The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple

The Gatekeepers

Chris Whipple

The Gatekeepers pulls back the curtain to expose how the nation's levers of power are operated by these right-hand advisors, and what each appointment reveals about its respective president.

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The first in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the White House Chiefs of Staff, whose actions—and inactions—have defined the course of our country.

What do Dick Cheney and Rahm Emanuel have in common? Aside from polarizing personalities, both served as chief of staff to the president of the United States—as did Donald Rumsfeld, Leon Panetta, and a relative handful of others. The chiefs of staff, often referred to as "the gatekeepers," wield tremendous power in Washington and beyond; they decide who is allowed to see the president, negotiate with Congress to push POTUS's agenda, and—most crucially—enjoy unparalleled access to the leader of the free world. Each chief can make or break an administration, and each president reveals himself by the chief he picks. 

Through extensive, intimate interviews with all seventeen living chiefs and two former presidents, award-winning journalist and producer Chris Whipple pulls back the curtain on this unique fraternity. In doing so, he revises our understanding of presidential history, showing us how James Baker’s expert managing of the White House, the press, and Capitol Hill paved the way for the Reagan Revolution—and, conversely, how Watergate, the Iraq War, and even the bungled Obamacare rollout might have been prevented by a more effective chief. 

Filled with shrewd analysis and never-before-reported details, The Gatekeepers offers an essential portrait of the toughest job in Washington.


Advance Galley Reviews

I was impressed by this book, not only by how much I learned about the chiefs of staff but also by how the author weaved in stories by so many key players. Great read.

I wasn't able to finish the book before my download expired, BUT I loved what I was able to read! I'm a big non-fiction fan, but I haven't read much history since high school, but this was very easy to read and interesting. It certainly helped me brush up on some history facts I may or may not have forgotten :) I might actually be purchasing this book (or checking it out from my library) so that I can finish it--really informative and worthwhile read.

As a history lover in general, I give this book 5 solid stars. Having just finished the book while on vacation in Washington DC made it even more profound. The details that unfold are riveting. It absolutely pulls back the curtain on the relationship between the Chief of Staff and POTUS, as well as, so many others in the political landscape. It underscores the importance of this role and a make or break of every administration. In a modern world where the renaissance courtiers are things of the past, it's apparent that they are not entirely gone and are somewhat reinvented by the arguably the most important and influential political "gatekeeper", the US Joint Chief of Staff. The book is incredibly well written and explores an immense amount of information but not in a way that bogs down the reader. I would buy a book on each chapter as a stand alone book. With that said, having read this book as an ARC, I still bought it when it was published.

The Gatekeepers recounts the history and stories of each of the White House Chiefs of Staff starting with the man who defined the modern role, H. R. Haldeman, the first chief during the Nixon presidency. While vilified for his role in the subsequent Watergate scandal, Haldeman set the initial standard for the roles and duties of this critical position which hold through today. Organized by President, the book goes on to explore each of the men who have held this position, starting with their initial introduction and consideration all the way through till their resignation or completion of the President’s time in office. It is an interesting, behind the scenes look at the day to day management of the White House. The book is sourced through historical records as well as interviews with many of the chiefs, their staffs, and the President they worked for. Overall it is an interesting read although there is some degree of bias on behalf of one political party over another. This would be difficult if not impossible to overcome when writing about recent political history as this perception is also colored by the reader’s inherent bias. This book is recommended for those who are interested in learning more about the backstage action in the White House.

For anyone interested in political history this is your kind of read. The way it tells of the behind the scenes, if you will, of the Chief of Staffs is clear, to the point, interesting and gives a powerful peek into their lives through the White House. I enjoyed it but perhaps someone a little more into all positions of the White House will be much more into it.

A well written overview of life in the White House and the changing of the guard. I would recommend this book to people who like history. Not my cup of coffeee, however.

Chris Whipple navigates more than forty years of presidential history with the ease of a natural storyteller, transitioning from one administration to the next without losing momentum. He makes history and the inner workings of politics fascinating, especially since he shines a light on characters and pieces of the puzzle that don't usually get much recognition. He may not prove his central thesis all that well and it may feel odd that he uses Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as a framing device given that they are neither the beginning nor the end of the timeframe he discusses, but that doesn't take away from the sheer enjoyment that comes from reading "The Gatekeepers." Whipple brings history to life and feels honest--sometimes brutally so--about the people and the politics or ambitions that shape their decisions. If you want to know how the presidency works, this is a great place to start.

A behind the scenes look at the power structures that have coalesced around the modern presidency, and they way they can, in some cases, make or break a presidency. I was unaware of how many former Chiefs of Staff have gone on to become household names in the political sphere, becoming cabinet secretaries and at least one Vice President - though none have gone on to hold the office they once helped protect. These men (and they are all men) have a special connection, across party lines, having served in one of the most difficult - and frequently thankless - jobs in government.

I loved the overview this book gave of the views of the Chiefs of Staff and the Presidents. This was very easy to read and entertaining! I loved the fact the author did not get hung up on all the dry history and instead focuses on certain challenges they have. Would recommend to anyone who loves history.

A broad overview that provides a terrific starting point for the person who does not know much about history. Whipple brings a studied eye to the flashpoints of history for the last 40 years, aided by the insider's knowledge from the various chiefs of staff. If you're looking for a primer on presidential history, you could do a lot worse than a front-row view from those who saw it happen.

