Analysis & Opinions - New York Times Book Review

The Incredible Influence of James A. Baker III

| Sep. 25, 2020

The Life and Times of James A. Baker III
By Peter Baker and Susan Glasser

Seven years ago, when the husband-and-wife reporting team of Peter Baker and Susan Glasser began working on their enthralling, comprehensive biography of James A. Baker III, Donald Trump was a cartoonish reality television star and huckster whose worldview — to the extent he defined it — seemed laughably disconnected from where the United States and global trends were headed.

The core tension that Baker (no relation to his subject) and Glasser must overcome in “The Man Who Ran Washington” is making James Baker — the Washington insider, Republican stalwart and statesman who played an indisputably central role in shaping major events for a half-century — seem relevant today. Indeed, they themselves argue that the world Baker helped mold through cunning, meticulous organization and tactical prowess has faded into history. From Trump’s xenophobia and skepticism about American international leadership to the Republican Party’s takeover by someone Baker deems “crazy,” a reader can have the impression that the authors’ accounting of Baker’s achievements is tinted in sepia.

Yet the life story of the man Barack Obama’s national security adviser Thomas E.  Donilon calls “the most important unelected official since World War II” is relevant and timely for two reasons. The first is that it provides deep insight into Baker’s strengths at diplomacy — skills that will become even more important as America’s influence ebbs in the coming years. The former secretary of state’s experiences as a public servant offer timeless lessons in how to use personal relationships, broad-based coalitions and tireless negotiating to advance United States interests.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Power, Samantha.“The Incredible Influence of James A. Baker III.” New York Times Book Review, September 25, 2020.

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