Books on Presidential Transitions, the Appointment Process, and White House Operations

Following is a list of books on an obscure topic that becomes of intense interest only every 4 to 8 years – the inside look at a presidential transition in the U.S. government. The top 3,000 political leaders lose their jobs and the winner undertakes a massive recruiting process to fill the newly-vacated positions. As if filling 3,000 jobs isn't enough, the new president has to craft a governing agenda AND a new budget. How this happens is often shrouded in mystery. While the literature is fairly sparse on the topic, what has been written in recent years quickly becomes helpful guideposts to the hopeful staffs of both of the candidates.

 

Presidential Transitions: Eisenhower through Reagan

by Carl M. Brauer

Flashlight Worthy says:
An older book that focuses more on the Presidencies than on the transition but includes some valuable lessons.

 

The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running

by James P. Pfiffner

Flashlight Worthy says:
Summarizes roles of key White House officials and has a good section on the Reagan-Bush transition.

 

Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice

by John P. Burke

Flashlight Worthy says:
This is probably the best book available on presidential transitions, includes a terrific chapter on the Reagan-Bush transition, and is notably fact-based.

 
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Becoming President: The Bush Transition, 2000-2003

by John P. Burke

Flashlight Worthy says:
An excellent book on how the Bush transition (from Clinton) unfolded and why it worked so well at first.

 

Passages to the Presidency: From Campaigning to Governing

by Charles O. Jones

Flashlight Worthy says:
A good book, but it includes a lot of interpretation and lessons that reflect the author’s specific point of view.

 

Preparing to be President: The Memos of Richard E. Neustadt

by Ricahrd E. Neustadt

Flashlight Worthy says:
Selected memos that Neustadt wrote to Presidents-elect or their staffs since the Kennedy Transition in 1960. It includes useful insights though other, more recent books provide a better context because they reflect what the transition teams did and the impact of their actions, not on what was recommended (with no annotation on of what use the advice was).

 

(Editor's Note: John maintains a blog on this very topic. Drop by The 2008 Presidential Transition Initiative for up-to-the-minute information on the topic.)