Reading on the Campaign Trail
November 25, 2009 1:54 PM   Subscribe

What are some good campaign trail biographies? I'm looking for any interesting read, whether in book form or a series of articles, that follows a candidate for a period of time up to their election, preferably ones where the writer actually accompanied the candidate as they went through the process of running. I'm not only looking for presidential candidates, but any government post at all (senate, congress, local government etc). I know Hunter Thompson is a good place to start, but what else?
posted by minicloud to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Seconding Hunter Thompson, except to say that it's a better place to end, rather than start, because everything after that will seem deadly dull by comparison.
posted by spasm at 1:58 PM on November 25, 2009

"Up Simba" by David Foster Wallace follows McCain in 2000. It's a quite long piece in the collection Consider the Lobster.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 is a good read, except that sometimes it's a bit confusing since there is very little context and it's quite a while ago. You're expected to know who all these people are already, and that Thompson is writing in response to news reports that you've already heard.
posted by smackfu at 2:03 PM on November 25, 2009

I came here to suggest Up Simba as well. It's fucking incredible.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:20 PM on November 25, 2009

The classic is The Boys on the Bus.
posted by Jahaza at 3:02 PM on November 25, 2009

"Losers" by Michael Lewis jumps between a few of the Republican nominees in the 1996 election.
posted by Gary at 3:21 PM on November 25, 2009

The Girls in the Van trails Hilary Clinton during her Senate campaign.
posted by bookmammal at 3:35 PM on November 25, 2009

Ralph Nader's Crashing the Party about the 2000 election is, IIRC, a great read.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:39 PM on November 25, 2009

Definitely What It Takes. My favorite book about politics, hands down. The sections about Joe Biden are particularly relevant now. Up Simba was rereleased as a stand alone book called McCain's Promise: Aboard the Straight Talk Express with John McCain and a Whole Bunch of Actual Reporters, Thinking About Hope for the 2008 election. It's great.
posted by fancypants at 3:39 PM on November 25, 2009

The best of the best is "The Making Of The President" series (Teddy White) which was written for each presidential campaign from 1960 - 1972.

What It Takes is my personal favorite (see fancypants link above). A brilliant book.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:50 PM on November 25, 2009

Rick Perlstein's Nixonland is simply amazing. It's a recent work of history, not something written by a contemporary chronicler who actually was on the campaign trail. But Perlstein covers all of Nixon's campaigns, the smoke-filled backrooms, the GOP conventions, etc., and also puts the man in context (and the nation in the context of the man). I can't recommend this book highly enough. (Perlstein's Before the Storm, which traces the rise of Goldwater, is also good.)

For something more directly in the mold of "reporter on the campaign trail," Naftali Bendavid wrote a nice, readable book about Rahm Emanuel overseeing the Democratic takeover of the House in 2006 called The Thumpin'. It's not about Emanuel's own campaign for re-election (he had a safe seat in the Chicago area), but rather all of the contested races that Emanuel had to concern himself with in his role as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:07 PM on November 25, 2009

Spanking the Donkey by Matt Taibbi
posted by ijoyner at 5:21 PM on November 25, 2009

Nthing What It Takes. Likely the greatest political memoir in modern American literature - it reads less like a history and more like a novel. You'll love it.

Not only is it relevant in terms of Biden, it became relevant in '04 (talking about Dick Gephardt), in '96 (with Bob Dole) and features just about every major politician of the last 30 years.

Making of the President is OK, but Teddy White gets more & more pompous with each passing cycle - I'd only recommend the first book of the series, MOTP 1960. White also wrote a capstone book, America in Search of Itself which is even more turgid - think an overboiled David Broder.

As readable as I said What It Takes is, MOTP is the exact opposite: well-nigh unreadable, mostly because the prose stylings have changed dramatically in the last thirty years. I'd still check it out, but don't blame yourself if you don't finish any of the books.

Since you mentioned that you didn't want to be limited to Presidentials, I'll add in a few other suggestions.

-- Few Are Chosen, by Doug McFarland. He ran for U.S. Senate in Minnesota and lost. It's a decently written book.

-- Ms. Cahill for Congress, by Tierney Cahill. Another first-person memoir. She ran for Congress in Nevada, with her 6th-grade class (Cahill was their teacher) managing the race. This one is in feature film development, with Halle Berry tapped for Cahill's role.

-- And His Lovely Wife, by Connie Schultz. She's married to Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and writes (at least, she used to, not sure if she still does) for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It's got its moments - she is a professional writer, after all.

I could go on, of course. I've got half a bookshelf full of nothing but political memoirs. If you want other suggestions, MeMail me and we'll talk.
posted by arkhangel at 1:13 AM on November 26, 2009

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