The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. Recommended by Al Mohler.
I learned that both Truman and Hoover were at first rather neglected and forgotten after their respective presidencies were over, but that later presidents came to rely on them for advice and encouragement and sometimes (Hoover) help in carrying out humanitarian initiatives. According to the book, Hoover was great at organizing and carrying out post-war recovery programs to help refugees and starving people in the war zone, something he did after World War I and before he became president and after World War II, after he was president.
Johnson was a pain and a blowhard who nevertheless agonized over his role in escalating the Vietnam War. I don’t think I would have liked LBJ very much.
Nixon came across as a very complicated, arrogant, insecure, devious, and intelligent man. He knew a lot about the Russians, and thought he knew even more than he did. He advised presidents on foreign policy, towards the Soviet Union/Russia in particular, and he very much wanted to be recognized and admired for his contributions.
The authors depict Gerald Ford as a courageous man who knew that his pardon for Richard Nixon would heal the country and strengthen the presidency but knew also that it would seriously undermine his chances to serve as an elected president.
Carter was apparently a loose cannon, talented in diplomacy, but prone to go off on his own and cut his own deals without consulting the sitting president or the State Department. He practically worked miracles when he was sent on diplomatic missions to North Korea and to Haiti, but everyone back in the U.S., the president and all his advisors, was on high alert, wondering what he would do or say next.
George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton became close friends after their time as president was over, working together to raise money for disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina and after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Then, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton became friends and cooperated to raise funds for Haiti relief.
That’s the kind of stuff ex-presidents do, and the thesis of the book is that they form a sort of “club” made up of the very few people in the world who know what it’s like to deal with the pressures and responsibilities of being the president of the United States of America. They become concerned with their own legacy to some extent, but also with the guarding of the office of the presidency. So they cooperate with each other and with the president who is in office to protect the prestige and honor of the presidency, even while possibly disagreeing in fundamental ways about policy and politics.