This is one of the best books about modern American presidential history I have ever read - and I have read quite a few of them! Chris Whipple manages to squeeze the highlights of every presidency for the past 40 years into 300 pages without leaving the reader feeling rushed or uninformed. The focus of the book is how the White House chief of staff can help define a presidency and gain momentum or the opposite for the policy of a president. It also makes it clear how demanding the job is, and how big a difference the character of the chief can make on day-to-day operations of the White House and the president's political agenda and success. Whipple draws extensively on the massive literature from the period including memoirs and other first-hand accounts and has furthermore interviewed the key White House players - and even challenges the recollections of these people with quotes from other key players, which makes it all even more interesting. If you are interested in modern U.S. history without a lot of unnecessary details to slow down your reading pace, this is the book to turn to.

I never heard about Chiefs of staff, so I came to this title wondering who they were, what did they do and hoping it didn't go into too obscure/mundane details about the white house bureaucracy. It beat all my expectations. It made a great case about the Chief of Staff importance: focused and organized CoS made relevant presidencies, and showed it giving a great overview of the presidencies from Nixon to Obama. It moves briskly through the well-known US history milestones (Watergate, Iran-Contra...) giving an insider view on how the executive decisions were taking and by who. To cover all that ground and keep the things readable, this book sacrifices deepness, and I think that was a very good choice. Given that most of the people mentioned has written memoirs or books by themselves, I can now go to the relevant actors and dig deeper in specific episodes. In brief, a very recommendable reading to get a bit deeper view on the modern US history.

THE GATEKEEPERS: HOW THE WHITE HOUSE CHIEFS OF STAFF DEFINE EVERY PRESIDENCY is a fascinating, nonfiction read that looks at the White House/Presidents through the eyes of various Chiefs of Staff. The novel definitely offers an "insider" look behind the doors of the White House. And the best part is that you don't have to be a political junkie to really enjoy the POVs offered in the novel. I highly recommend it! (My thanks to Penguin's First to Read for the ARC...)

What a great read! Thanks to First To Read for an opportunity to read the advance copy. "The Gatekeepers " looks at the presidencies of Nixon to Obama with the background of their chosen Chiefs of Staff. A review of highs and lows of each administration is honestly told. Literally, the doom and success of the Potus is argely related to the choice of these chiefs ( of course ALL men to date)...Despite the hijinks that ensued in all Administrations,the public service , intelligence and love of country is a must for the people that surround The President. It will be "interesting" to see how the current WH will fare and be able to do the work of The People with little regard for Lessons lLearned...can't wait to read that book. You won't regret opening "The Gatekeepers"

I really enjoyed this book! I found it to be very short when you consider the subject matter. I feel like the author could've make the book twice as long and still be missing something. It merely touches on some of the big events that have shaped our country since Nixon. Gatekeepers covers the Chiefs of Staff for the President from Nixon to Obama, each with his own chapter (the Reagan Era earned 2 mostly due to his first Chief of Staff, James Baker), highlighting a known but not too well known character in the story that is the American government. Some lasted a long time (5 1/2 years) some not quite a long time (I believe one lasted less than year). It is not an easy job, not even when the country isn't in crisis. Trying to help the man governing a country of 300+ million is not an easy task as 300+ million people will all try to tell you how you are doing it wrong. Whipple shows how the chief of staff helped (or hurt) the president during major events that have happened over the last 50 years such as Watergate, 9/11, and various financial crises. Watching these events from the outside, it was eye opening to see how it worked from the inside. The Chief of Staff is a position many American's know about, mainly due to the West Wing tv show, but that was just a show and I found it enthralling to learn the history of the position and how it changed with the man behind the title. I found it easier to read once I got towards the end of the chapter on Bush and into the Clinton chapter as these were presidents I remember, events I remember. While I was alive during Reagan, I was barely 6 when he left the office. I'm not sure if that will be the case for everyone else but reading about things you remember sometimes provides you with a visual that really gets you into the work. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about how the executive branch functions, heck any branch of our government. I really feel like in the future, political science professors will be assigning this book to their students. It made me want to go out and read biographies on the various presidents discussed.

P-H-E-N-O-M-E-N-A-L. Could not put this down. Run, don't walk to get this book.

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): great book. Every chapter could have been a book in itself, but Chris Whipple does an excellent job with the chronology, choosing the key characteristics and significant events of each of the chiefs he covers, and tying the room together. This isn't West Wing...in his Introduction, Whipple quotes Erskine Bowles: "In an average day you would deal with Bosnia, Northern Ireland, the budget, taxation, the environment - and then you'd have lunch! And then on Friday you would say, 'Thank God - only two more working days until Monday.'" Eerie...all the wrong things done, all the undesirable characteristics of the presidents served by these men, and all of the failures of the chiefs seem to have come to a convergence. I can name a bunch of people who should read this, one in particular, but I doubt would. Wonderful access, and wonderful anecdotes. I loved the one about Leon Panetta balking at firing Rahm Emanuel... "While Panetta dragged his heels on firing Emanuel, Clinton turned to [Panetta's deputy Erskine] Bowles. Not once, but five times the president ordered him to fire Rahm. But Bowles refused. "I told him, 'Hell no, I wasn't going to fire him,'" he says. "The president would say, 'Why not?' And I'd say, 'Because every time you come out of that Oval Office and you've got some new things you want us to do, and I can't get the bureaucracy to do it, you know what I do? I give it to Rahm. And two days later he comes back and it's done! There are twenty dead people back there - but it's done!' " Sufficiently broad and sufficiently deep, though it certainly could have been deeper, I learned a few things, and not just about the chiefs of staff. A recommended read

A quote from the Introduction stuck with me throughout the book: "Unelected and unconfirmed, the chief serves at the whim of the president, hired and fired by him (or her) alone." I couldn't help but reflect on this as I read the stories. The details are many and the reporting is shocking at times.

 


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