In This Review

The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III
The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III
By Peter Baker and Susan Glasser
Doubleday, 2020, 720 pp

The book’s title does not overstate the case. As chief of staff to two presidents, secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, and a five-time presidential campaign manager, James Baker was at the center of power in Washington for more than 25 years. A famously reserved individual, he took the risk of opening up to two talented journalists and scholars—granting 70 hours of personal interviews and full access to his papers, his family, and former aides and colleagues—and it has paid off handsomely. This is no hagiography, but with so much firsthand information to work with, the husband-and-wife team of authors gives Baker full rein to tell his own story, even when it is less than admirable. A sweeping history as well as an intimate biography, the book is also a fascinating study of how to acquire power in Washington and how to use it to maximum effect. Baker was a master of compromise and negotiation, crafting deals that left something for the loser while keeping a watchful eye on his personal ambition. The chapters covering Baker’s years at the State Department as the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union collapsed, Germany reunified, and Iraq invaded Kuwait are particularly rich and a badly needed reminder of how much skilled diplomacy can achieve.