Published in 1994, “Time and Chance: Gerald Ford’s Appointment with History” is James Cannon’s first biography of the president he worked with as Domestic Policy Advisor for two years. Cannon was previously a journalist and war correspondent, a political adviser to Nelson Rockefeller and, later, chief of staff for Senator Howard Baker. Cannon died in 2011 at the age of 93.
This 416-page biography focuses on Ford’s life from his youth through the earliest months of his presidency. Originally intended as a more comprehensive examination of Ford’s political career, Cannon was sidetracked by his subject’s childhood and political ascent. Not until his posthumously-published follow-up biography (“Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life“) did Cannon focus more intently on Ford’s 895-day presidency.
Despite its ostensible focus on Ford’s early life, however, “Time and Chance” proceeds quite briskly through Ford’s first sixty years. Only about 100 pages are required to carry the reader from Ford’s birth to his vice presidency. And while no discussion of Ford’s life can escape a discussion of Nixon’s presidential sins, the Watergate era alone consumes about two-thirds of the book.
Probably unaware he would eventually revisit Ford’s life with a supplemental biography, Cannon concludes this book with a chapter briefly summarizing Ford’s presidency – but without mention of his retirement years – as well as an Epilogue which quickly reviews Ford’s character and political legacy.
Cannon’s literary style is never particularly keen or penetrating but, like Ford himself, always proves straightforward and comprehensible. There are occasional glimpses of the vivid narrative style of McCullough and Millard, but this book’s strength resides in its coherence not its color. And while Cannon is able to identify and admit his subject’s weaknesses, he does seem to posses an unmistakable fondness for his former boss.
Not only is “Time and Chance” an easy read, but it is also consistently interesting. Particularly engaging is the thirty-page chapter covering Ford’s confirmation as Vice President and the related investigation conducted to ensure his personal and political chastity. Cannon also provides an interesting glimpse into Ford’s efforts (while VP) to maintain his political independence during the height of the Watergate crisis.
Less meritorious is Cannon’s coverage of Ford’s personal life. His wife, Betty, is rarely mentioned and his children are only vaguely acknowledged. Far more critically, though, the author never attempts to address the stark inconsistency between Ford’s inherently compassionate and ethical nature and his lifelong attraction to (and embrace of) the sordid world of politics.
Overall, “Time and Chance: Gerald Ford’s Appointment with History” is generally good…but rarely great. This biography provides reasonable, but not deeply perceptive, insight into Ford’s character and career but fails to adequately dissect his persona or meaningfully explore his personal life. Only time will tell how – or whether – Cannon’s follow-up biography (“Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life”) will fill in the gaps. Stay tuned!
Overall rating: 3¼ stars