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First Friends

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First Friends The Powerful, Unsung (And Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents
by Gary Ginsberg 
Pub Date: July 16, 2021 
Twelve 
I don't remember being a history lover in high school or college but I am certainly drawn to history now. Thanks to Net Galley and Twelve for the chance to read this ARC. Our library Purchased this book and I highly recommend it. 
Here are the riveting histories of myriad presidential friendships, among them:

Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed: They shared a bed for four years during which Speed saved his friend from crippling depression. Two decades later the friends worked together to save the Union. 

Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson: When Truman wavered on whether to recognize the state of Israel in 1948, his lifelong friend and former business partner intervened at just the right moment with just the right words to steer the president’s decision. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Daisy Suckley: Unassuming and overlooked during her lifetime, Daisy Suckley was, in reality, FDR’s most trusted, constant confidant, the respite for a lonely and overworked President navigating the Great Depression and World War II

John Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore: They met as young men in pre-war London and began a conversation over the meaning of leadership.  A generation later the Cuban Missile Crisis would put their ideas to test as Ormsby-Gore became the president’s unofficial, but most valued foreign policy advisor.
These and other friendships—including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan—populate this fresh and provocative exploration of a series of seminal presidential friendships.
5 stars
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First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (And Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents
Gary Ginsberg

Description:
"Here are the riveting histories of myriad presidential friendships, among them: Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed: They shared a bed for four years during which Speed saved his friend from a crippling depression. Two decades later the friends worked together to save the Union. Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson: When Truman wavered on whether to recognize the state of Israel in 1948, his lifelong friend and former business partner intervened at just the right moment with just the right words to steer the president’s decision. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Daisy Suckley: Unassuming and overlooked during her lifetime, Daisy Suckley was in reality FDR’s most trusted, constant confidant, the respite for a lonely and overworked President navigating the Great Depression and World War II. John Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore: They met as young men in pre-war London and began a conversation over the meaning of leadership.  A generation later the Cuban Missile Crisis would put their ideas to test as Ormsby-Gore became the president’s unofficial, but most valued foreign policy advisor. These and other friendships—including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan—populate this fresh and provocative exploration of a series of seminal presidential friendships." 

Review:
"Fresh and provocative" - I don't think so. A few chapters were long and drawn out (Jefferson & Madison) while others shared new information (Truman & Jacobson).  Lincoln and his friend/roommate Joshua Speed shared a bed. Big deal! I'm sure lots of people shared beds in the mid-19th century, male & female. FDR and his cousin Daisy Suckley - author seemed to place too much emphasis on this friendship. In my opinion, more research was needed in the preparation of this book.

What really surprised me, especially with all the available information regarding the Kennedy family, was that the author doesn't know Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy was not the oldest of JFK's sisters. Rosemary Kennedy was!

Recommended if you just need a shot of presidential history. 

I was gifted this advance copy by NetGalley and was under no obligation to provide a review.
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I really enjoyed First Friends by Gary Ginsberg. I'm not a hugely political person but I love to read about the inner workings of the white house and our first families. First Friends shed a light on a topic that hasn't been explored very much in past books: the best friends that played a big role in our past presidents. The book doesn't cover all of the past presidents but chose several (9) important relationships to highlight. With each President and Friend, the author went into the history and background of each person, how they met, their true feelings for each other, if they ever had disagreements and for many, how they each died. I found some relationships more interesting than others. For instance, the section on Abraham Lincoln was very gripping to me. Also, the relationship that Roosevelt had with his best friend, a woman named Daisy, was vastly interesting as they clearly loved each other very much.  Although I was just learning about the friends for the first time in many instances, I also learned quite a bit about the famous presidents and how their most intimate relationships worked.  
Some of the sections were a little more heavy on the political background for me personally but I found they were worth getting through to get to the truly interesting elements of the friendships being discussed. I would recommend this book for anyone who has a love of history, of the inner workings of our past presidents and anyone interested in politics in general.
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First Friends is packed with interesting information about past Presidents and their friendships that helped make them the men they would become.  The book is full of enlightening stories.
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I liked this book. It gives a historical perspective of presidents that has not really been pursued. I enjoyed each and every story but since most of them were so short, I felt like I was reading the cliff notes version. Maybe that was all the info to be delivered but it was very concise. I still enjoyed all the anecdotes. The author provided a lot of insight into each relationship but it was pretty shallow. I enjoyed the book but I think a book with the title of first friends should have delved into many more relationships. Washington and Hamilton would have been a good one to have been included. While I enjoyed the book I feel like the writer missed a lot of opportunities to write about other presidents.
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This book was just alright. While there are some references to primary source material, the bibliography reads more like that of a well-researched term paper than a professional work of history. The writing style and depth of research are definitely meant for those who enjoyed books like "Killing Lincoln" rather than hardcore academic works of history. To each their own, though. I don't mean to gatekeep historical writing, but this one falls quite short.
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A really interesting look at nine Presidents and their cloSets friend.Really interesting look at the personal private side of these men and the friendships that are so important to them.Really enjoyed reading about the private personal side of each of these Presidents,#netgalley#firstfriends
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Presidents face tons of pressure every day they are in office. Who do they rely upon, outside of their senior advisors and cabinet members, to help them get through the days? Their best friends, who are almost never in the aforementioned groups. But how much is known about these men? Not much until now. First Friends: The Powerful, Unsung (And Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents was offered to me by NetGalley and Hachette Book Group in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

