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Presidential Archivist: A Memoir

By author: David E. Alsobrook
Product Code: H994
ISBN: 9780881467635
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Like many other aspiring young historians in the 1970s, David Alsobrook fell victim to the "PhD glut" and the shrinking number of vacancies in traditional academic jobs. His completion of the Auburn University Archival Training Program in 1975 provided him with an alternative career pathway as a historian beyond teaching and research. A sizable portion of this memoir focuses on Alsobrook's archival career at the Alabama Department of Archives and History and three Presidential libraries. Based almost exclusively on his contemporaneous personal journals, correspondence, and notes, PRESIDENTIAL ARCHIVIST includes details about academic and practical training, typical duties, and the revolutionary impact of computerization upon the archival profession over the past four decades. During his National Archives career, Alsobrook had the unique opportunity to know several recent American Presidents and First Ladies--Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, George H. W. and Barbara Bush, George W. and Laura Bush, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Not surprisingly, as an archivist he compiled copious records of his interactions with these Presidents and First Ladies. These records form the basis for his personal observations about each of these remarkable "national treasures" and their contributions to our nation. Alsobrook reveals that public perceptions of Presidents and First Ladies often are quite different from the actual occupants of the White House, most notably, when they are removed from the merciless lens of television cameras.
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Reviews

Review by: Frye Gaillard, writer in residence, University of South Alabama and author of A HARD RAIN - May 15, 2020
As an archivist, David Alsobrook spent his professional life immersed in the raw materials of history, and played a central role in the creation of three presidential libraries. In this fascinating memoir, he offers a rare glimpse into the details of that work--and into the personalities of President Jimmy Carter, President George H. W. Bush, and President Bill Clinton. Alsobrook tells the story with the understated voice of an archivist: fair, respectful, meticulous. This is an important book.
Review by: Martin Olliff, professor of History and director of The Wiregrass Archives, Troy University-Dothan and author of THE GREAT WAR IN THE HEART OF DIXIE - May 15, 2020
With his trained historian's eye, archivist's sense for pertinent detail, and natural story-telling gifts, David Alsobrook cuts through the hurly-burly of his life in a fascinating memoir of his life and career in working in the Carter, George H. W. Bush, and Clinton Presidential Libraries. His memoir is at once intensely personal and highly contextualized, so readers can follow his movements and ideas as well as those of his extraordinary cast of characters. Alsobrook has penned a ground-level view of the working life of an archival professional and a bird's-eye view of the presidential library system in the late twentieth century.
Review by: Richard Smith, former director of five presidential libraries and biographer of George Washington, Herbert Hoover, Thomas E. Dewey, and Nelson Rockefeller - May 15, 2020
David Alsobrook loves his country and her history. After an eventful lifetime promoting each, he distills what he has learned working with presidents while fending off bureaucratic enemies, journalists in search of scandal, civic illiteracy, and popular indifference. For all the obstacles in his path, this is a story of rare accomplishment, told with wit, candor, and the narrative talent that comes with a Southern accent. Most of all, it's an antidote to the cynical treatment of public servants as dronelike "government workers" Alsobrook knows, and shows, better.
Review by: Bradley Rice, ?professor emeritus of History, Clayton State University, and past president of the Georgia Association of Historians - May 15, 2020
There are many reasons to read David Alsobrook’s memoir. His career from Carter to Clinton gives eyewitness to the transition of the presidency and the archives profession from the typewriter age to what Alsobrook calls the "brave new world" of records in cyberspace. But in the atmosphere of 2020 the real importance of this memoir transcends the specific profession and the particular person. Alsobrook’s career is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of highly-trained, non-partisan career civil servants who work hard to serve the best interests of the public even in the face of "treacherous political landmines." America needs more federal employees like David Alsobrook; our leaders need to appreciate them; and we can't afford to drive them away.
Review by: Martin Medhurst, distinguished professor of Rhetoric and Communication, Baylor University - May 15, 2020
PRESIDENTIAL ARCHIVIST is the story of one man’s journey to the pinnacle of his profession--the directorship of two presidential libraries. Along the way, we learn about the politics, the intrigue, and the duplicity, but we also learn about the dedication, courage, and commitment to public service displayed by David Alsobrook and his associates. As one of the thousands of scholars who have researched their books and articles at presidential libraries, I am profoundly grateful for the men and women who have dedicated their lives to the preservation of our nation’s history. This memoir is only a small part of that larger story, but it captures the significance of what it means to craft a lasting repository of our politics, our policies, and our presidents.
Review by: Lynn Cochrane, retireddirector of Libraries, Denison University - May 15, 2020
Today, students of American history, public administration and policy, the US presidency, and archival careers are the ultimate beneficiaries of David Alsobrook's phenomenal memory and meticulous documentation of his unique career in the creation of three presidential libraries/museums. His thirty-year career with the National Archives and presidential libraries is unparalleled.
Review by: Margaret Scranton, professor of Political Science, School of Public Affairs, University of Arkansas-Little Rock - May 15, 2020
It takes an exemplary archivist with ideal temperament to steer three presidential libraries into existence. David Alsobrook maintains that judicious temperament as he tells as much as can be told about building trust with presidents and their families, organizing millions of files, and processing reams upon reams of documents. This memoir reveals how two key skills, being an effective manager and a compassionate mediator, allowed Alsobrook, as an outsider to the former presidents’ inner circles, was able to move presidential materials projects to opening day as libraries without losing the faith of his professional staff.

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