If you want to have an insight into the lives of five past presidents of the United States then this book by Bob Greene is your passport. You will come away feeling like you have been at a fireside chat, a warm conversation where the story flows like good wine at a party. That was how I felt when I dug into this unusual read. Unusual because I would normally read a novel and not an account of a journalist’s experience traveling around the United States to peep into the lives of five past presidents of the United States- their lives after leaving the white house.
Bob Greene’s narration of his meetings with Richard Nixon (37th), Jimmy Carter (39th), Gerald Ford (38th), George H. W Bush (41st), and Ronald Reagan (40th) had me feeling very special, indeed it felt like a privilege to have access to these great men who had had the opportunity to become the President of the United States of America. I was very pleased.
I want to talk about my own impression of the five presidents from my encounter with them in Bob Greene’s book. Richard Nixon struck me as a very formal man (who never took off his suit in the Oval Office). As the conversation between Bob Greene and President Richard Nixon progressed I sat in the corner of the room admiring the ex-president as he said to Robert Greene that he once saw girls of about thirteen in Manhatten smoking cigarettes and Marijuana. I could feel his surprise when he said “…these are girls, that’s what surprised me. Boys you’d expect to engage in all kinds of shenanigans, but little girls-I don’t know. But I suppose that’s part of the whole women’s lib movement. The girls are supposed to be as immoral or decadent as the boys? I hope not”. His revelation about the tension you feel as a president also got me to respect the high office so much more.
I gaped at Richard Nixon when he said that he never watched himself on the television as a President. When Bob Greene asked Nixon what he thought was the most troubling social problem in contemporary American life he replied that he was concerned about the enormous power of television. He went further to say “I think the younger generation will come out less educated that would be the case if they could read more…” his advice to young Americans was simple “read more, look at television less”. I agree with him.
Jimmy Carter was the next president that granted Bob Greene audience, I was eager to meet him and I wasn’t disappointed. Reading from the pages of Bob Greene’s book I perceived the compassion of this past president who had committed the rest of his life to giving back to the world through the Carter Center; I sensed Jimmy Carter’s genuine interest in children and his dedication to making the world a better place. He also struck me as a very humble and accommodating person. I finished the narration of Bob Greene’s meeting with Jimmy Carter thinking “wow, he writes poetry!
With George W. Bush the narration went by so quickly that I didn’t get the chance to understand the president but one thing did catch my eye: George Bush’s note to Rob Mouw after reading a newspaper column which the author (Bob Greene) wrote about Rob Mouw a young soccer player-a column that described Rob’s stand for the truth at a game he played. George Bush had written:
“I love sports and true sportsmen, my faith in our future was renewed and uplifted by that column. Never lose your principles. Always stand for what’s decent and right. That’s what you told us all when you refused the victory…” For me that was a good reminder to always stay on the path of truth and I was truly thankful to have come across this book.
Gerald Ford just seemed like a really cool guy who loves his wife. A powerful man no doubt but so simple and down to earth I immediately felt like having an avuncular relationship with him. I liked most the part where he said he doesn’t mind being by himself, that he never had the feeling of real loneliness I think that reveals some kind of inner strength, to be able to spend time with yourself and not be bothered about being alone.
I enjoyed the exchange between Gerald Ford and his wife when he asked her what sweater to wear for a golf film and then when he said later gesturing at her “My technical adviser”. I thought it was really sweet that he deferred to her for that little thing. The intimacy between them was warm and apparent. It was endearing for me the reader. Then Mrs. Ford says later on in the narration that he’s her best friend, who doesn’t want to be married to their best friend? You could tell also that he thought the world of her as Bob narrated it “…and then he was back in the room, his golf filming over, greeting his wife as if he’d only met her for the first time a day or two before and was overjoyed to be running into her again.”
I didn’t get to meet Ronald Regan neither did Bob Greene as the narration states the president had Alzheimer’s disease and had written to the nation, though he was to attend the Ronald Reagan Presidential Freedom Award, he didn’t make it but his wife did.
I finished the book with a certain satisfaction something short of dancing from side to side with glee.
Bob Greene did a fantastic job with this easy and beautiful read he was able to write about his experiences- meeting the presidents (four of the ones he met) without making such a big deal about it. He narrated the tale so casually even his questions to the presidents were simple yet important enough such that one is eager for the answers. I have never read any of his other books but I dare say this one was an unusual but delightful read and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in knowing how an ex- president of the United States feels when he leaves the white house and what he gets up to after that esteemed life.