“In the bestselling tradition of The Presidents Club and Presidential Courage, White House history as told through the stories of the best friends and closest confidants of American presidents.

Here are the riveting histories of myriad presidential friendships, among them:

Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed: They shared a bed for four years during which Speed saved his friend from a crippling depression. Two decades later the friends worked together to save the Union. 

Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson: When Truman wavered on whether to recognize the state of Israel in 1948, his lifelong friend and former business partner intervened at just the right moment with just the right words to steer the president’s decision. 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Daisy Suckley: Unassuming and overlooked during her lifetime, Daisy Suckley was in reality FDR’s most trusted, constant confidant, the respite for a lonely and overworked President navigating the Great Depression and World War II

John Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore: They met as young men in pre-war London and began a conversation over the meaning of leadership.  A generation later the Cuban Missile Crisis would put their ideas to test as Ormsby-Gore became the president’s unofficial, but most valued foreign policy advisor.
These and other friendships—including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan—populate this fresh and provocative exploration of a series of seminal presidential friendships.”

First Friends is an engaging, serendipitous look into the lives of Commanders-in-Chief and how their presidencies were shaped by those they held most dear.


After I finished First Friends and reading the acknowledgements, I had the impression that Ginsburg secured an interview with the Clintons and then came up with the idea of turning the conversation into a book. After researching a little more, I found out the author is a former aide to Clinton, so that totally makes sense. The friendship between Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan takes up over 15% of the book, while the other presidential relationships got less than 10%. That’s not saying the section on Clinton and Jordan was bad; in fact, it was the most enlightening because there are first hand accounts from the actual players in the game.

However, as a former Clinton aide, one imagines this book might have a bias, and it does. Democrats good, Republicans bad. That is, when Republicans are even featured. Lincoln and Nixon are the only Republicans mentioned, and their chapters are not that well fleshedout. Which is frustrating, but I get it: this book was written by a journalist, not a historian. However, as a former journalist, I know that it is possible to check your opinions at the door and write objectively. But even with that, there are contradictions, like when discussing FDR, the author states, “in little more than three months, the Roosevelt administration had laid the groundwork for the American welfare state.”

That’s not to say that the stories told aren’t interesting, they certainly are. I especially found the relationship between John F. Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore interesting in that I have read more than 50 books on the Kennedys and the only time I’ve previously seen Ormsby-Gore mentioned was in books about Kennedy’s sister, Kathleen. How could so many other historians have missed, according to Ginsburg, such an important relationship? From my previous reading, I was always under the impression that Lem Billings, his childhood friend, was closest to him. Or maybe the “Irish Mafia” of Dave Powers and Kenny O’Donnell, who advised the president for twenty years. But the author argues that JFK actually had many intimates, but it was Ormsby-Gore that he really could unwind with, could discuss foreign policy, and it helped that Ormsby-Gore was appointed Great Britain’s ambassador to the United States while Kennedy was in office.

Another interesting relationship that I knew about from previous reading was the one between Franklin Roosevelt and his seventh cousin, Daisy Suckley (pronounced Book-ly). FDR had few people with which he would share his innermost feelings. His father was older, ill, and died by the time Franklin was in college, and he had a fiercely protective mother, so it was only natural that Roosevelt’s most important relationships came with women.

Franklin couldn’t unwind with Eleanor, who was pretty tightly wound and felt like she was wasting precious time if she enjoyed herself. He had an intimate relationship with Eleanor’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer, that Eleanor found out about and put the ky-bosh on in 1918. There was Missy LeHand, Roosevelt’s private secretary, who was by Franklin’s side for 20 years until she was crippled by a stroke. And her replacement, Grace Tully, but it was with Daisy that Franklin really opened up, and even though Daisy always stayed out of the limelight, she was smart enough to keep their correspondence, but didn’t tell anyone about it. Their relationship was only discovered after her death in 1991.

