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Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford

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Within eight turbulent months in 1974 Gerald Ford went from the United States House of Representatives, where he was the minority leader, to the White House as the country’s first and only unelected president. His unprecedented rise to power, after Richard Nixon’s equally unprecedented fall, has garnered the lion’s share of scholarly attention devoted to America’s thirty-e Within eight turbulent months in 1974 Gerald Ford went from the United States House of Representatives, where he was the minority leader, to the White House as the country’s first and only unelected president. His unprecedented rise to power, after Richard Nixon’s equally unprecedented fall, has garnered the lion’s share of scholarly attention devoted to America’s thirty-eighth president. But Gerald Ford’s (1913–2006) life and career in and out of Washington spanned nearly the entire twentieth century. Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party captures for the first time the full scope of Ford’s long and remarkable political life. The man who emerges from these pages is keenly ambitious, determined to climb the political ladder in Washington, and loyal to his party but not a political ideologue. Drawing on interviews with family and congressional and administrative officials, presidential historian Scott Kaufman traces Ford’s path from a Depression-era childhood through service in World War II to entry into Congress shortly after the Cold War began. He delves deeply into the workings of Congress and legislative–executive relations, offering insight into Ford’s role as the House minority leader in a time of conservative insurgency in the Republican Party. Kaufman’s account of the Ford presidency provides a new perspective on how human rights figured in the making of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era, and how environmental issues figured in the making of domestic policy. It also presents a close look at the 1976 presidential election—emphasizing the significance of image in that contest—and extensive coverage of Ford’s post-presidency. In sum, Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party is the most comprehensive political biography of Gerald Ford and will become the definitive resource on the thirty-eighth president of the United States.


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Within eight turbulent months in 1974 Gerald Ford went from the United States House of Representatives, where he was the minority leader, to the White House as the country’s first and only unelected president. His unprecedented rise to power, after Richard Nixon’s equally unprecedented fall, has garnered the lion’s share of scholarly attention devoted to America’s thirty-e Within eight turbulent months in 1974 Gerald Ford went from the United States House of Representatives, where he was the minority leader, to the White House as the country’s first and only unelected president. His unprecedented rise to power, after Richard Nixon’s equally unprecedented fall, has garnered the lion’s share of scholarly attention devoted to America’s thirty-eighth president. But Gerald Ford’s (1913–2006) life and career in and out of Washington spanned nearly the entire twentieth century. Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party captures for the first time the full scope of Ford’s long and remarkable political life. The man who emerges from these pages is keenly ambitious, determined to climb the political ladder in Washington, and loyal to his party but not a political ideologue. Drawing on interviews with family and congressional and administrative officials, presidential historian Scott Kaufman traces Ford’s path from a Depression-era childhood through service in World War II to entry into Congress shortly after the Cold War began. He delves deeply into the workings of Congress and legislative–executive relations, offering insight into Ford’s role as the House minority leader in a time of conservative insurgency in the Republican Party. Kaufman’s account of the Ford presidency provides a new perspective on how human rights figured in the making of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era, and how environmental issues figured in the making of domestic policy. It also presents a close look at the 1976 presidential election—emphasizing the significance of image in that contest—and extensive coverage of Ford’s post-presidency. In sum, Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party is the most comprehensive political biography of Gerald Ford and will become the definitive resource on the thirty-eighth president of the United States.

