The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency

This is a peek behind the scenes of the most powerful office in the Free World, and the people who help set the agenda for the president.

Chiefs of staff are the top dog in the White House, only behind the president and vice president – and, in some cases, more powerful than the veep.

The roll call of chiefs of staff is impressive: Rumsfeld, Cheney, Haldeman, Haig, Sununu. They all had a large role to play – and some secrets to hide.

The position began in the late ’50s, with Truman. Some presidential successors installed strong chiefs (Nixon had Haldeman – maybe too strong) and others had weak chiefs (Obama’s Bill Daley). The gold standard is still Reagan’s James Baker, a chief good enough to have been a president.

The book is full of great stories of success and failures, from scandals to successes to uncertainties.

Every president and his staff from Truman to Obama is represented, with a new chapter on Trump. Although the book is largely apolitical, the writer can’t help himself from taking swipes at the current officeholder.

A great book to get a view of what really goes on behind the curtain.

I received this from Books for Bloggers.

Weeds: In Defense of Nature’s Most Unloved Plants

“Weeds” should be a history of weeds around the world and how they’ve impacted man, been the source of medicine, worked their way into art, and more.

But it’s not quiet that. It’s mostly how weeds infiltrate British gardens.

OK, so it’s more than that, but that’s what it felt like to me in the long run.

England is crazy about gardening, and one of those crazy gardeners is the author. So, most of the writing is from that perspective. It’s fun for what it is, but I wanted more cultural history, and a global perspective. But I guess it wasn’t really going to happen with this writer.

Another problem was that the author used a lot of colloquial names for the weeds he discussed, but that means if you’re outside of England, you don’t really know what he’s talking about (unless and until he clarified or used American names).

What did he miss? As I said, medicine, weeds as food, the interaction between weeds and insects, or birds, or animals.

There were interesting sections, like how weeds took over bombing sites after WWII.

All in all, an OK book, but not what I was hoping for.

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free

In August 2010, a 100-year-old Chilean mine collapsed and trapped 33 miners for 69 days. This amazing story is of their struggles – both 2,000 below the surface, and back on top.

The miners grew close, grew apart, squabbled and had their faith – in God and each other – tested in an amazing story.

 

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When I think of a mine collapse, I think of what you see in movies or on TV: A few rocks and debris covering an entryway, and it’s going to take a few hours to dig out. But the collapse and the San Jose mine was huge.

For hours, there were warnings. Cracking rock that sounded like thunder, rolling but not stopping, like it usually would. To some, it sounded like blasting was taking place without warning, but even that would usually end. This didn’t. Then, cracks appeared, and were growing. Finally, debris that looked like smoke would appear, but that too would go away after a minute. But it didn’t this time.

A shift of 34 workers was down deep, and even the manager was afraid enough to leave. By happenstance, one worker was in a truck on the way up the spiral path to the surface. The collapse just missed him, and he was the only one known to have survived at first.

A solid sheet of stone, hundreds of feet all the way around, weighing as much as two Empire State Buildings, trapped the 33. And they weren’t sure if anybody would bother to attempt a rescue.

At first, the gravity of the situation drove the men together, figuring out responsibilities, gathering in prayer, determined to stick together and get out.

And, oddly, when the rescuers first reached them, the unity broke down, as the men were courted by journalists, companies looking for endorsements, movie deals – even while they were still inside. It took a month from the point they were reached to finally get out.

And when the men made it out, they were faced with new challenges, of family and fame and money.

This is an uplifting and depressing book at the same time, of how we can rally together in tough times and how that breaks down when we think we’re past them. I’m reminded of the national response to 9/11. Whatever happened to that unity?

This is a brisk read, hard to put down.

Recommended.