…lively, sometimes plodding but always valuable and painstakingly researched…The son of the historian and presidential speechwriter Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., [Robert Schlesinger] has an innate respect for the ghost's profession, and argues that, at least since Franklin D. Roosevelt brought the office into the media age by grasping radio's power, presidents' "political successes often reflected" their good or bad use of speechwriters. Viewing each subsequent administration through that narrow lens becomes the book's great limitation, but Mr. Schlesinger makes up for it with his richly detailed sense of the maneuvers behind presidential speeches, from turf battles among staffers to the connection between ghostwriting and policy making.
The New York Times
Delightful vignettes…fill Robert Schlesinger's White House Ghosts. Although the book is more anecdotal and episodic than analytical, its accumulated evidence drives home an often-neglected point: A president's articulation of ideas makes them real. A speechwriter, far from a technician who simply bangs out the phrases to express predetermined policies, invariably helps to shape those policies. Great speeches have done more than voice well-wrought sentiments or lofty calls for change. They have midwifed social programs, joined moral battles, rallied (or squandered) public support and enabled presidents to enter and exit wars…it's illuminating to see how different presidents' characters played out in their speeches.
The Washington Post
Schlesinger (political reporting, Washington Journalism Ctr., Boston Univ.), son of the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., has penned a detail-packed volume chronologically covering presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt through the current Bush administration, with extensive insight into how these leaders have had their messages crafted and packaged. His short introduction does cover pre-FDR presidents (after all, even Washington got help with his speeches), but his focus starts with FDR as the first president to engage in communication through mass media. While some presidents utilized more speechwriters than others, and some accepted their writers' speeches as merely an "outline" from which to ad lib, all recognized the necessity of the speechwriter position. Schlesinger's chapters move from one administration to the next without transitional language and often jump midstream into the next term. Nonetheless, as a whole, the book succeeds as a perspective on the last 75 years of American history, albeit with lots of detail and less interpretation. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
Schlesinger (Political Journalism/Boston Univ.) confidently assesses the diverse contributions made by speechwriters toiling thanklessly on behalf of presidents from FDR to G.W. Bush. With the advent of radio, Warren Harding became the first president to have a full-time speechwriter, although even George Washington asked someone else (James Madison) to help draft his farewell address. Schlesinger attributes the modern style of presidential communication to FDR, whose memorable slogans were variously coined by the speechwriting trio of Samuel Rosenman, Raymond Moley and Louis Howe, with Roosevelt weaving together their ideas. The author looks at each presidential style in turn. Truman, who delivered speeches awkwardly, used lawyers, economists and public-administration men such as Clark Clifford and George Elsey as his writers. Eisenhower, a stickler for good grammar, liked the "straightforward, meat-and-potatoes style" crafted by Bryce Harlow. Eisenhower's team hired the first black speechwriter, Frederic Morrow, and coined the term "military-industrial complex" for his farewell speech. Ted Sorensen used short words with simplicity and clarity in his speeches for JFK, though his boss took the credit and often ad-libbed. (The author's father, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., plays a strong supporting role in this chapter as a Kennedy aide and speechwriter.) Bill Moyers and Richard Goodwin merged the roles of writer and policymaker during their time with LBJ, forging a preferred style somewhere between eloquent and forceful. Nixon was an exacting writer and editor, never satisfied with the drafts he was given by Ray Price or William Safire. Ford allowed his top advisers to squabble over hisspeeches. Carter disastrously tried to write all his own, while Peggy Noonan famously helped establish Reagan as "the Great Communicator." The first Bush eliminated personal detail from his speeches because he tended to choke up; Clinton was a master at ad-libbing. The "troika" of Michael Gerson, John McConnell and Matthew Scully gave Bush II "an axis of evil" to fulminate against. Schlesinger lingers over particular speeches good and bad, thereby offering a revealing look at the making of history. Well-reasoned and capably constructed. Agent: Andrew Wylie/The Wylie Agency
"White House Ghosts takes you into the minds and machinations of presidents in a way no other book has through the insights of succeeding generations of White House speechwriters. As a long-time student of the American presidency, I was constantly engaged, intrigued, and amused by this very smart and ambitious book." Tom Brokaw, author of Boom! and The Greatest Generation
"A president's words can frame an era or shape world history. That makes his speechwriters critical. Robert Schlesinger, son of one of the greatest, brings the flair of a storyteller and the insight of a scholar to the White House's obscure but glorious ghosts." Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
"Robert Schlesinger's White House Ghosts is a welcome addition to the literature on presidents. His book not only adds a significant dimension to our understanding of how presidential speeches were constructed but also deepens our knowledge of the way in which major policies were developed. Schlesinger has given us an altogether delightful and informative study that will become essential reading for anyone interested in the modern presidency." Robert Dallek, author of Nixon and Kissinger
"It's no surprise that the men and women who have written speeches for our presidents have stories to tell! What is a surprise is that Robert Schlesinger has dug up so many of them. White House Ghosts flows along with one rich anecdote after the next. All the major speeches (and several minor ones) are dissected. (Some presidents actually did some rewriting themselves. Imagine!) The book is fascinating. And funny. If you like reading American history, you'll love this book." Lesley Stahl, correspondent for 60 Minutes and author of Reporting Live