Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party
A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford
Within eight turbulent months in 1974 Gerald Ford went from the United States House of Representatives, where he was the minority leader, to the White House as the country’s first and only unelected president. His unprecedented rise to power, after Richard Nixon’s equally unprecedented fall, has garnered the lion’s share of scholarly attention devoted to America’s thirty-eighth president. But Gerald Ford’s (1913–2006) life and career in and out of Washington spanned nearly the entire twentieth century. Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party captures for the first time the full scope of Ford’s long and remarkable political life.
The man who emerges from these pages is keenly ambitious, determined to climb the political ladder in Washington, and loyal to his party but not a political ideologue. Drawing on interviews with family and congressional and administrative officials, presidential historian Scott Kaufman traces Ford’s path from a Depression-era childhood through service in World War II to entry into Congress shortly after the Cold War began. He delves deeply into the workings of Congress and legislative–executive relations, offering insight into Ford’s role as the House minority leader in a time of conservative insurgency in the Republican Party.
“Highly readable, fluidly written, and an extremely well-researched account of the life and times of the nation’s accidental 38th president. . . . The text offers lessons for our own fraught times of political polarization.”
—Congress & the Presidency
“Kaufman’s historical contribution lies in his depiction and analysis of Ford's twenty-five-year congressional career as well as Ford's youthful preparation for politics and his postpresidential activities.”
—Journal of American HistorySee all reviews...
“Kaufman’s work is the essential starting place for scholars seeking to understand Ford's political career. Perhaps it is also a starting place for historians seeking to understand the loss of bipartisanship and pragmatism in contemporary politics.”
—Journal of Southern History
“Kaufman’s sure-handed, comprehensive political biography illuminates the epochal shifts in politics that shaped Ford’s career.”
—Michigan Historical Review
“A balanced account that digs deeply into the sources and does not hesitate to explore some of the less laudatory episodes of [Ford’'s] life. Kaufman’s book more than rewards the reader seeking to understand such vital topics as how Congress functioned in the mid-twentieth century, how Ford coped with the many dilemmas he faced in his presidency, and much else besides.”
—American Historical Review
“A splendid biography. Scott Kaufman has mined the archives to capture Gerald Ford’s life, providing fresh insights and cogent analysis. Readers will relish the book’s details and powerful narrative drive. This work is crucial to understanding Fords rise to power and political career.”
—Yanek Mieczkowski, author of Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s
“This is the best biography of President Gerald Ford. It offers a compelling account of his life, his guiding philosophy, and his many contributions. This book is also a persuasive history of American society in the twentieth century, and the possibilities for integrity and cooperation in politics during that period. Every citizen who cares about politics will benefit from reading this biography.”
—Jeremi Suri, author of The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office
“At last we have the biography Gerald Ford deserves. Scott Kaufman offers a judicious portrait of the former president’s personal life and political career, as well as a richly textured tour of the turbulent decades following the Second World War and the political landscape that shaped Ford’s unlikely rise to power. This important and engagingly written study reminds us of the importance of a politician whose strength—an instinct for moderation—was also his greatest weakness.”
—Barbara Keys, author of Reclaiming American Virtue: The Human Rights Revolution of the 1970s
“No one understands the American political scene of the 1970s—that swirling, chaotic, dispiriting and transformational decade that continues to befuddle and fascinate historians—like Scott Kaufman. His beautifully written biography of Gerald Ford sheds new light on a man who was much more than an accidental president. Sailor, athlete, prosecutor, politician, and ultimately unlikely commander-in-chief, Ford’s story is one of the entire American century, and Kaufman tells it brilliantly.”
—Jeffrey A. Engel, Director, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist UniversitySee fewer reviews...
Kaufman’s account of the Ford presidency provides a new perspective on how human rights figured in the making of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era, and how environmental issues figured in the making of domestic policy. It also presents a close look at the 1976 presidential election—emphasizing the significance of image in that contest—and extensive coverage of Ford’s post-presidency. In sum, Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party is the most comprehensive political biography of Gerald Ford and will become the definitive resource on the thirty-eighth president of the United States.