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Ambition, Pragmatism, and Party: A Political Biography of Gerald R. Ford, Scott Kaufman

Reviewed by Mark Rozell

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Because of his unlikely rise to the presidency and short time in office, Gerald R. Ford has largely been treated as a historical footnote by scholars. At most, some at least have elevated him to the status of a transitional president whose tenure laid the groundwork for more historically significant events that happened later. There has long been a need for a corrective to this dismissal of the importance of the Ford presidency.

Scott Kaufman's book is very much that corrective: not just because his book treats the Ford presidential years seriously, but also because the author covers the long and extraordinary life of the nation's 37th president and demonstrates the significant role that Ford played in twentieth-century U.S. public life. The portrait of Ford that emerges from these pages differs substantially from the common perceptions of a modest and soft-spoken midwesterner with no national political ambitions who just happened to land in the Oval Office by chance. Instead, Ford was intensely ambitious, and he cultivated the image of midwestern modesty and virtue because that facilitated his rise in political circles. His rise to minority party leader resulted from his own constant building of support within his party; one result detailed by Kaufman is that the Ford family knew little of him for years at a time as he pursued his political ambitions.<

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