Presidential Ambition: Gaining Power At Any Cost

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9780060930547: Presidential Ambition: Gaining Power At Any Cost

In this timely, illuminating, and often shocking book, Richard Shenkman reveals that it is not just recent presidents but all presidents who have been ambitious--and at times frighteningly so, willing to sacrifice their health, family, loyalty, and values. Presidential Ambition is a book that will permanently alter the way we think about past, present, and future American presidents.

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Review:

The standard by which all books on presidential power are judged is Richard E. Neustadt's Presidential Power, which considers modern presidents in terms of their ability to wield influence. In Presidential Ambition, Richard Shenkman takes a more historical--and much more cynical--look at the question of how a president uses and consolidates power. In addition to the compromising of principles, lying, pandering, stealing votes, manipulation of the press, and attempts to manipulate public opinion that take place in the Oval Office, Shenkman also delves into the nefarious methods by which these men became America's leaders.

He maintains that the primary quality that separates the presidents from other Americans, from George Washington onward, is their overwhelming ambition. The most successful occupants of the White House, he suggests, expanded the powers of their position by molding the presidency to their own talents and skills, finding ways to do what they wanted--including lying to the American people (a trait, he makes abundantly clear, that is far from limited to the Clinton administration). Shenkman's conclusions about the presidency and the United States are bleak. He argues that the behavior of American presidents has gotten worse as the world has grown more complex: "If you looked carefully at American history you could see a clear pattern of decline. Instead of things getting better and better over time, as Americans liked to fantasize, they had gotten worse and worse.... The system over time had become more and more politically promiscuous, ever more tolerant of a wider and wider range of unseemly presidential behavior." --Linda Killian

About the Author:

Richard Shenkman is an associate professor of history at George Mason University and the New York Times bestselling author of six history books, including Presidential Ambition; Legends, Lies & Cherished Myths of World History; and Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter. The editor and founder of George Mason University's History News Network website, he can be seen regularly on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.

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