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Bit Player: My Life with Presidents and Ideas

  • 214 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast Washington, DC, 20002 United States (map)

The title “Bit Player” perfectly reflects Stephen Hess’s long and distinguished career as a Washington insider. As a 25-year-old, recently discharged Army private in 1958, he suddenly found himself as part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s speechwriting team that ultimately helped draft the famed “Farewell Address” warning of the influence of the “military industrial complex.” Then over the next two decades, Hess played bit roles aiding Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan—along the way observing up-close those presidents and many other senior political leaders. During his subsequent four-and-a-half decades at the Brookings Institution, Hess was well-positioned to monitor and comment on the achievements and failures of successive administrations.

This memoir by a certified member of Washington’s old-guard establishment is rich with insight into contemporary American democracy, poignant in its reflections of avoidable missteps by even the best and most experienced leaders, and consistently good-humored in the author’s self-awareness of his own role behind the scenes of political power.