30 review for Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    This is a well written and meticulously researched biography of Gerald Ford. Kaufman provides a balanced and insightful review of Ford’s political life; his personal life is lightly covered. Kaufman claims three traits emerge in Ford’s life: his ambition, his loyalty to the Republican Party and his political pragmatism. Kaufman covers his naval career, his congressional career and his term as president. To me Ford and Carter were excellent presidents to heal the nation from the turbulent period o This is a well written and meticulously researched biography of Gerald Ford. Kaufman provides a balanced and insightful review of Ford’s political life; his personal life is lightly covered. Kaufman claims three traits emerge in Ford’s life: his ambition, his loyalty to the Republican Party and his political pragmatism. Kaufman covers his naval career, his congressional career and his term as president. To me Ford and Carter were excellent presidents to heal the nation from the turbulent period of Richard Nixon’s presidency. Ford’s key points where he did not lie to the country and he appeared calm and dependable. I recently read another book on Ford by Donald Rumsfeld called “When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency”. That book covered only the presidency. If you are looking for more information, this book is the better choice. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is sixteen hours and twenty-two minutes. Robertson Dean does an excellent job narrating the book. Dean is an actor and voice artist. He has won eight EarPhone Awards, been nominated for several Audie Award and was Audiofile Magazine Best voice of 2010.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... Published in 2017, Scott Kaufman’s “Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford” is the most recent comprehensive biography of the thirty-eighth president. Kaufman is the author or editor of nearly a dozen books including a biography of Rosalynn Carter and a study of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Kaufman is chair of the Department of History at Francis Marion University. Despite its self-professed status as a “political biography” https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... Published in 2017, Scott Kaufman’s “Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford” is the most recent comprehensive biography of the thirty-eighth president. Kaufman is the author or editor of nearly a dozen books including a biography of Rosalynn Carter and a study of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. Kaufman is chair of the Department of History at Francis Marion University. Despite its self-professed status as a “political biography” this 349-page book is comprehensive (covering his entire life but with varying degrees of depth) and also incorporates important elements of his personal life into the narrative…though not to the extent of more traditional biographies. The book’s overarching (but not pervasive) theme is that, during an examination of Ford’s life, three key traits emerge: his ambition, his loyalty to the Republican party and his political pragmatism. Anyone familiar with LBJ or Richard Nixon, however, will find Ford’s “ambition” comparatively placid and, by today’s standards, his loyalty and pragmatism seem somewhat unremarkable. Kaufman’s biography covers Ford’s early years with crisp, sterile efficiency. The first chapter sweeps Ford – at about a page per year – through his childhood, his naval service during World War II, his marriage and his election to Congress. The pace slows during Ford’s Congressional career and, unsurprisingly, his personal life takes a back seat to his public career in these chapters. Ford’s presidency consumes about one-third of the book. Here, Kaufman studiously observes Ford’s response to various domestic and international issues including the U.S. economy, the energy crisis, Vietnam, the Arab-Israeli War and nuclear arms control. The author’s analysis and tone consistently suggest a keen understanding of events and a judiciously balanced detachment from his subject. As a political biography focused on Ford’s Congressional career, presidency and legacy, Kaufman’s book is more than satisfactory. Ford’s actions are never examined without careful consideration of the relevant context: domestic and world affairs as well as the political stain left by Watergate and Nixon’s resignation. But the two finals chapters are probably the best, covering Ford’s post-presidency (including his own perspective on the Carter, Reagan and Bush presidencies) and his personal and political legacy. But as a biography focused on Ford’s entire life Kaufman’s book falls short. His subject’s early life is hastily covered and too few are the observable connections between his upbringing and the politician he would become. The final days of the Nixon presidency are not particularly closely covered, and the narrative, like its subject, is not colorful or artfully engaging. Overall, “Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford” provides an efficient, balanced and insightful review of Ford’s political career and legacy. As a political biography this book will prove more than satisfactory for most readers. But the personal side of Gerald Ford, including the genesis of this honorable and temperate man’s infatuation with politics, remains a mystery. Overall rating: 3½ stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Gerald Ford is unique among presidents for a number of reasons, but perhaps most so for the circumstances of his presidency. Alone among the forty-four people who have held the office he was never on a national ballot prior to occupying the office, as he owed his elevation to the presidency to the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Defeated in his own bid for the office in 1976, he had remained an anomaly every since, overshadowed by the more dramatic tenures of those who preceded and followed hi Gerald Ford is unique among presidents for a number of reasons, but perhaps most so for the circumstances of his presidency. Alone among the forty-four people who have held the office he was never on a national ballot prior to occupying the office, as he owed his elevation to the presidency to the provisions of the 25th Amendment. Defeated in his own bid for the office in 1976, he had remained an anomaly every since, overshadowed by the more dramatic tenures of those who preceded and followed him. This helps to explain why there have been so few biographies written about Ford. In his introduction Scott Kaufman identifies three, all of which suffered from a variety of limitations, In this respect Kaufman's book is the first to do full justice to the span of Ford's long life, assessing it with access to his records and benefiting from the perspectives of time. It's a solid study that is written in an unpretentious style and reflects considerable archival labors, which makes it in many respects a mirror to its subject. Kaufman tinges his analysis with nostalgia, noting that while Ford was an ambitious politician who remained a devoted party man, he often worked with his Democratic opponents to achieve balance on the issues before them. He makes it clear that his career ambition was to be speaker of the House of Representatives rather than president, a goal that he regretted not achieving even after occupying a much more consequential office. In that respect Ford's career is infused with the irony of being the rare politician who achieved a higher position than the one for which he aimed. And while Ford's political career ended with the humiliation of defeat, it is one that receives its due in Kaufman's book. For while it may have lacked the excitement of war or the tension of constitutional crisis, Kaufman shows it was one in which a fundamentally decent man grappled with the problems with his time and worked to solve them as best as he was able. Thanks to Kaufman, readers now have the judicious assessment that Ford has long deserved and one that will likely remain the dominant work on Ford's life and career for some time to come.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bryon Butler

