Celebrity in Chief : A History of the Presidents and the Culture of Stardom, With a New Epilogue on Hillary and “The Donald” book cover
1st Edition

Celebrity in Chief
A History of the Presidents and the Culture of Stardom, With a New Epilogue on Hillary and “The Donald”

ISBN 9781138235779
Published August 18, 2016 by Routledge
282 Pages

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Book Description

With the advent of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as presidential nominees, the examination of the role of celebrity culture in the White House takes on a fresh appeal. This book, by award-winning White House correspondent and presidential historian Kenneth T. Walsh, takes a detailed and comprehensive look at the history of America’s presidents as "celebrities in chief" since the beginning of the Republic. Walsh makes the point that modern presidents need to be celebrities and build on their fame in order to propel their agendas and rally public support for themselves as national leaders so that they can get things done.

Combining incisive historical analysis with a journalist’s eye for detail, this book looks back to such presidents as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as the forerunners of contemporary celebrity presidents. It examines modern presidents including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt, each of whom qualified as a celebrity in his own time and place. The book also looks at presidents who fell short in their star appeal, such as George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson, and explains why their star power was lacking.

Among the special features of the book are detailed profiles of the presidents and how they measured up or failed as celebrities; an historical analysis of America’s popular culture and how presidents have played a part in it, from sports and television to movies and the news media; the role of first ladies; and a portfolio of fascinating photos illustrating the intersection of the presidency with popular culture. An update looking at Hillary and "the Donald" puts contemporary politics in perspective with the evolution of presidential celebrity.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Rise of the Concept of Stardom and the Culture of Celebrity

1. Forerunners of the Modern Celebrity Presidents: Washington to Cleveland

2. Theodore Roosevelt: The Strenuous Life

3. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Public Advocate

4. John F. Kennedy: Glitter and Cool

5. Ronald Reagan: The Role of the Century

6. Bill Clinton: Pop Icon

7. Barack Obama: Making History and Taking New Paths

8. Second Billing: From Truman to the Bushes

9. First Ladies: Partners in Celebrity

10. Presidents and Television: Primal Forces

11. Presidents and the News Media: Tug of War

12. Presidents and the Movies: Cinema Stars

13. Presidents and Reading: Gravitas Alert

14. Presidents and Sports: Links to Everyday America

15. Presidents and Music: Sweet and Sour Notes

16. Presidents as Trend Setters and Trend Spotters: Food, Fashion, Pets, and More

17. Callow vs. Consequential Celebrity: All Stardom is Not Equal

Epilogue: The Rise of The Donald and Hillary: Riding Celebrity to New Highs and Lows

Selected Readings

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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 usnews.com, and "The Presidency," a weekly column for usnews.com. 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 seven books, including Prisoners of the White House and Family of Freedom, published by Routledge.


Ken Walsh brings his keen eye to one of the defining aspects of the modern presidency. In this entertaining and informative book, Walsh provides a fascinating look at the ways in which celebrity culture has shaped presidential politics in recent decades. The book is sure to contribute to debates about the future of the White House and the health of American democracy.

Julian E. Zelizer, Author of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society