Reviews & Buzz for White House Ghosts

Robert Schlesinger appeared on Comedy Central's The Daily Show on April 30th.

The Daily Show
April 30, 2008

Presidential scholar (and former speechwriter) Stephen Hess named White House Ghosts as one of eight books Barack Obama should read in What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President-Elect.

Strategy+Business named White House Ghosts one of the best books of 2008.


Robert Schlesinger's October 3, 2008 speech at Middlebury College can be seen on UChannel.

Robert Schlesinger was quoted by Bloomberg News and The Denver Post during the Democratic National Convention.

Bloomberg News & The Denver Post

Robert Schlesinger was a guest on Backbone America Radio on August 10th. The show can be heard online here.

Backbone America Radio

Robert Schlesinger appeared on The Advocates with Richard Garfunkel on WVOX, New Rochelle on August 6th. The show can be heard online here.

The Advocates with Richard Garfunkel
WVOX, New Rochelle

Robert Schlesinger discussed White House Ghosts at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on June 26. The program can be heard here.

Book Talk at National Constitution Center
Philadelphia, PA

Robert Schlesinger appeared on Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane on June 26th, 2008. Click here to listen to the audio of the show.

Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane
WHYY - Philadelphia, PA

Robert Schlesinger appeared on GWU's Politics From the Nation's Capital. The podcast is available here.

Politics From the Nation's Capital
The George Washington University

It's the story - the definitive history, I think - of White House speechwriters ... Schlesinger had the good fortune and industry to be able to interview many former White House speechwriters, going back to George Elsey, who as a naval officer escorted Roosevelt to the Map Room and who worked for Harry Truman. The book is packed with great anecdotes ... White House Ghosts is gracefully written and without political partiality.

From the Bookshelf: Presidential Speechwriters, Iraq, Watergate, and the Democratic Party
Michael Barone
U.S. News & World Report, June 11, 2008

One of the themes weaving itself through this electoral season concerns the power and purpose of rhetoric: John McCain (and previously Hillary Clinton) asserts that policy substance should trump Barack Obama's rhetorical stylings. I have substantive experience, goes the argument, while Obama has empty words.

The truth is that the bully pulpit is a key tool for a president but one of many. No chief executive can discard or dismiss the power of words, but neither can a president afford to underestimate its limits - context matters. JFK understood both sides of this equation.

JFK's American University and Civil Rights Speeches Hold Lessons for Obama and McCain
Robert Schlesinger
U.S. News & World Report, June 10, 2008

It's hard to imagine a fellow having better pedigree to write a book in the history of White House speechwriters than Robert Schlesinger, whose father was the late historian and presidential speechwriter Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

To whom much is given much is expected, and young Robert delivers in White House Ghosts, an at-once comprehensive and breezily anecdotal book about "presidents and their speechwriters." spoke with Schlesinger on the day his book was released, April 15. There'd been one good review in The Wall Street Journal, but like any good writer he wrestled with doubts he'd harbored from the book's proposal stage four years ago through the 15-hour-a-day, seven-day weeks during the run up to the publisher's deadline.

"Is anybody going to read this?"

All we could tell him is that everybody, at least everybody in our business, ought to read this--and their bosses should, too."


"Three Keys to Running a
Powerful Rhetoric Factory"

David Murray
Speechwriter's Newsletter, June 2008

Robert Schlesinger appeared on C-SPAN's BookTV's After Words, interviewing JFK speechwriter Ted Sorensen about his recent book, Counselor.

C-SPAN BookTV - After Words
Robert Schlesinger with Ted Sorensen

Engaging and informative, the book illuminates the role of rhetoric in shaping public perceptions of policies and presidential 'personas.' ... White House Ghosts is packed with delicious details about the origins of iconic quotations - and elegant expressions that were left on the cutting-room

"Their words on the boss' lips"
Glenn C. Altschuler
The Baltimore Sun, June 8, 2008.

Schlesinger, the son of an eminent presidential adviser and speech writer, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., does a marvelous job of getting behind the scenes to show how the presidential speech writing game works.

"White House Ghosts is good selection during political season"
Dave Wood

At a time when the candidate leading in most polls for president is succeeding in part because of his soaring rhetoric, the timing of Schlesinger's fine book could not be better.

"Matching words to speaker is the key"
Bob Sommer
Newark Star-Ledger, June 01, 2008

I love reading history books that shed light on what's happening today - books like my current reading material, "White House Ghosts" by Robert Schlesinger. Written by the son of the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the book is about the ghostwriters whose prose could make or break presidents. Many of their names were unknown to the public, but often presidents would recruit eminent writers, from John Steinbeck to William Safire, to tone up their speeches.