    So many years after Ford's 1976 defeat there is finally a substantial biography on his life, presidency and post-presidency. Other's have ably dealt with his presidency (John Robert Green, Douglas Brinkley, Yanek Mieczkowski) and some who served in his administration have written personal, laudatory accounts (James Cannon and Henry Kissinger). Scott Kaufman provides this readable, scholarly account of Ford's career, a Ford first. Ford, the nonelected, largely unknown congressman who rocketed int So many years after Ford's 1976 defeat there is finally a substantial biography on his life, presidency and post-presidency. Other's have ably dealt with his presidency (John Robert Green, Douglas Brinkley, Yanek Mieczkowski) and some who served in his administration have written personal, laudatory accounts (James Cannon and Henry Kissinger). Scott Kaufman provides this readable, scholarly account of Ford's career, a Ford first. Ford, the nonelected, largely unknown congressman who rocketed into the presidential limelight for 895 days and then back to relative obscurity (see John Updike's novel Memories of the Ford Administration, which, written 15 years later recalls a dim, largely forgotten Ford era of desire and sexual freedom) was actually a key player in the national scene from 1948 on, and continued to provide the Republican party a moderate choice when its conservative element rose to the forefront in 1980. Far beyond the eye-rolling WIN, or the single issue Nixon pardon, the reader discovers new perspectives on the Congress and America in the 1960s and 1970s: Ford's time at the helm is valuable reading. The author's conclusion is helpful: did Ford really have his own presidency or was he more a care-taker president? This discussion continues, and goes beyond the well-deserved reputation of Ford as the man who restored dignity to the office and who worked for bipartisanship. Kaufman's work is substantial, and should be first reading for those who want to see a fuller picture that goes beyond Ford's well-deserved post-Watergate "healer" praise or the pundit caricature that easily passes for truth in this short, understudied presidency.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Duane Maddy

    I struggled to find a book on Ford to which I felt was informative, while still being interesting. Kaufman did a good job of combining these two points with a pretty heavy focus on the pragmatism, which seems to have been Ford's major focus. Ford tended to live down to the expectations people had of him as president, while exceeding expectations in his early political career. It wasn't a surprise that his scholastic and athletic careers were average, rather it was quite the exception that his fam I struggled to find a book on Ford to which I felt was informative, while still being interesting. Kaufman did a good job of combining these two points with a pretty heavy focus on the pragmatism, which seems to have been Ford's major focus. Ford tended to live down to the expectations people had of him as president, while exceeding expectations in his early political career. It wasn't a surprise that his scholastic and athletic careers were average, rather it was quite the exception that his family life was below average and his early political career exceeded all expectations. Seeing his goal of being Speaker of the House instead lead to the "accidental presidency" was an unbelievable story, too strange to be fiction. The only downfall of this book (which is in no way a major one) is that there is some repetition throughout that is hard to overlook. I felt that there were a few chapters which were nothing more than summaries. Other than that, I was completely engaged and greatly enjoyed reading this biography.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I didn't expect much from Ford when I began this biography: my entire understanding of him was confined to a few Simpsons jokes (the song 'I'm Checking In' and the episode 'Two Bad Neighbors') and the knowledge that he was the unelected president who pardoned Nixon. Kaufman's biography did serve to give me some new perspectives, but the import of Ford's career and time in office does not raise his reputation appreciably, and Kaufman's lack of forceful argument undercuts the book's central thesis I didn't expect much from Ford when I began this biography: my entire understanding of him was confined to a few Simpsons jokes (the song 'I'm Checking In' and the episode 'Two Bad Neighbors') and the knowledge that he was the unelected president who pardoned Nixon. Kaufman's biography did serve to give me some new perspectives, but the import of Ford's career and time in office does not raise his reputation appreciably, and Kaufman's lack of forceful argument undercuts the book's central thesis. Ford's success seems tied much more to his dogged determination and work ethic than to his charisma or vision. Even though Kaufman claimed his book was just a political biography, I was struck by how much of Ford's life politics consumed. Kaufman regularly cited statistics of Ford spending 2/3 of the year on the road, or constantly accepting political events and fundraisers to the detriment of his home life and marriage. Some of that is just the reality of being a political figure, but Ford could have made a better balance in his life (he regularly won reelection in his home district by 15%). As a politician, Ford was able to secure membership on important Congressional committees, but had no major piece of legislation connected to him. For all his dreams to become Speaker of the House, it was clear he was better suited as a whip to marshal support and corral the party (he became Minority Leader, but I didn't see much of a Party Leader in him). And as President, he moved quickly to protect his own and try to maintain the broad outlines of the Nixon administration minus the criminality. Ford's career was also interesting in that he represented the waning of the moderate wing of Republicanism embodied by Eisenhower. The 1976 primary challenge from Reagan, and the subsequent shifting of Republican principles when Reagan was elected in 1980 show how Ford's beliefs were not appealing to a new generation of Republicans. His post-presidency years show his disdain for the new reality, though he would still line up with his party and identify himself as Republican. But while he stood with his party more often than not, his voting record reflected a moderate who placed the country's progress and prosperity over partisanship. Kaufman's work was easy to follow, but I often felt that he was happier to just report on Ford rather than assess the merits of his actions. Even the conclusion, where I had hoped to see a final score on the Ford presidency, was only designed to summarize the previous 340 pages of the book. It seems like in order to give Ford a fair evaluation, Kaufman opted not to judge his merits/flaws acutely. But in having these blinders in place, I had a harder time forming my own opinion of Ford, and I'm left with a similar impression to the one I started with when I picked up the book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sasha

