A bygone era of bipartisan pragmatism and statesmanship is elegized in this sprawling biography of the leading advisor to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Husband and wife journalists Baker (no relation) and Glasser (coauthors, Kremlin Rising) style James Baker as possibly “the ultimate Washington player,” noting that he shepherded landmark tax cuts through Democratic congresses as Reagan’s chief of staff and treasury secretary; negotiated the dismantling of the Soviet empire and German reunification as Bush’s secretary of state; and organized bruising political warfare while managing presidential campaigns and masterminding George W. Bush’s strategy in the 2000 election dispute. There’s plenty of West Wing backstabbing, situational ethics, and profane tirades in the authors’ vibrant narrative as Baker (aka the “Velvet Hammer”) outmaneuvers rival White House power brokers and authorizes attack ads against Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. But in their telling, Baker also champions a relatively enlightened establishment politics, sidelining right-wing Republican zealots, forging relationships with liberal congressmen and communist reformers, and crafting workable domestic and international initiatives. The contrast with the current White House is pointed, resulting in an engrossing study of a kind of government leadership that readers may conclude is both obsolete and sorely needed. (May)
"A masterclass in political biography."
"An illuminating biographical portrait of Mr. Baker, one that describes the arc of his career and, along the way, tells us something about how executive power is wielded in the nation’s capital. . . often has the feel of a novel."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Enthralling, comprehensive . . . The authors rightly highlight the dimensions of Baker’s illustrious career that show so much about what is broken in the current American political system."
—The New York Times Book Review
“The Man Who Ran Washington . . . will rank alongside it as among the very best books about American political life in the late 20th century.”
—The Washington Post
"Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, a husband and wife team, deliver a masterly biography."
"A fascinating look at political power."
—The New York Times
"Immensely informative, nuanced and judicious."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
—The Financial Times
—The American Conservative
“Nobody was better at getting things done than James A. Baker. In a book that is at once fascinating, coolly revealing, and at moments touching, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have given us a biography worthy of one of the most important figures of the late American Century. If you want to understand power in Washington—or anywhere, for that matter—this is the book for you.”
—Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas, authors of The Wise Men
“To capture the sweep and relevance of one of the most influential figures in American life requires two of the great reporters and observers of our time. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have written a grand, precise, and engaging American tale that gallops from Houston Country Club to the convention floor, to the Oval Office and all over the globe, capturing James Baker’s ambition, influence, and style as well as telling the story of power and America at the end of an age.”
—John Dickerson, author of The Hardest Job in the World: The American Presidency
“A fascinating perspective on power and influence. . . in their nuanced portrait of Baker, he emerges as far more interesting than his taciturn image as White House chief of staff, secretary of state, secretary of treasury.”
—The National Book Review
“A riveting and, at times, moving read.”
—Derek Burney, Policy Magazine
“Baker and Glasser pull no punches . . . a delicious read for lovers of history.”
—Washington Independent Review of Books
“Exhaustively reported and fluently written, the book, appropriately for its subject, is a throwback. Like Theodore H. White’s Making of the President series, it celebrates the traditional arts of American politics and governing—not excluding strategic deception, faux histrionics, horse-trading, turf-guarding, lethal leaking, and ass-covering—all in a good cause.”
—Edward Kosner, Commentary Magazine
“Publication of the Baker biography could not have been better timed, because never has the Republican Party needed someone like Jim Baker as bad as it does today, with Donald Trump’s ham-handed, if not treasonous, attempts to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election.”
“Peter Baker and Susan Glasser’s The Man Who Ran Washington is an erudite, searching, affectionate biography. Showcasing elegant writing, critical detachment, and encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. presidential history, every page glows with excellence. It’s an epic study of how one brazen Texan married the crude American political power dynamic with old-fashioned velvet diplomacy to help win the Cold War. A stunning achievement!”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race
“No one has ever captured James Baker’s historical importance and essential nature as well as Peter Baker and Susan Glasser have in this superlatively reported history. This is a history not only of a man but of late twentieth century politics in America, and though there are some things I saw from a different angle, that isn't the point. The point is that a great history of a serious man has been produced, and deserves huzzahs and cheers.”
—Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and author of What I Saw at the Revolution
“The Man Who Ran Washington is a must-read tour de force of political history and biography. Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, two of our best journalists and scholars, bring us the life of one of the nation’s most important secretaries of state and presidential counselors, showing James Baker near the center of more than thirty years of important American and world history.”
—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidents of War
"In the best of the biographic tradition, the authors tell of an important and consequential man in a consequential era."
—Neil Hassler, RealClearDefense
Journalists Baker (New York Times chief White House correspondent) and Glasser (staff writer, The New Yorker) spent seven years researching and writing this sweeping biography of a figure they refer to as the ultimate "deal-maker" in modern American politics. James Baker (b. 1930), no relation to the author, has an impressive political résumé, starting with his stint as undersecretary of commerce in the Ford administration, and, later, running Ford's 1976 presidential campaign. Baker subsequently served as chief of staff and secretary of the treasury during the Reagan administration, then as secretary of state and chief of staff for close friend George H.W. Bush. Beginning with Baker's early life as the scion of well-connected Houston lawyers, the book proceeds to cover his law career and gradual entry into politics, along with his ability to wield power. The authors interviewed Baker, and talked with numerous friends and associates to present a well-documented, engaging read. The private life of Baker also emerges here: his domineering father, the early death of his first wife, his relationship with his four sons, and, especially, his close bond with Bush. VERDICT Indispensable reading for anyone interested in late 20th-century U.S. politics.—Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA
A penetrating portrait of a powerful Washington insider.
New York Times chief White House correspondent Baker and New Yorker staff writer Glasser bring political acumen and thorough research to their absorbing biography of James Addison Baker III (b. 1930), who served presidents Ford, Reagan, and both Bushes, decisively shaping American policies at home and abroad. Drawing on prodigious sources, including more than 210 interviews (70 hours with Baker), the authors offer a balanced view of a man praised for being pragmatic, scrupulously organized, and authoritative, and derided as manipulative, self-aggrandizing, and cynical. He habitually leaked information and “cunningly took credit for something he actually opposed in order to pocket a chit.” One political columnist noted, “taking responsibility isn’t Jim Baker’s style.” Born into an influential Texas family, he followed his father into corporate law, where he felt bored. In 1975, his longtime friend George H.W. Bush recommended him for undersecretary of commerce in Ford’s administration. His impressive political savvy led Ford to tap Baker to run his 1976 presidential campaign; although Ford lost to Jimmy Carter, Baker saw his own reputation rise. When Reagan took office in 1981, he made Baker his White House chief of staff. The authors portray Reagan as distracted and distant but also “a man of driving ambition and more calculation than his public image suggested.” Baker, too, was ambitious, and he could be ruthless in pursuing his goals. After running the White House, Baker became secretary of the treasury and, in George H.W. Bush’s administration, secretary of state. Although he spoke no foreign languages and had no international relations experience, he succeeded in helping to reunify Germany, organize a crucial Middle East peace conference, deal with the Iran-Contra scandal and Iraq’s incursion into Kuwait, and preside over the end of the Cold War. He later served as chief counsel for George W. Bush during the 2000 election recount. With Baker as their focus, the authors afford a sharp, insightful view into Washington dealmaking.
An engrossing biography that is highly relevant in today’s America.