Picks and Pans Review: Roosevelt to Reagan

updated 05/27/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/27/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Hedley Donovan

The author, retired editor-in-chief of Time Inc., has subtitled this book "A Reporter's Encounters with Nine Presidents." Donovan was a young reporter on the Washington Post when he first covered FDR. "He clearly relished being hard to figure out," Donovan writes of Roosevelt. "He liked secrets and had a few. He was often devious for good reason, but could also be devious just for the fun of it." Of Harry Truman, Donovan observes, "There was a sweet touch of the small-town small-boy Middle Western bookworm, his eyes too bad for baseball, who had read endlessly in American history." Of Ike, "The irresistible grin and the general modesty of his style were deceptive. Underneath, there was a very cool customer." Of John Kennedy, "He was perfectly comfortable with intellectuals if they did not run on too long." Lyndon Johnson proved to be "mercurial, secretive, conniving, in some ways monstrous—" But he was "also capable of deeply generous impulses and great visions for America." Of Richard Nixon, Donovan writes, "This lonely, strangely tortured man, who liked to think of himself as a fearless fighter, dreaded face-to-face confrontations." The author is rather admiring of Gerald Ford: "Ford was a decent and generally sensible President." After Donovan retired from Time Inc. in 1979, he became a White House adviser to Jimmy Carter, and his assessment of this complex man is the most interesting part of the book. Carter was a man of paradoxes, Donovan found, a man "of decency and compassion, of a deeply genuine goodness in all his instincts toward humanity—" It was also true that Carter "had a long memory and a tendency to impute unworthy motives to those who crossed him. The 'mean streak' was real." President Reagan, Donovan concludes, "has extraordinary talent as a salesman." Altogether this firsthand report on a unique group is genial and enlightening. (Harper & Row, $19.95)

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