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Publisher's Summary

Now with a new chapter on the chaos in the Trump administration, 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' 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 18 living chiefs (including Reince Priebus) 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. 

©2017 Chris Whipple (P)2017 Random House Audio

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Loren
  • Park City, Utah, United States
  • 04-15-17

Great history of the Chief of Staff position

The author goes chronologically from the Nixon Administration through the Obama administration summarizing the tenures of each of the chiefs. He has excellent access to the principals and described many of the highs and lows of the administrations and how those related to the roles of the CoS. He also has good information about the personalities of each of the chiefs and how that either helped them serve their presidents or got in the way.

He makes the case over and over that the modern presidency cannot function without a strong CoS, which was attempted by Carter and Clinton. He also suggests that 'principals' -- CoS who take themselves too seriously do not function well in the job (Sununu and Regan). Finally, his stories also show that presidents are not generally well served by CoS who are too close, as that prevents them from giving bad news or tough advice to the presidents.

Extremely well researched and very interesting read, and each of his major points are generally well supported by interviews from those who were in the position.

The only loose end is that while these characteristics seem necessary, they are not enough to prevent disasters from occurring on their watch, which the author confronts most directly with Haldeman and Nixon. Not the fault of the book, but just a reflection of the fact that both people and the world of politics in Washington are very complicated.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but lacking in political objectivity

What did you like best about The Gatekeepers? What did you like least?

As a political junkie, the behind the scenes anecdotes were captivating. The least appealing aspect to the book was Whipple's lengthy absence of the actions of George W. Bush's chief of staff Andy Card while Whipple offered his criticism of the Iraq War and defense of those who were opposed to the war. An objective writing on the duties and influence of the chief of staff's position with each president would have made this an much better read for those who enjoy the behind the scenes accounts of the presidency.

What was most disappointing about Chris Whipple’s story?

Whipple's premise was a good one; looking at the influence and the way that presidential chiefs of staff helped define the presidency. It seems historically he was able to capture the who and what was happening during each presidency. Unfortunately, the book gets bogged down in Whipple's left-leaning non-objective looks at modern presidencies such as George W. Bush and Barak Obama. Bush's chief of staff Andy Card nearly disappears from the Bush presidency as Whipple writes. Instead Whipple supplies a defense of Colin Powell and spends more time discussing Dick Cheney as a warmonger than the chief of staff. Whipple spends little time on the Clinton's challenges in the White House and how the chief of staff navigated such events - and he offers a defense of Barak Obama's decision making following the Bush presidency. Oddly, the epilogue is an analysis of the Trump presidency before it actually begins. Whipple would have created a really great read had he remained objective with less editorializing support of the political left. I enjoy a good objective critique of both the left and the right. But Whipple showed his hand in many of his descriptions of various persons, editorial comments, and his lengthy criticism of the Iraq War. What could have been a really great book turned out to be a rather "okay" read. Whipple would have benefited from a strong editor to help him see his non-objective views and to tighten his writing in places.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 04-23-17

Captivating

I found this a most interesting book to read. I learned a lot of information not only about the chief of staff but also about the president and his administration. The chief of staff(COS) is the highest-ranking White House employee. According to Whipple the chief of staff can make or break an administration. The author states the chief of staff is the second most powerful job in government. I found it most interesting to learn about the lessor known and written about but very important men. I was unaware that President Jimmy Carter chose not to have a COS. Whipple reviews the high and low points of past administrations’ chief of staffs. I was most interested in H.R. Haldeman, President Nixon’s COS, and Leon Panetta, President Clinton’s COS. I had forgotten that Dick Cheney was President Ford’s COS.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. The author interviews the seventeen-living chief of staffs. Apparently, there have been 28 COS’s since 1968. Whipple enhanced the narrative with his many interviews. Whipple’s writing style is very easy to read and he tosses in some humor. Whipple provides a valuable understanding of the positon and its duties. Whipple is a journalist and this comes through in his writing.