"Editor's Desk: Budget battles bring us the war of the phrase-makers"
Tom Marquardt
The Capital (Annapolis), May 25, 2008.

The book is filled with intimate details about some famous policies, doctrines and presidential addresses.

"Ghostwriters brought to life"
Todd Green
The Post and Courier (Charleston), May 25, 2008

Robert Schlesinger's meticulously researched "White House Ghosts" looks at the complicated relationship between speechwriters and the presidents they have served, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. ... Both historical and analytical, Schlesinger's narrative details the tension between style and substance, poetry and policy, that confronts every speechwriter."

"They put the words
in the presidents' mouths"

Chuck Leddy
The Boston Globe, May 24, 2008

The result is a richly detailed trove of anecdotes about the most memorable speeches. ... Schlesinger also dives into the profession's inherent tensions: Should speechwriters help make policy or merely promote it? Whose rhetorical preferences should hold more sway, top advisors or writers? The results offer a totally absorbing view of the modern presidency."

Corinne Minard
Campaigns & Elections, May 2008

Delightful vignettes ... fill Robert Schlesinger's White House Ghosts. ... Its accumulated evidence drives home an often-neglected point: A president's articulation of ideas makes them real. A speechwriter, far from a technician who simply bangs out the phrases to express predetermined policies, invariably helps to shape those policies. Great speeches have done more than voice well-wrought sentiments or lofty calls for change. They have midwifed social programs, joined moral battles, rallied (or squandered) public support and enabled presidents to enter and exit wars.

"Tribe of Scribes"
David Greenberg
The Washington Post, May 18, 2008

In White House Ghosts, Robert Schlesinger has written a masterfully evenhanded rendering of behind-the-scenes life in the Oval Office that may be the best political book we've read this year.

"Schlesinger Fils Turns In Masterful
Debut on White House Speechwriters"

After hundreds of interviews, Schlesinger's new book, White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, introduces readers to the words and the lives of writers like Ted Sorensen, a speechwriter for JFK; Jaws; and Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

"Robert Schlesinger on
All the Presidents' Speechwriters"

Elizabeth Farrell
Washingtonian, May, 2008

Go, Airtran's inflight magazine called White House Ghosts a "comprehensive overview, dappled with juicy anecdotes and revealing insights."

Go - Books
Michael J. Bandler
Go, May 1, 2008

White House Ghosts was excerpted in on May 8.

"Ghosts In The Machine"

Madison and Hamilton helped draft Washington's farewell address. William Seward buoyed Lincoln's first inaugural. The first White House ghostwriter was '20s literary clerk Judson Welliver. Later muses included poets, flacks, and pols. All fill Robert Schlesinger's new book, White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. ... White House Ghosts is ... bright, and honest [and] literate and lively.

"'Ghosts' to make a president live or die"
Curt Smith, May 6, 2008

The connection between the vetting and selling of policy has been on my mind lately because it is the underlying theme of a marvelous new book by Robert Schlesinger, White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. It is a history of the modern presidency as seen through the eyes of White House speechwriters (the author, the son of Arthur Schlesinger Jr., comes by his subject honestly). One of many revealing anecdotes involves the now-famous deliberations among John F. Kennedy and his senior advisors in October 1962 upon learning that the Soviets had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. ...

"Policy Is the Best Honesty"
Paul Glastris
Washington Monthly, April 2008

Those interested in learning about how presidential speeches are written - sometimes in a surprisingly haphazard manner - will get a great deal out of reading White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters. ... That kind of historical analysis - and some great backstage stories - make White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters a worthwhile book for history buffs and anyone interested in the role of communications in politics.

"Schlesinger's 'White House Ghosts':
From the Oval Office desk to our ears"

Claude R. Marx
St. Petersburg Times, May 5, 2008

And that, in a nutshell - or perhaps an eggshell - is what this thoroughly researched, smoothly written and frequently witty book is all about - how presidents and their speechwriters work together to make the chickens cackle.

Shadow Wordsmiths
John Coyne Jr.
The Washington Times, May 2, 2008

White House Ghosts was excerpted in U.S. News and World Report on May 2; read here from the chapter on John F. Kennedy.

U.S. News and World Report
May 2, 2008

It's been a long road from Jackson to our age of spin, a distance Robert Schlesinger charts in his often lively ... always valuable and painstakingly researched 'White House Ghosts.'

