Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership

Book Info

  • Length: 256 pages
  • Trim size: 6" x 9"

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  • ISBN: 978-1-61205-160-4
  • Publish date: May 2013
  • List Price: $27.95
  • Your Price: $23.76

Lib Ebook

  • ISBN: 978-1-61205-319-6
  • Publish date: May 2013
  • List Price: $27.95
  • Your Price: $23.76


President Harry Truman famously called the White House “the great white jail.” One can scarcely imagine an environment outside the nation’s penal system that is more isolating than the Executive Mansion, a habitat almost guaranteed to keep America’s commander in chief far removed from everyday life. In fact, isolation is emerging as one of the most serious dilemmas facing the American presidency. In recent years, West Wing insiders have come up with a name for this syndrome. They call it the White House “bubble.” Life under these conditions is a basic theme of this book, along with ways out of it, including bus tours, pollsters, and an attentive first family.

As presidents have become more isolated, the role of the presidential pollster has grown. Ken Walsh has been given exclusive access to the polls and confidential memos received by presidents over the years, and has interviewed presidential pollsters directly to gain their unique perspective. “The ‘bubble’ is real, intense, hard to pierce, and hard to find your way out of,” according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney in one of several interviews for this book. Ken Walsh gets inside the bubble and punctures the mythology surrounding the presidency.

  • Photos of presidents from FDR to Obama show their relative isolation or engagement with the public they’re elected to serve.
  • Original interviews with presidents and pollsters enliven the narrative.
  • Ken Walsh’s exclusive access to presidential memos and polls lends authoritative background to this fascinating story.
  • A review on Prisoners of the White House by Publishers Weekly : Found Here
  • A starred review on Prisoners of the White House by Library Journal : Found Here

Author Info

Kenneth T. Walsh is the chief White House correspondent for U.S. News and World Report. He is the author of the daily blog “Ken Walsh’s Washington” for, and “The Presidency,” a weekly column for the U.S. News Weekly. He has covered the presidency since 1986 and is one of the longest-serving White House correspondents in history. Walsh is the former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association and has served as an adjunct professor of communication at American University in Washington, DC. He is the author of six other books, including two others published by Paradigm, Prisoners of the White House and Family of Freedom.


A review on Prisoners of the White House by Publishers Weekly : Found Here

A starred review on Prisoners of the White House by Library Journal : Found Here


“Intelligent and insightful, Walsh’s analysis is a reminder that for American leaders, freedom is not for free. An intriguing look at one of the world’s toughest jobs.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Walsh. . .knows his beat intimately and has had at least a passing acquaintance with every president since George H.W. Bush. . . .he takes a reasonably distanced approach to the men he has covered and recognizes their faults as well as their virtues. . . .[Prisoners of the White House] is a useful survey of how presidents are isolated from their constituency and how some of them have tried to overcome that.”
-Johnathan Yardley of The Washington Post

“Kenneth Walsh is one of the finest reporters in the country, watching and examining a string of presidents. In Prisoners, he offers a cogent analysis of how presidents become trapped in a White House bubble, cut off from the outside world. With a keen eye for illustrative stories, he not only takes us inside their isolation but also provides a good road map for them to escape and reconnect with the country.”
David Gergen, Harvard Kennedy School and Senior Political Analyst at CNN

"Ken Walsh has the inside scoop on the Presidency from FDR to Obama, offering powerful evidence that the White House really is headquarters for the loneliest job in the world."
--Larry J. Sabato, Director, University of Virginia Center for Politics

“Ken Walsh’s uncommon insights on how Presidents keep their ‘ear to the ground’ or don’t is another winner. As Ken explains so vividly and well, the job of a President is to build consensus in America, not simply in Washington.”
--Kenneth M. Duberstein, former White House chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan

“The biggest surprise when I started covering the White House during the Clinton years was realizing how dangerous ‘the bubble’ could be to a president who failed to pierce it somehow and maintain ties to average Americans. Ken Walsh brings this challenge alive, and by his fresh reporting shows how heightened security concerns and social media innovations have made this challenge even more formidable — and interesting!”
--Jackie Calmes, White House correspondent, The New York Times

“Ken Walsh delivers a smart and insightful account of how modern presidents have tried, and sometimes failed, to stay connected to the political realities of their times. Walsh’s book combines sophisticated analysis with behind-the-scenes reporting to shine new light on the multiple paths presidents from FDR to Obama have taken to reach out behind the White House gates to keep their fingers on the pulse of the people.”
--Geoff Garin, President of Hart Research Associates and leading Democratic political pollster, analyst, and strategist

“Ken Walsh's important book adds a compelling dimension to our understanding of presidential dilemmas. His book should become required reading for everyone concerned with the national well-being.”
--Robert Dallek, Presidential historian



Chapter 1 Trapped in “the Bubble”

PART I Four Who Lost the People

Chapter 2
Lyndon B. Johnson: From Outreach to Isolation

Chapter 3 Richard Nixon: In the Bunker

Chapter 4 Jimmy Carter: Good Intentions, Bad Outcomes

Chapter 5 George H. W. Bush: Missing the Obvious

PART II Two Defiant Princes

Chapter 6
John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush: Strange Bedfellows

PART III Five Who Stayed Connected

Chapter 7
Franklin Roosevelt: Reading the Nation’s Pulse with Eleanor

Chapter 8 Harry Truman: Connected to Everyman

Chapter 9 Ronald Reagan: Middle-Class Roots

Chapter 10 Bill Clinton: Escapes from Disaster

Chapter 11 Barack Obama: Beyond the Beltway

PART IV From Wizards to Chicken Peddlers

Chapter 12
The Wizards of the White House

Chapter 13 Breaking Out of the Bubble

About the Author

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