I read non-fiction at about the same rate I read fiction, 1-2 of either type of books each month. When choosing a book like The Man who Ran Washington I am certainly affected by the big public relations and marketing budgets behind such a large release. That is just what happend when I picked this up from my library the week it released in late September. I’m glad I read almost 600 pages of biography on James A. Baker III, albeit the life story of a relatively recent American public figure and one whose political stances aren’t entirely keeping with my own.
I probably enjoyed the first 200 pages of this book more than the latter 2/3rds. That’s because I tend to have more interest in late-20th century politicians early lives’ than in there later lives’. That’s probably because it is less known to me than the more current events. In Baker & Glasser’s work I sped through the parts chronicling the early life and career of the Secretary of State’s Texas youth and Princeton education.
My Dad is a native Texan, so I’m familiar enough with some of the institutions and history of the state. Reading about the Baker family legacy stretching back to the founding fathers of Texas is very intriguing. Hearing how JAB III’s (James A. Baker III – apparently this initializing of his name was done a lot in his career) childhood of silver-spoon, Houston, high society was heavily linked to the northeast prep-school set (PA’s Hill School, then Princeton) was interesting, as I’m very familiar with a lot of those PA/NJ schools. Then, the transition into his early adulthood and connection to George H.W. Bush gets really fascinating.
All of the history of JAB’s time as Reagan’s Chief of Staff, Secretary of Commerce and eventually Bush 41’s Secretary of State is more familiar territory to me. So, the mid-career, pre-White House stuff had me more gripped. I would venture to say that most readers will find this to be true. When JAB launched into politics in Texas, helping Bush run for congress, then heading up the Gerald Ford campaign in 1976 the authors do a great job of telling the story of his difficult personal life. Perhaps equally as interesting is that he was already in his late forties, a career corporate lawyer, by the time he set out in politics.
It’s this balancing of the public man, with the story of his private life that make this such a strong work. James A. Baker is so well known as the “velvet hammer” – mister professionalism – that his difficult, at times tragic, personal life offers a unique glimpse into a highly powerful player in world politics, and the way he was able to rise above such tragedies to be immensely influential.
I will recommend this book with some reservations. Mainly this, I would suggest grabbing this book immediately if you have an above-average interest in Washington politics. You will gobble it up. If you have a middling-to-minimal interest in power politics, it probably isn’t for you. I say this due to its length, and much of the history being so well known to the general American public.