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Compiled by Eric Weld   Date: 2/12/13 Bookmark and Share

Secret Lives of Presidents Revealed

Author Cormac O'Brien to Speak at Smith February 18 (rescheduled from October 29, 2012)

Books by historian and author Cormac O’Brien promise revelations about U.S. presidents and First Ladies that “your teachers never told you about”—little-known, quirky facts that might not always come off flattering, about George Washington’s bad habits, for example, Jimmy Carter’s questionable sighting, and now a new chapter on President Barack Obama.

O’Brien is best known for his two books, Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents and Secret Lives of the First Ladies.

O’Brien will visit Smith on Monday, Feb. 18, to discuss U.S. presidents and First Ladies, including Smith alumnae Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush. His talk, at 4:30 p.m. in Neilson Browsing Room, is sponsored by the Smith Republican Club and the American Studies Program.

O’Brien, who is also author of Secret Lives of the Civil War, will sign copies of his books following his talk. He recently responded to questions for the Gate.


Gate: What do your revelations about presidents' secrets tell you about the people who lead our nation?

Cormac O'Brien: In general, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that our presidents are presented with a nearly impossible situation. They’re elected by the people and expected to be “one of us”; but any personal flaws they may expose could jeopardize their ability to lead. Consequently, they are having constantly to present an idealized, stage-crafted version of themselves that undermines their connection to the public.

Gate: In your perspective, why is it important for Americans, or the world, to know about some of these quirky secrets about presidents' peccadilloes?

CO: It’s important to know about presidential quirks and peccadilloes because it reinforces that they are ordinary human beings—for better or worse.

Gate: How does your research inform your politics regarding the upcoming election?

CO: Because presidential candidates need to be so guarded while campaigning in a media-saturated environment, I try personally to de-emphasize the reporting that goes on about their personal traits and attempt instead to weigh what policies they have—or have not—delineated.

Gate: How did you embark on your series of "secrets" books?

CO: I was contacted by a friend of mine, Jason Rekulak, back in 2001. An editor at Quirk Books in Philadelphia, he wanted to write an unconventional book about the presidents that looked at their personal lives and knew I was a huge history buff. I had written a book for him previously called The Daily Disaster, which Scholastic published. Gradually, over the course of several conversations, “Secret Lives of the U.S. Presidents” is what shook out.

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