December 06, 2007
• Matt Bai reminds us of Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes, the greatest campaign narrative ever published. I agree. What It Takes is actually the book that launched my political path. The portrayal of Gary Hart impressed me, so I grew interested in the man, searched him at the right time to hear about his abortive 2004 campaign, and volunteered for it. That effort fell apart rather quickly, but it's why Joe Trippi brought me to the Dean campaign, which is where I really got into blogging, and on and on. In conclusion, I owe everything to Cramer.
ª The second best best campaign book, or so I'd argue, is Trail Fever by Michael Lewis.
• Over at The Monkey Cage, Lee Sigelman recommends a core reading list for understanding the media's influence on American politics. I've only read The Atlantic article it's based off of, but I'd add James Fallows' Breaking the News: How the Media Undermines Democracy.
How is Trail Fever better than Losers, by the same author about the same subject? Honest question.
Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Dec 6, 2007 2:42:05 PM
I like "Trail Fever" and "What It Takes". "The Great American Video Game" by Martin Schramm is also very good on how campaign coverage got so superficial.
But for entertainment value, can anything beat Hunter Thompson's "Fear And Loathing: On the Campaign Trail, 1972"?
Posted by: Dilan Esper | Dec 6, 2007 3:41:49 PM
Matt Bai? Seriously? I am sure those are good books, but can you please use someone else's endorsement besides Bai.
Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Dec 6, 2007 3:50:43 PM
I really like "Political Fictions" by Joan Didion.
Posted by: chimneyswift | Dec 6, 2007 4:12:52 PM
I'd predictably add that if you want to understand US media coverage of (and influence on) politics then there's a lot of important ideas in Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent.
I can't claim that MC predates Chomsky going off the rails, but the core of the book remains an important contribution to understanding how news is shaped and shapes.
Posted by: Meh | Dec 6, 2007 5:17:07 PM
Yeah, I think a few words should be said for some of the classics in the genre like Dideon and Thompson (which as literary works are superior to Lewis and also have deeper insights into what makes America tick). Sidney Blumenthal was a great campaign reporter once upon a time. I'd also recommend some of the really old chestnuts like Theodore White's various "Making of the President" books and most especially Garry Wills's Nixon Agoniste and his various reports on American elections from 1968 to the present. Wills is probably the best reporter America has in terms of sheer writerly ability and insight.
Posted by: Jeet Heer | Dec 6, 2007 5:38:26 PM
"Matt Bai? Seriously? I am sure those are good books, but can you please use someone else's endorsement besides Bai."
Matt Bai is a very, very sharp cookie.
In the spirit of the Richard Ben Cramer book, I will confine myself to recommendations of non-recent books:
I'd highly recommend Teddy White's campaign trail books. All of them are good. The 1960 and 1968 editions are especially interesting, but you should really make your way through them all.
Hunter Thompson's '72 book is incredibly good.
Norman Mailer's book on both '68 conventions, Miami and the Siege of Chicago is worth a look.
Sidney Blumenthal's The Permanent Campaign is a good look at the state of the art 30 years ago. Many of the fissures and currents Blumenthal identifies are still with us in full force. If you want to place Gary Hart in context of his times, this is the book to read.
And Bob Woodward's The Agenda is an excellent look at the Clinton administration's first term and the various Clintonistas, many of whom are still with us. Essential reading if you want to understand the Democratic Party of the last 15 years.
Posted by: Petey | Dec 6, 2007 7:30:34 PM
"Sidney Blumenthal's The Permanent Campaign is a good look at the state of the art 30 years ago. Many of the fissures and currents Blumenthal identifies are still with us in full force. If you want to place Gary Hart in context of his times, this is the book to read."
Blumenthal's book is also worth reading because he deals quite a bit with Pat Caddell.
Caddell is the single most influential intellectual figure in Democratic politics between 1968 and the present, but most folks don't have a clue who he is.
Posted by: Petey | Dec 6, 2007 7:39:59 PM
Ten years ago, Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing '72 seemed like a badly dated, over-the-top screed about how America is going insane. I quote it all the time now.
Posted by: politicalfootball | Dec 7, 2007 6:43:10 AM
For better or worse, it was Lewis's campaign coverage that first compelled me to get a TNR subscription...
Posted by: Scott Lemieux | Dec 7, 2007 12:23:30 PM
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