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Tension City: Inside the Presidential…
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Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to…

by Jim Lehrer

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Jim Lehrer has assembled a nice retrospective on televised presidential debates and on his experience as a moderator. Lehrer, anchor of PBS NewsHour and moderator of eleven presidential debates, is pleanty familiar with the subject matter and presents it with the same level-headed coolness that comes across in his televised persona. Lehrer conjures up the controversies and game changers-"major moments" in his own terminology-but discusses the human factors over the political rhetoric. Through personal anecdotes and interviews with the participants Lehrer gives the personal side of the story, a story of three men in the most public forum with the highest stakes "walking down the blade of a knife" where anything from tone of voice to body language can change the face of everything. Tension City reads quick and stays on point, Lehrer is not hear to make judgements but to fill out the story. I recommend it for just about anyone. ( )
  EricFitz08 | Apr 27, 2013 |
Retelling of Presidential debates by one of their most famous moderators. Good stories and anecdotes. It's interesting comparing debates past to the ones now. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Being someone who generally reads fiction, the point of this book was pretty much lost on me. To me it seemed like a lot of anecdotes all thrown together in an order that didn't really make sense to me. I couldn't really see any difference in subject matter from one chapter to another (which was probably more a "me problem" than anything but it made it more difficult, personally, to get through) Overall I did think that some of the subject matter, as well as the quotes from famous political figures of our time, was really cool but the general organization of the book confused me and made it more difficult to read and understand. There didn't seem to be a general point, idea, or message, just a collection of "things that happened". ( )
  chrisgarofano | May 23, 2012 |
While as a Washingtonian I have always considered myself a political person, this is not a subject I have ever chosen to read about in books. It was hearing Jim Lehrer speak about Tension City at a conference, I think, that got me to pick it up. That, and the unintimidating page count. Still, I’m almost surprised by how much I enjoyed the book.

One of the things that worked for me is how personal the subject matter is to journalist Lehrer. This isn’t just a book about famous moments (and their aftermaths) in the last 40-some years of political debates; it’s about Lehrer’s personal experiences as moderator of 11 presidential or vice-presidential debates since 1988. To that extent, Tension City has elements of memoir, and a strong undercurrent of journalism within the subject matter. Lehrer reflects on the highs and lows of his performances and those of his colleagues over the years. I now have a far greater appreciation of the role of a debate moderator, and doubt I will watch future presidential debates with the same eyes.

Still, it’s the politics and history that were most riveting, because these debates did change history. Had he answered one question differently, might Michael Dukakis have had a shot at the White House? We can never know, but there is room for speculation. I so clearly remember so many of the moments that Lehrer singles out over the past several decades. They were the water cooler moments that the entire nation was talking about the next day. But here we have the added perspective of time as we look at these famous exchanges. Plus, Lehrer has the prestige and the relationships to get the major players to speak frankly about events of the past. So, for example, Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle share recollections of “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

This is the history of my lifetime. I was fascinated. Tension City is a brief book, and many serious political and history junkies will be looking for something more in-depth. For them, this book might work as a light companion volume. But for this reader, Mr. Lehrer’s book was the perfect introduction to uncharted literary territory. ( )
2 vote suetu | Oct 31, 2011 |
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Presents an analysis of political debates from the last two decades through the preparations, executions, and mistakes of recent moderators and participants, offering insight into specific high-profile events and decisions.

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