The book is almost 12 hours long. Mark Bramhall does a good job narrating the book. Bramhall is an actor and award-winning audiobook narrator.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Philo
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 05-15-17

Great panorama in punchy moments; laugh-out-loud

This book accomplishes so many things, so many ways. It is a flyover of familiar US history through a new lens and with a new pivot:White House Chiefs of Staff. That was a wise choice, as is proven again and again. It gives us a new template or measuring stick to compare to our own times and leadership. We get the big sweep of events and re-experience those pivotal headline moments, as culled from many witnesses and memoirs. Yet, this is all done moment by moment, with a richly "you are there" feeling. Also, this is an excellent set of case studies in top-level organizational governance, good and bad. And it is a great way to spend an afternoon or a few, being enlightened and entertained.
Though there are relatively "good guys" and bad, the author is great about giving scenes more dimensions through the words of several people present, sometimes clashing. (I always found memoirs troubling on account of the hundreds of pages of self-apologia, so I appreciate this author laboring among all those pages to stitch this together.) Here, I never felt I was having my nose rubbed too heavily in one point of view. The moments and the players are each marvelously carved out and given vibrant life. Many eyewitnesses get to roll out their best lines (often causing me to break into big smiles and laughter). I saw unknown sides of many people (such as the courtly James Baker III's repeated expression, "rat-****"). The narratives as delivered here are at once sobering, yet in the very same moment, eerily, tragicomically jarring and strange at turns. Wow, this is our country. Our way of staffing our top leadership plays out in very bizarre ways, and along weird trajectories from Day One of a term. (Some, I reflect, are more surreal than others.) We do need to refresh our leadership, and have a very open field from which to choose our leaders, but this has its costs. It is not ideal for staffing. Or maybe, in some incalculable way, it is good, somewhat like the constant disruption of economic competition and progress can be good. No facile answers are offered here; just great stories.
History rhymes, right? Well, never in whole sequences, but pieces of it do. Many of these pieces bear comparison to current events. It was interesting to consider, for example, the outsider-stance and weaknesses of team formation (and overconfident perceptions) present in Jimmy Carter's administration, and the somewhat woeful results in the view of many Americans, though Carter in other ways could not be less like Donald Trump. The clarity of this book makes these thoughts easy for me to access. Likewise the crucial Nixon traits, and indeed the whole Watergate story, is worth revisiting now, dealt up in punchy vignettes here, especially through the lens of Nixon's COS H. R. Haldeman. Despite his great skills and setting a high bar in some ways, Haldeman failed to rein in the worst instincts of Watergate cowboys like Liddy. So too Reagan's seemingly offhand agreement to install COS Donald Regan seemed to lead to big fumblings on events running off the rails with a similar character, Oliver North, in Reagan's time. It is easy amid these tales to think of possibly similar characters in Trump's orbit. Management is SO important! And it is a many-faceted art, as we see here.
This is a book I got caught up in, and burned right through. That's my best compliment.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Oliver North was in The Marines

What made the experience of listening to The Gatekeepers the most enjoyable?

Most of the book was anecdotal collection of this and that. I thought it was funny. However, not sure about the facts. Have to question the editing since one clear error in the story was the representation of Oliver North as an army officer. Research on such a widely known fact gone wrong makes me suspect that there are other errors affecting authenticity. As i said the book is very entertaining. Worth one credit.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Helen
  • Great Cacapon, WV, United States
  • 04-27-17

Connects the dots

What a fascinating account of these remarkable individuals who clear the paths for our elected presidents to govern. It becomes clear that the COS has a make-or-break role in each administration...always walking the fine line between too much access and not enough. These are individuals who understand that to serve means parking their egos at the door, (At least most of them understood.) And I am always impressed how those serving in these capacities are generous with their support to the next administration....even when there has been a hard fought and bitter transfer. We are fortunate to live in a nation with such a tradition.

Bramhall's reading was flawless. This is one of the better audiobooks I have enjoyed!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great insight

Really great insight into the COS role in shaping the White House, policy, and ultimate success of the Presidency.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A biased view

I enjoyed the premise of the book and the innerworkings of the chief of staff it seemed fairly non-biased until it came to Clinton. From Clinton onward the Democrats mistakes were largely glossed over and the Republicans were magnified and at the end when Whipple writes about the Trump presidency his writing is so biased it made me question every word in the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent!!

This is a very informative well researched and well written account of all White House chiefs of staff dating back to Nixon. I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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History's Right Hand Man

Solid account from the Chief of Staff's vantage point. The 2nd hardest job in the world is to manage the guy with the 1st hardest job and organize the staff to carry out his agenda!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful