Which is the best book for a reasonably in-depth introduction to American politics and particularly the workings of The White House?
July 6, 2009 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Which is the best book for a reasonably in-depth introduction to American politics and particularly the workings of The White House?

I'm a Brit but have become a huge fan of The West Wing after receiving the DVD boxset as a gift. I have a basic knowledge of American politics but I'm looking for a book that can fill in the blanks and expand my knowledge a little, particularly with regard to the "real" West Wing.

I'm not especially interested in the minutiae of US politics and similarly I'd prefer it if the book was written with something resembling humour (I have in mind in the style of a Bill Bryson or PJ O'Rourke), so perhaps a textbook wouldn't be suitable, more an idiot's guide.

Any offers?

posted by logicalsequence to Education (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do some reading on the budget and approps process.
posted by jgirl at 1:40 PM on July 6, 2009

While not exactly the White House (that volume hasn't been published yet), Robert Caro's multi-volume The Years of Lyndon Johnson is a must-read about American politics. Master of the Senate is a really interesting study of politics and power: "I was never interested in writing biography just to show the life of a great man," saying he wanted instead "to use biography as a means of illuminating the times and the great forces that shape the times—particularly political power."

This extract, from the New Yorker, (you can probably find the full article at your local library) is an awesome intro to the book.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:05 PM on July 6, 2009

Also see President Kennedy: Profile of Power.

You might also consider White House Daze.
posted by jgirl at 3:17 PM on July 6, 2009

This goes back a couple generations, but Theodore White's The Making of the President is a very readable analysis of how John Kennedy got elected and still one of the best books around about the political process.
posted by nax at 3:39 PM on July 6, 2009

Not an ounce of humor in it, but "The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations" by Hughes and Hughes is fantastic for understanding the offices, people, and roles.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:53 PM on July 6, 2009

America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction from our good friends at The Daily Show is both hilarious and informative.
posted by wabbittwax at 4:17 PM on July 6, 2009

America (The Book) is very funny, but it might be better to read after getting a good background from other, less funny books.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:32 PM on July 6, 2009

America the Book is very funny, as is "Why Not me?" by Al Franken. Both offer a satirical (but reasonably thorough) look at American politics.
posted by WhySharksMatter at 7:20 PM on July 6, 2009

Perhaps not as broad as what you're looking for, but What It Takes is as well-written and interesting as any book I've ever read about American politics. Politics is my career and I re-read it every few years.

Seconding The Years of Lyndon Johnson as well. I have been listening to the unabridged audio book versions in the car for over a year and I'm just now getting to Master of the Senate. Unbelievably compelling, interesting stuff.
posted by fancypants at 7:49 PM on July 6, 2009

John Burke's The Institutional Presidency does a good job of tracing the workings of the modern presidency.

In a nutshell, the Office of the President underwent substantial, almost drastic change during the 20th century; notably with the establishment of the Presidential bureaucracy. Thomas Jefferson used two clerks, that expanded to three by the time of Grant, by the early 20th century, the office expanded again to almost 25 clerks... and now the number is well over 3-400, plus those staffs of the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and all of the separate entities that inhabit the Executive Office of the President.
posted by Seeba at 11:08 PM on July 6, 2009

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