• First Friends

  • The Powerful, Unsung (and Unelected) People Who Shaped Our Presidents
  • By: Gary Ginsberg
  • Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
  • Length: 15 hrs and 28 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (216 ratings)

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First Friends  By  cover art

First Friends

By: Gary Ginsberg
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
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Publisher's Summary

In the best-selling tradition of The Presidents Club and Presidential Courage, White House history as told through the stories of the best friends and closest confidants of American presidents.

Here are the riveting histories of myriad presidential friendships, among them:

  • Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed: They shared a bed for four years during which Speed saved his friend from a crippling depression. Two decades later the friends worked together to save the Union. 
  • Harry Truman and Eddie Jacobson: When Truman wavered on whether to recognize the state of Israel in 1948, his lifelong friend and former business partner intervened at just the right moment with just the right words to steer the president’s decision. 
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Daisy Suckley: Unassuming and overlooked during her lifetime, Daisy Suckley was in reality FDR’s most trusted, constant confidant, the respite for a lonely and overworked president navigating the Great Depression and World War II
  • John Kennedy and David Ormsby-Gore: They met as young men in pre-war London and began a conversation over the meaning of leadership. A generation later the Cuban Missile Crisis would put their ideas to test as Ormsby-Gore became the president’s unofficial but most valued foreign policy advisor.

These and other friendships - including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Franklin Pierce and Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Bill Clinton and Vernon Jordan - populate this fresh and provocative exploration of a series of seminal presidential friendships.

Publishing history teems with books by and about presidents, first ladies, first pets, and even first chefs. Now former Clinton aide Gary Ginsberg breaks new literary ground on Pennsylvania Avenue and provides fresh insights into the lives of the men who held the most powerful political office in the world by looking at the friends on whom they relied.

First Friends is an engaging, serendipitous look into the lives of commanders in chief and how their presidencies were shaped by those they held most dear. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Gary Ginsberg (P)2021 Twelve

Critic Reviews

"FIRST FRIENDS is an overdue reminder that deep friendship has always played a priceless role in shaping the contours of history. It gives us a fresh reminder of the power of relationships." (Tom Brokaw)

“One of the most important roles in any administration is that of First Friend, the person a president can trust completely and be relaxed around. It’s a wonderful idea for a book, and with his great research and personal feel for true friendship, Gary Ginsberg has woven together fascinating stories and memorable insights. His lessons are important not just for studying the presidency, but for understanding leadership and life.” (Walter Isaacson, number one New York Times best-selling author of Leonardo da Vinci)

"Even if you're an avid reader of presidential biographies, you'll find yourself saying, 'Who knew?' all the way through FIRST FRIENDS. Gary Ginsberg combed through diaries, letters and interviews with an investigator's eye,  teasing out personal details about the intimacies of nine presidents and their best friends. It is one of the best reads of the genre, rich with well-told anecdotes, new angles on critical historical events and evidence of the vital importance of friendship for presidents - and all of us. This book is a joy to read." (Lesley Stahl)

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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An intuitive romp through history.

Excellent concept for a book, on the merit of its inception alone, it is just terrific. Looking at the Presidency through the eyes of a “third party” or first friend, is an amazing and in some cases frightening perspective. The author gives us a very unique and interesting romp through history. Bringing to light new facts and ideas relating to each friendship. Well worth the read.

8 people found this helpful

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Highly recommended, enjoyable book

Five stars. This is a very interesting walk through the lives of nine US Presidents through the lens of their relationships with their best friends. The idea is intriguing from the start. But, I was a little concerned that the product might be disjointed from varying levels of information available on each “friend,” or that it might be a little fawning in its treatment of the friendships. My concerns were unwarranted. The book is well-sourced with ample material on each friend and how they interacted with the President prior to, during, and after the Presidency. The friendships are treated honestly and in a straightforward fashion with the author noting the extraordinary qualities of some aspects of the friendships, but he avoids the temptation to overstate the impact or import of the friendships on the Presidency. The book is also well-structured, with each of the nine friendships presented in a manner that gives biographical sketches of each President and each friend. The author also tells the reader the historical context of each Presidency, providing nine succinct history lessons on each Presidency and the context of the times in which they held office. The author follows each President and friend all the way through their lives, letting us know how the friendships played out in their years after leaving office. Finally, the narrator is not the author, which I typically do not like. But, this narrator is above average with a nice treatment of the material, in contrast to some 3rd party narrators who sound like game show announcers making a little money on the side. Highly recommended for an enjoyable jaunt through American history from a very interesting perspective. Well done!

4 people found this helpful

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A story that needed writing

The book was very good
The narrator needed more “punch.”
However I recommend the read

2 people found this helpful

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Fascinating History

A fascinating historical and literary work--I thoroughly enjoyed it and the perspectives on the toll that is taken for those who occupy the highest office in the land.

1 person found this helpful

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Partisan book

I was excited to hear stories without a lot of political bias, not the case. I expected some, but, this was hard to stomach for the first 2 hours. Great idea for a book still.

1 person found this helpful

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First Friends

Fascinating account of the closest friends of some of the U.S. Presidents. I hated for it to end. I am curious at how and why these particular pairs were chosen.

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Excellent

I found this book “First Friends, The Powerful Unsung People Who Shaped Our Presidents” by Gary Ginsberg refreshing. It provides a different insight into a president.

I have read many biographies of presidents. Much of the information in this book appears in the biographies, but this book looks at it from a different viewpoint. I believe that the friend provided more personal information along with information as to the role of a friend to the president. The one I found most interesting is that of Nixon and Bebe Rebozo. If you are looking for something different to read for the summer, give this book a try.

The book is fifteen hours and twenty-eight minutes. Robert Petkoff does an excellent job narrating the book.

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Oh For Female Presidents!

I consider myself well-educated, but this book taught me much more about American and European history than I ever knew and did so with a fascinating approach. I also learned what, I guess, should not have come as a surprise: that most of our presidents, with the exception of Lincoln, Clinton and to some degree FDR and Kennedy, (though Kennedy’s pranks were outright mean) were deeply troubled men whose decisions were rooted in poor relationships with their fathers and toxic masculinity. Of course this interfered with their ability to address grief and deal honestly with their feelings. Lincoln, above all, was true to his ethics, morality, and ideals and did not hide the hardest of feelings to endure: inadequacy, heartbreak and grief. His depressions were clinical, and luckily, he was able to live through them. He also had the self-confidence to laugh at himself and did not consider compassion and empathy a weakness. He was truly great. Surprisingly, Ginsberg chose either not to see or examine in greater depth the psychology of these men and the impact of having to “be a man” had on their relationships and their ability to lead. Lucky for some of them, they did have friends who countered their worst instincts. Nevertheless, it’s a book I highly recommend. Well-written and well-narrated, and as I said, I learned a lot by listening to it.

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insightful

informative and wonderful read.
It makes you say to yourself, really?
I had no idea.
worthwhile read

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Interesting read

Although I’d read bios of many of these presidents, this book provides fascinating perspective and insights that I found quite interesting