"The Pulpit Wouldn't Be So
Bully Without Them"

Caryn James
The New York Times, May 2, 2008

Schlesinger on 'The Daily Show' ... And A Book Party

May 1, 2008

D.C. journo/book hawker Robert Schlesinger on 'The Daily Show'

Poltico's Shenanigans
Anne Schroeder Mullins
May 1, 2008

Robert Schlesinger appeared on "Tomorrow with Alex Beinstein" on April 25th.

Tomorrow with Alex Beinstein

Robert Schlesinger appeared on WNYC's "The Leonard Lopate Show" on April 21st.

The Leonard Lopate Show

Robert Schlesinger took "The Page 99 Test" on April 21st.

The Page 99 Test

White House Ghosts: Presidents and Their Speechwriters, is a comprehensive account of the speechwriting process, from the relationships between presidents and their scribes to the origins of some of the most memorable words spoken by the nation's leaders.

Book Offers Window Into Speechwriting
Torey Van Oot
Roll Call, April 22 2008

... will delight history buffs and political junkies alike.

Speakers of the House
Eric Fettmann
New York Post, April 20, 2008

Whether it's retelling stories from Harry S. Truman's 1948 whistle-stop train campaign across the country or the work that went in to writing Ronald Reagan's address at the Berlin Wall, Schlesinger provides quotidian details that provide deeper insight into how policy is made and expounded through speeches.

Prose for the Presidents: Robert Schlesinger
Katherine Silkaitis
Washington Post Express, April 16, 2008

Robert Schlesinger's White House Ghosts, just out, combines a good look at history with the kind of you-are-there nuggets that I prize in Noonan's writing style. His stuff on the 1960s -- when his father wrote speeches for Kennedy -- is particularly worth perusing in light of the situation we are in today, and for anyone thinking ahead about what a next administration will face and how it can succeed or fail.

Robert Schlesinger appeared on the's political podcast on Tuesday, April 15. To listen in, click here.

Post Politics Podcast

His episodic history is fluent, well researched and richly detailed.

"Presidential Words"
Robert K. Landers
The Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2008

The ghost of Bill Clinton took center stage in President Bush's most important speech, his 9/11 address to Congress, we learn in a new book about White House ghostwriters from our own Robert Schlesinger. In White House Ghosts, he reveals to Bush and the rest of us that the prez's most memorable line was secretly suggested by a former top Clintonista and inserted without the source ever being revealed. You know the line: 'Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.' How'd it get there? Bush kept on Clinton national security speechwriter John Gibson, who got it from his former boss Tom Malinowski. Gibson didn't reveal his source; it would have been junked. The irony of Bush uttering his words made Malinowski queasy. 'The line I wrote that I think will probably be remembered and quoted more than any other was uttered not by Clinton but Bush.'

"Ghost of Clinton in Bush 9/11 Speech"
Washington Whispers - Paul Bedard
U.S. News & World Report, April 11, 2008

A detail-packed volume chronologically covering presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt through the current Bush administration, with extensive insight into how these leaders have had their messages crafted and packaged. ... the book succeeds as a perspective on the last 75 years of American history.

Library Journal
March 28, 2008

Bill Clinton was a notorious last-minute tinkerer, even when it came to major speeches. Yet it never got him in too much trouble, thanks to his talent for off-the-cuff oratory. But in his new book on White House speechwriters, 'White House Ghosts,' Robert Schlesinger tells of one instance where Clinton's procrastination nearly led to an embarrassment of legendary proportions. In 1993, Clinton was en route to Annapolis ...

"Agent gives Bill shirt off his back"
Yeas & Neas
Washington Examiner, March 28, 2008

The Illinois freshman senator's rhetorical gifts have called to mind John F. Kennedy -- another young senator whose eloquent message of change inspired a generation and won the White House. What Obama critics might not realize is that among the foremost skeptics of the power of rhetoric was ... John F. Kennedy. ... But Kennedy also appreciated the limits of rhetoric. He liked to quote from Shakespeare's 'Henry IV, Part I,' in which Owen Glendower boasts that he can 'call spirits from the vasty deep' and Hotspur replies that he can, too, and 'so can any man; but will they come when you do call for them?' Anyone can speak well, in other words, but do the words lead to deeds?

"'08 Race revolves around power rhetoric"
Robert Schlesinger
Politico, March 17, 2008

This snappy history ... takes us through a lively, often unforgettable cast of characters who both enlarged their presidents' visions and suffered from White House infighting and policy battles. ... Schlesinger's coverage is wide, his research comprehensive, his pace fast, his prose light.

Publishers Weekly
February 8, 2008

Schlesinger assesses the diverse contributions made by speechwriters toiling thanklessly on behalf of presidents from FDR to G.W. Bush.

Kirkus Reviews