    In my quest to listen to an autobiography from each President from my lifetime, I had to settle for a biography with President Ford. I believe this was the most unbiased and informative one I could have chosen. Of the president’s in my list, Ford is the one I knew the least about. I had virtually no opinion of him. That seems to be his curse. As the only unelected President, I don’t believe he was ever taken seriously. That’s unfortunate. He may have been the most equipped for the job. I believe In my quest to listen to an autobiography from each President from my lifetime, I had to settle for a biography with President Ford. I believe this was the most unbiased and informative one I could have chosen. Of the president’s in my list, Ford is the one I knew the least about. I had virtually no opinion of him. That seems to be his curse. As the only unelected President, I don’t believe he was ever taken seriously. That’s unfortunate. He may have been the most equipped for the job. I believe he was an honest man who truly wanted the best for his country and though his pardon of Nixon was controversial at the time, most of his critics eventually came around to say much later that it was exactly what the country needed to move on. His “accidental” presidency turned out to be fortuitous for the nation. He was the right man at the right time. This book informed me about many historical events that informed present day problems too. Ford’s career spanned such a long range of time that the book covered many issues I only knew a fraction about before reading this. It also changed some of my feelings about Ronald Reagan as I had no knowledge of the campaigns he ran for president in the seventies before he ran his successful campaign that put him in the White House. Overall the book was very helpful. Not always the most interesting but absolutely informative.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    This is close to 4 stars for me....I enjoyed the book up until the Presidency, but reading about Ford’s foreign policy felt like a tedious task, and that took up a lot of the details during his term. I think his writing style, which was very efficient, did not work for me with the complicated Middle East situation and the many actors/events to explain. Having said that, he was unbiased, covered a lot of ground in the book (including post presidency years), and had a good theme that he communicate This is close to 4 stars for me....I enjoyed the book up until the Presidency, but reading about Ford’s foreign policy felt like a tedious task, and that took up a lot of the details during his term. I think his writing style, which was very efficient, did not work for me with the complicated Middle East situation and the many actors/events to explain. Having said that, he was unbiased, covered a lot of ground in the book (including post presidency years), and had a good theme that he communicated clearly and sold me on: ambition, pragmatism, and party. I also like that he had a full length conclusion talking about legacy.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    Interesting book about the "accidental president" Gerald Ford. Clearly Ford was not well understood and is best known for his Nixon pardon and Chevy Chase playing Ford on SNL -- however, the book shows that is an unfair summary of the man's contributions.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    I wasn’t expecting much on the President who pardoned Nixon, but he turned out to be a decent man , albeit a pretty inconsequential President. He worked hard to get where he did; but he ignored his wife and family over his entire married life.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karlton

    Very concisely written - almost like an encyclopedia entry.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A mediocre biography of a mediocre president

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brent

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lukas Novotny

  15. 5 out of 5

    James Early

  16. 4 out of 5

    PWRL

    A

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nemo

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cecelia

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erich

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael Barker

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bob Kuster

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

  23. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Maher

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul Burkard

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lee Hamilton

  26. 4 out of 5

    TW Brown

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kristin Smith

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jerry DeRuiter

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nick Caporale

  30. 5 out of 5

    J Tamburello

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