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Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice

John P. Burke
Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice
ISBN: 978-1-55587-916-7
2000/437 pages/LC: 00--036610

"A notable contribution.... this book can be enjoyed for its narrative and appreciated for its analysis.... Burke is as attentive to the concerns of practitioners as he is to the interests of scholars.... This volume will serve as a lightning rod for debates about research design and methods in presidency studies.... The book's empirical richness, in conjunction with its theoretical contentiousness, ensures that it will be a valuable resource for political scientists as researchers and as educators."—MaryAnne Borrelli, American Political Science Review

"A fascinating history of the "politics to practice" in the transitions to power during four recent presidential administrations.... Burke provides a rich comparative study, not only of each transition, but also of the months that follow."—Steven A. Shull, Journal of Politics

"This is an important book. The author has obviously taken great pains in the research, and the result is a well-written, interesting book that explores a topic that has heretofore suffered from neglect."—Joseph L. Wert, Public Administration Review

"When the history of the presidential transition of 2001 is written, John Burke's Presidential Transitions will be considered one of the most useful resources both teams had as they planned for an effective transfer of power."—Martha Joynt Kumar, Director White House 2001 Project

"John Burke's excellent study demonstrates that the transition into office is crucial to the performance of each new president. Presidential Transitions is a major contribution to our understanding of how the successes and failures of recent presidents often have roots in the pre-inaugural period, and presents a nuanced sensitivity to the political, policy, personnel, and managerial factors that must go into a successful presidential transition. The staff of every serious presidential candidate ought to read this book."—James P. Pfiffner


Burke's detailed and comprehensive account of the four presidential transitions from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton explores how each president-elect prepared to take office and carefully links those preparations to the performance and effectiveness of the new administration. Enriched by interviews with the key participants, this sobering tale of the difficulties that new presidents have encountered demonstrates the importance of well-organized and well-managed transitions to successful terms in office.


John P. Burke is professor of political science at the University of Vermont. His publications include The Institutional Presidency and, with Fred Greenstein, How Presidents Test Reality (recipient of the 1990 APSA Richard Neustadt Book Award).


  • Introduction.
  • Jimmy Carter: An Organized Effort?
  • Carter in Office.
  • Ronald Reagan: Hitting the Ground Running?
  • Reagan in Office.
  • George Bush: A Friendly Takeover?
  • Bush in Office.
  • Bill Clinton: Misplaced Efforts?
  • Clinton in Office.
  • Lessons.