Non-Fiction Review: First Friends, by Gary Ginsberg

book coverOverview


In the bestselling tradition of The Presidents Club and Presidential Courage, White House history as told through the stories of the best friends and closest confidants of American presidents.

Here are the riveting histories of myriad presidential friendships, among them:

  • Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed: They shared a bed for four years during which Speed saved his friend from a crippling depression. Two decades later the friends worked together to save the Union.
  • Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson: When Truman wavered on whether to recognize the state of Israel in 1948, his lifelong friend and former business partner intervened at just the right moment with just the right words to steer the president’s decision.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Daisy Suckley: Unassuming and overlooked during her lifetime, Daisy Suckley was in reality FDR’s most trusted, constant confidant, the respite for a lonely and overworked President navigating the Great Depression and World War II
  • John Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore: They met as young men in pre-war London and began a conversation over the meaning of leadership.  A generation later the Cuban Missile Crisis would put their ideas to test as Ormsby-Gore became the president’s unofficial, but most valued foreign policy advisor.

These and other friendships—including Thomas Jefferson and James MadisonFranklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan—populate this fresh and provocative exploration of a series of seminal presidential friendships.

Publishing history teems with books by and about Presidents, First Ladies, First Pets, and even First Chefs. Now former Clinton aide Gary Ginsberg breaks new literary ground on Pennsylvania Avenue and provides fresh insights into the lives of the men who held the most powerful political office in the world by looking at the friends on whom they relied.

First Friends is an engaging, serendipitous look into the lives of Commanders-in-Chief and how their presidencies were shaped by those they held most dear.


Disclaimer: I borrowed this book from a library. Support your local library.

We know that the people with whom a president surrounds himself can have a huge impact on his presidency, whether they be advisors or cabinet secretaries. Less well known, but potentially equally influential are the close friends the president has known prior to his presidency. Some friendships were formed early in adulthood, while others only came about at the start of a presidential run. In First Friends, Gary Ginsberg looks at nine relationships, starting shortly after the War for Independence in the late 18th century. Some are sad, even tragic, though others are (frankly) scary. Some first friends were long time companions, who were there simply because of the friendship, while at least one wanted power and maneuvered themselves into the candidate’s inner circle. Not every friendship in this book is the same, and not every friendship ended amicably or with death.

This is an informative tome, yet easy to read with each tale broken into segments. Readers will recognize some names, but not others. It’s plain that trusted friends weren’t afraid to share their honest opinions, regardless of the consequences. This includes the division that formed between Lincoln and Speed, after the latter shockingly said he would rather “see the Union dissolved than to surrender his constitutional right to own human property.” I think I might’ve ditched that friend as well. Ginsberg relies on a variety of sources, from letters and journals to interviews with the main players in the chapter on Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan. There’s an extensive biography for each chapter, as well as a general index.

Speaking of Clinton and Jordan… Ginsberg notes in his acknowledgements that he first came up with the idea of this book back in 2018. But the final paragraphs are about a scene which took place just six months ago. It’s when Bill Clinton spoke at Vernon Jordan’s funeral. It’s a poignant moment and is the perfect point at which to close out this fascinating work.



Product Information

Publisher: Twelve (An imprint of Hachette Book Group)

Publication Date: 06 July 2021

Book Information


author photoAuthor Information

Gary Ginsberg grew up in Buffalo New York, home to two US presidents. A lawyer by training, he has spent his professional career at the intersection of media, politics, and law. He worked for the Clinton administration, was a senior editor and counsel at the political magazine George, and then spent the next two decades in executive positions in media and technology at News Corporation, Time Warner and SoftBank. He has published pieces in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and was an on-air political contributor in the early days of MSNBC. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons. First Friends is his first book. Gary Ginsberg’s Website


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