Last week I named the best work of fiction I read in 2022. Now I shall share the title of the best work of nonfiction I read last year.
Before I do so, allow me to explain my process. I alternate between reading fiction and nonfiction books. Whilst reviewing my 2022 Goodreads book challenge, I realized that I didn’t care for most of the works of fiction on last year’s list. In fact, I didn’t complete five of them. Don’t tell Goodreads, though, because I marked them as completed. Do not judge me! The way I see it, I deserve the credit for the pain and suffering I endured whilst slogging through X percent of those boring books.
Last year’s nonfiction offerings were better. They were so good that I had trouble choosing among the best. I ultimately chose The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple.
Yes, it’s a book about politics. So, if that’s not your thing, maybe you should quit reading this-here space and return for more of my nonsensible ramblings next week. Then again, maybe you should continue reading for my nonsensible ramblings about the book.
Anyway, on Goodreads, a user asked if The Gatekeepers is biased. Although a debate ensued, most respondents agreed that Whipple produced an unbiased and balanced book. I agree. He shares the strengths and weakness of the presidents and how these attributes guided their selections of chiefs. In turn, the chiefs helped shape policy.
Published in 2017, the book starts with President Richard Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, regarded as the first modern chief. I was familiar with Haldeman so my education began with President Jimmy Carter’s free-wheeling first chief, Hamilton Jordan, who was better known as Ham. That nickname immediately endeared him to me.
I was skeptical upon reading Whipple’s description of Carter’s second chief, Jack Watson, as having movie star good looks. Let’s just say experience has taught me that men and women have differing opinions when it comes to men’s looks. But Whipple was not wrong about Watson’s looks. I consulted our friend Google for images of him and they reinforced my belief that Whipple was unbiased and balanced.
I also learned oodles about President Ronald Reagan’s chiefs. James Baker was the first and best, but Donald Regan – yes, Donald Regan worked for Ronald Reagan – was the most memorable. A drama king who loved attention, he feuded with first lady Nancy Reagan. In fact, he once hung up on her! Later, to exact revenge, he told people that she relied on astrology to plan the president’s schedule.
I didn’t think his antics could be topped … until I got to George H.W. Bush’s presidency. One of his chiefs kept coming to work after he was fired. The dude wouldn’t leave! I don’t have time or space to get into the reasons the president fired him.
And people say these kinds of books are boring!
Of course, I also learned oodles about policy and history. Although I dreaded reading about one significant part of recent history, when I arrived at that section, it was a page turner. It was amazing to read all the differing takes and see how Whipple wove everything together.
Politics might not be your thing, but if it is, Whipple’s book should be on your reading list.
This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.