Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (2010)
This behind-the-scenes account of the 2008 presidential election was based on hundreds of interviews with people close to the campaigns. It chronicles the rise of Barack Obama, the fall of John Edwards, the spotlight on the previously unheard of Sarah Palin, and much more. Over 400 pages of strategizing, panic, and damage control lead up to election day, with such tension and excitement it's easy to get caught up in it even though we all know how it ended.
It brought back many memories, such as Obama's rousing speeches and Sarah Palin's desperate floundering. But I also learned a lot. The chapter on John Edwards was fascinating. I had no idea he was such an egomaniac or that Elizabeth Edwards was so unpleasant. Nor did I realize how troubled was John McCain's early campaign - that he was supposed to pledge to only serve one term, and that his wife was rumored to be having an affair. Hillary Clinton's campaign was also troubled in that one of her chief strategists was strongly disliked by every one else on the team. I was also surprised to learn that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had a friendly relationship and talked on the phone frequently. Given the scant attention I pay to politics, perhaps these things weren't all news to others, which was my main problem with reading this book - I don't know which information is actually a revelation and which is just news to me because I don't pay close enough attention.
Most of the players are cast in a pretty unflattering light, and it gave me pause. Were the authors unfair? Or were they trying to balance the smile-for-the-camera personas the candidates so carefully cultivated? I'm a little skeptical at anything nonfiction, especially so if it's political, but I think this book is generally pretty highly regarded in its authority so I don't want to dismiss their characterization of the candidates, but I can't completely accept it either.
Either way, it's quite entertaining - easily readable, the storytelling relies not on dry detailed analysis, but on fast-paced action. Given the impressions of all the candidates and what I learned about their personalities, ambitions, and preparation (or lack thereof), I'm even more glad that things turned out the way they did. But maybe that's the impression the authors wanted to leave me with.