"Follow the Leader" was the game yesterday at the Washington Post Book and Author Luncheon at the Sheraton Washington. About 600 people heard a trio of authors speak about their current books about the presidency, past and present.

"In some other countries, when the masses rise up and throw you out of office, you face the firing squad," said Hamilton Jordan, who was President Carter's chief adviser. "In our country, when the voters rise up and vote you out of office, you write a book. I'm not sure which treatment is more humane."

Jordan, author of "Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency," poked fun at the brash public image he developed during his White House years. "A woman approached me today . . . and told me, 'Mr. Jordan, if you had dressed the way you are dressed now, and if you had acted the way you are acting now, you might still be in the White House.' Well, I told her I would think about it--I have a few minutes this afternoon. After I give back this rented suit, I'm going to have a drink at Sarsfield's with John De Lorean, he's a man of good judgment, and ask him what he thinks."

"We fail to understand the lessons of history at the risk of repeating them," Jordan concluded. "What was the lesson of the hostage crisis? I'm not sure. But I hope that when the people who read my book close the cover, they have a keener understanding of how misunderstanding between nations can lead to war."

Washington Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee introduced Robert Donovan, author of "Tumultuous Years: The Presidency of Harry S. Truman 1949-1953," as "the complete journalist."

"Bob spent more time 10 years immersing himself in the Truman presidency for this book than Harry Truman spent being president," Bradlee said. Donovan, who was a White House correspondent during most of the Truman administration, said, "One of the most important things in the history of Truman's presidency was Truman never lost one major piece of foreign policy legislation."

Last up on the literary menu was Washington Post White House correspondent Lou Cannon, author of a new biography of President Reagan. "Now, my book is named 'Reagan,' " Cannon said. "A friend of mine in the White House said the title is so simple even he'll be able to remember it."

"People want to know," Cannon said, "is Reagan really a person who has sound understanding of rhetoric and knows how to govern? Stay tuned -- Ronald Reagan is not nearly as simple a person as he seems, and neither are the times that lie ahead."