Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First off the tee: presidential hackers, duffers, and cheaters from Taft to Bush - Don Van Natta Jr.

"Playing golf with America's Presidents is a great denominator. How a President acts in a sand trap is a pretty good barometer of how he would respond if the hot line suddenly lit up."

Most American presidents since the late 1890s have had at least one of the following two characteristics: they have served in the military or they play golf. 

First off the tee by Don Van Natta, Jr. portrays the game styles and skills of fourteen American presidents. The author tries to link the Presidents' personalities and government styles traits with their playing skills. So, for instance, Bill Clinton's sexual scandals are linked to his recurrent cheating on the green. By linking sports and ethics, Van Natta follows on Albert Camus' famous expression about how he owed to football all he knew "most surely about morality and obligations." 

While golf is still seen as snobish in most of the World, it has been widely democratized in the United States (which is probably an ecocide given the size of a golf field and the tremendous amount of water and energy required for their maintenance , but let's leave that aside). A testimony of the democratization of golf is the fact that First off the tee was named best book by Sports Illustrated, bestseller by USA Today, the Washington Post, the New York Times, (full disclosure: Van Natta works for the NYT), and was picked as editors sports pick of 2003 by It was also praised by the FT, WSJ, Miami Herald, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, The Houston Chronicle, The Hill, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and many others. The Economist actually devoted an entire article to it.

Wikipedia-level knowledge on golf is required, but even without it, the book is funny and engaging.

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