in a brisk, gossipy history of extramarital affairs from Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump.
What, asks the author, is the connection of sex drive to political success or failure? “Does rampant adultery show a lack of character, the stamina needed to run the country, or a bit of both?” Most of the men she profiles were/are narcissistic risk-takers, with traits that include “impulsivity, restlessness, recklessness, contempt for the advice of others, and overweening pride”; the world, as they see it, is “an arena in which to wield power and seek glory….No matter what horrors occur on their watch, they believe that history will vindicate them.” The nation’s first sex scandal involved the married Hamilton and an attractive young woman who sought his financial help. Their affair eventually led to Hamilton’s being blackmailed, but it did not end his marriage; his wife, Herman concludes, never knew. Grover Cleveland was the first president accused of rape, an assault that resulted in the woman’s pregnancy. Woodrow Wilson fell hard for Mary Peck, a flirtatious woman he met while in Bermuda for his health. “Back in the 1912 election,” Herman writes, “journalists were well aware of Wilson’s relationship with Mary Peck—among themselves they called Wilson ‘Peck’s bad boy’—but didn’t print a word about it.” Journalists had no such scruples covering Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and Trump. Rounding out the author’s group portrait are Warren Harding and his “rotating buffet of delectable young woman”; Eisenhower and his driver and aide; Franklin Roosevelt and his long affair with Lucy Rutherfurd; Kennedy’s “three-whore a day habit”; and Lyndon Johnson, who named his penis “Jumbo.” Drawing on letters, memoirs, and biographies, Herman considers not just the men, but also their wives’ sometimes puzzling responses, and she offers a quick overview of Europeans’ attitudes to adultery.
A racy, revealing look at illicit sex involving the country’s highest office.