Thanks to “The Insatiable Reader” for this review. Check out her link for more book reviews. I’m most pleased that Five Presidents gave her a new appreciation for the work that Secret Service agents do.
I’m a history buff. I’ve probably mentioned this before but if I haven’t, yeah, I’m a history super nerd. I was even (briefly) a history major in college. Then I realized it would leave me with zero real life job prospects so I switched majors. I still love it, though, and I’m a big fan of any book written by Clint Hill.
Hill is a former Secret Service agent and his latest book, Five Presidents, is about his time spent serving and protecting Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford.
The chapters on Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson are the longest as Hill was on their protective detail. He was in more of an administrative role when Nixon and Ford were president and therefore had less one on one contact with them.
The Kennedy chapter was the most fascinating. Out of the five presidents Hill writes about people probably know the most about the Kennedy administration. Even if somebody has never heard of The Cuban Missile Crisis or The Bay of Pigs they definitely know about the assassination and perhaps have (conspiracy theories) of their own. With this book we get a rare glimpse into the events of that day, as told by a man that was not only there, but put his life on the line to save the President and Mrs. Kennedy.
The most interesting parts of the book, though, in my opinion, were not the Kennedy assassination or the Watergate scandal. It was the anecdotes about the presidents. Any high school student can tell you about Watergate or the Vietnam War. What they don’t, and can’t, teach in school is what the man behind the presidency looks like. There’s no test asking what Eisenhower’s favorite hobby was (golfing) or whether or not Kennedy had a good sense of humor (he did). These are the things I like to learn. Presidents are real men making extraordinary choices and it’s kind of nice to see that they’re quirky and funny and have legit personalities. I laughed every time Hill describes Johnson driving his guests all around LBJ Ranch, pointing out his birth home, his childhood home, his prized cattle, even if nobody cared. I also found it hilarious that he had a set of khaki ranch clothes commissioned for Hill and they ended up looking like twins.
After reading Five Presidents I have a new appreciation for the work that Secret Service agents do. They do a job that most of us rarely think about and they put their lives on the line every single day. It’s not just walking beside the President and jumping on top of him if all hell breaks lose. It’s about being constantly vigilant and on their A-Game. They cannot get distracted or zone out for even a second. It must be a mentally taxing job as well as physically taxing. Hill described many scenarios where one of the presidents was in a foreign country, participating in some sort of parade and thousands upon thousands of people are crowded into the city streets. Imagine scanning a crowd of a hundred thousand for the one person who might be up to no good. Talk about stressful. Even more stressful if you’re doing that work after witnessing Kennedy’s assassination and knowing first hand how quickly things can happen. I can’t even imagine how stressful the job must be in this day and age; think of everything that has changed in technology, society, and the world in the last thirty years.
I finished this book with not only a greater understanding of these five presidencies but a deep respect for Clint Hill. I think this book is a must read for history buffs and non-history buffs alike. I urge you to read it. I promise it won’t feel like a homework assignment!