There are some really revealing passages in the letters between the two: “Do you know that you alone have known that I was a bit ‘cast down’ these past weeks. I couldn’t have let anyone else know it–but somehow I seem to tell you all those things and what I don’t happen to tell you, you seem to know anyway.” Daisy held a special place to the president’s heart, it is clear. In fact, there are only four known photographs of FDR in a wheelchair, and two of those were taken by Daisy Suckley.

There’s a fawning chapter on Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom were great statesman but were also duplicitous, back-stabbing, and hypocritical. And the chapter on Wilson and Colonel House was interesting, if only to drive home the fact that Wilson wasn’t as great of a president as some believe. (Wilson really has no chance with me for ever liking him; he re-segregated the federal government and was against women’s suffrage until it became clear that the tide had turned at the state level and in Congress).

Overall, this is an interesting read on a previously unexplored area of the presidents.
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Fascinating look at the personal side of our presidents. Gives you a perspective into what their personal lives are like and how their friendships affected them.
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Gary Ginsberg has introduced me to past presidents through a totally fresh portal. . . Their best friends. I loved his approach to the stories, the accessibility of the historical/political information, and the increased insight it offered me on how our lives can be affected by who we choose to listen to, and talk to.

I loved every minute I spent with this intelligent, interesting book. And, it will make me a more interesting dinner companion because of the trove of fresh anecdotes I can recount. . . And, I think I will be a much more impressive trivia player if I can recall 1/10 of the fun facts Mr. Ginsberg shares with us in FIRST FRIENDS.
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Friends.

Sometimes they save your life or help you become your best self. They can be a sounding board and tell you the truth when others can’t. Or, they can indulge or even share your darker side, your weaknesses, your vices.

The friends of powerful people can sway decisions that affect more than one person or one family. Like the president’s spouse, First Friends are unelected yet may have access to privileged information and great influence.

First Friends is a unique presidential history in which Gary Ginsburg portrays nine presidents and their best friends. Although I have read biographies of most of these presidents, Ginsberg pulled out new understandings and gave me a greater depth of understanding.

“…a First Friend is essential to presidential success,” Ginsberg asserts; “What unites the nine stories is the presence in each of a deep, abiding affection between two individuals.” Nathaniel Hawthorne actually said he loved his college buddy, the Southern, slave-owner Franklin Pierce and supported his political career even when Hawthorne’s Transcendentalist (and abolitionist) neighbors were appalled.

Each friendship had a different impact on the president.

Daisy Suckley gave her cousin President Franklin Roosevelt idolization, fun, and companionship with no political impact. Eddie Jacobson pushed President Harry S. Truman to recognize Israel after WWII, risking their long friendship. Colonel House was a gatekeeper and fixer for President Woodrow Wilson during WWI. Wilson stated, “I never met a man whose thought ran so identically with mine,” and gave him great power of decision. (But Wilson’s second wife Edith couldn’t wait to push House out of power; after her husband’s stroke, she took over!)

President Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed shared more than a bed; they both struggled with depression and fear of intimacy with a woman. After Speed married, he wrote Lincoln that it went pretty well–don’t be afraid. The Speed family’s slaves were a problem for Lincoln, but Speed was a pro-Union democrat who worked to keep Kentucky in the Union. And, his abolitionist brother served as Lincoln’s attorney general.

President John F. Kennedy relied on the British ambassador David Ormsby-Gore during the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Bill Clinton’s friend Vernon Jordan helped save his marriage after the Lewinsky scandal. President Thomas Jefferson and President James Madison were intellectual powerhouses with a common heritage and political vision.

If President Clinton was charming and made friends easily, President Richard Nixon was the opposite. Kissinger wondered what kind of man he could have became had he been loved as a child. His parents were strict. He lost two brothers. He was intelligent and driven–and ruthless. His friendship with Bebe Rebozo gave him a respite, and they spent hours together without saying a word. Rebozo could read Nixon’s mood, was always loyal, and never made demands. Together, they managed to contribute to Nixon’s downfall.

Accessible and enjoyable, First Friends would make a great read for those new to presidential biographies, but offers fresh insight for readers like me who have been reading about the presidents for a long time.

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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Full disclosure, this book wasn’t bad at all, it just wasn’t right for me. 

The book dives into the friendships of nine of our former presidents. Some of the stories had really great stories about the friendships within the White House. Though, I found the book a slow read. The author shares so many details, likely in an effort to be thorough, that in many of the stories I found myself getting lost in the amount of information. 

If you’re someone who likes American history, this book is great at showing the “normal” sides of some of our nation’s former presidents.
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