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Air Force One: A History of the Presidents and Their Planes    by Kenneth T. Walsh order for
Air Force One
by Kenneth T. Walsh
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2003 (2003)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, wrote in a letter to a friend, 'I wish they had formed us like birds of the air, able to fly where we please. I would have exchanged for this many of the boasted preeminencies of man.' Jefferson would have loved Air Force One, that beautiful plane that carries presidents around the world, with 'THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' emblazoned on its sides. The elder George Bush called it, 'the mobile symbol of the presidency and the country'. Historian Doug Brinkley called it 'almost a mythical place'.

The first president to have an official airplane was FDR in 1943. Since that time, he and succeeding presidents have logged over seven million miles! Air Force One is not a tell-all gossipy book, although some titillating bits do emerge from time to time. The author has written about a plane that symbolizes a country, no matter where in the world it happens to be. And he has also written of the powerful men who ride in it. Walsh details what it takes to put Air Force One in the air - the people involved, the equipment necessary, and the cost. Reading this, I could almost understand why a trip Clinton took to China cost the taxpayers $65,000,000! Almost.

The personalities of the presidents were each different from the other. Walsh writes of their foibles and their good sides. Clinton liked to schmooze with everyone on board. Nixon was reclusive. Johnson liked to startle and held interviews in his undershorts (occasionally appearing naked in front of his wife and daughters). Reagan was a gentleman at all times, optimistic about his country and devoted to Nancy. Politics, of course, are the main thrust of this engaging book. Memorable world incidents are described clearly, as are as the individual persons who occupied the Oval Office of the air.

Reading Air Force One, it almost feels as though we have been invited along for the ride - a well-written book.

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