The Preacher and The Presidents

by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

Center Street, 2007,  Hardcover

The Preacher and The Presidents, co-authored by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, veteran reporters for Time Magazine, is one the very best books I read during the last year. These authors had unusual access to the famous evangelist, as well as those closest to the ten Presidents of the US, with whom Billy Graham personally related.

This book is not a sanitized appraisal of the life and legacy of Billy Graham. The miscues and mistakes in relating to the world’s most powerful leaders were revealed and not at all concealed. For instance, Graham admitted his mishandling of his first presidential encounter, the one with Harry Truman. The news reporters encouraged Graham, and his colleagues, to re-enact a prayer they had with the president on their knees, while still on the White House lawn. This action infuriated an already suspicious Truman.
Billy Graham’s extreme closeness to Richard Nixon was one which really proved to be problematic when the revelations of the president’s culpability in Watergate became known. Also disconcerting was the street language Nixon used on the tapes recorded of White House conversations. Years later, Graham would be even more embarrassed by the conversations he had with the president, which seemed uncharacteristically ant-Semitic for the evangelist.
Generally, the book is an intriguing examination of how vital Graham’s role has been to the presidents, especially since Eisenhower. The counsel was spiritually uplifting and direction setting and at times was political in nature. Most famously, Billy Graham is credited with being a catalyst for the life changing experience that the current President Bush experienced in mid-life.
The whole book is a delicious feast for anyone wanting to live through the latter half of the twentieth century in the heart of the most famous evangelist of modern Christianity. The last chapter is appropriately entitled, Lessons of a Lifetime. Those ten pages summarize the story is a refreshingly inspirational way for the reader. The title of the book could well have been Influencing the Presidents.
Rick Lance