Top positive review
12 people found this helpful
Very readable and informative, but superficial
on 17 October 2010
Let me start by saying that I am usually reading several books at a time - yet I read this book in one go, not picking up any other book (or even a newspaper) before I had finished it, which hasn't happened in a very long time. As other reviewers have said, this book is very readable and entertaining, if you find the events and personalities of the last US presidential election even remotely interesting. On the other hand, those who do find that subject even remotely interesting will have paid some attention to the events as they happened - and for them, the book will have very few, if any, major new factual information; that was at least my impression.
What makes book so interesting is the background information on the main personalities involved, along with a tight narrative of events. It's not as if any of the Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency or vice-presidency is revealed to be much different from what you'd expect; but the extra details make them more human and so, more interesting. And yet, what you should *not* expect is an in-depth analysis of how US presidential and vice-presidential candidates are first chosen by their parties and then elected; the book remains entirely at the level of narrative, in the style of "non-fiction novel".
Having said that, I found that the bare factual information provided in the book do give material for thought as to what goes on in recent elections. For instance, everyone has the same basic strategy: focus your money, and resources, and time, on the states that hold their primaries early on, as Iowa and New Hampshire; if you get enough votes there, you gain enough momentum in terms of contributions, meedia attention, and credibility. Conversely, if you fail there, usually your campaign is sunk already. An interesting consequence of this is the emotional attachment that Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as John McCain, have for New Hampshire and for campaigning there, since it was there that Bill Clinton's candidacy was saved in 1992, and where McCain consolidates his in 2000 (before losing to George W Bush). Likewise, John Edwards's entire hopes of getting the Democratic nomination were based on his winning the Iowa caucus; he was paying no attention at all to any other state. I daresay that this process has real disadvantages as a way to select a candidate for national elections. Yet this is a question to which the authors pay no attention whatsoever: they meant to give a narrative of the basic facts and a description of the main personalities, and that's what they did, very well, and it's probably unfair to ask for more (which is why I gave it five stars: the book may be superficial, but it does not pretend to be otherwise).
One (probably inevitable) weakness of the book is that, like Bob Woodward, the authors built their narrative based on their interviews with people close to the main personalities. That of course means that the "truth" ends up being the version of the truth as seen by the sources most willing to talk to the authors. For instance, it becomes very obvious that one of their main sources for the behind-the-scenes happenings in the McCain-Palin camp was Steve Schmidt, McCain's chief strategist. So it is not necessary to imply that Schmidt may have told them falsehoods, or even exaggerations, to reach the conclusion that, at the very least, the story of the McCain-Palin campaigh has received a lot of Schmidt's own spin in it. It is also clear that they had far more access (or gave far more weight) to sources on the Democratic side than on the Republican side. So, while I got a vivid impression of what the Clintons, Obama, and even Edwards and Biden are like, I did not think I was getting a better feel for either John McCain or Sarah Palin.
Some of the bits of information (or gossip) they give are very interesting. We learn, for instance, that;
- Bill Clinton was seen by everyone in the Hillary camp as a loose cannon, with Hillary feeling unable to even talk to him about it (not that it is any news that their marriage is, well, a bit dysfunctional;
- George W Bush, who makes just cameo appearances, called Bill Clinton regularly to chat, calling him specifically to raise Clinton's spirits as he was being accused of being a racist;
- unlike Obama, Bush, Cheney and Hillary, Joe Biden wasn't even aware of who Sarah Palin was when she first appeared as McCain's running mate (wouldn't such an experienced senator know as a matter of course who the state governors are? 50 is not such a huge number).
Some reviewers, here or at Amazon.com, have said that the book was biased towards Obama, and/or that Obama comes off very well. This must remain a matter of opinion. Personally I did not think that any of the candidates came off particularly well, including Barack Obama. My impression of him - limiting myself to how the book portrays him - is of an essentially passive politician, who "runs" his campaign mainly by agreeing or disagreeing with ideas made by others. Even the very idea that he should run for president was first put to him by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who essentially suggested to Obama that he should run for president because he obviously was never going to be a good senator, or enjoy being one. In contrast, both Hillary and McCain were portrayed as more active in taking decisions - which is not to say that they were always good decisions; McCain in particular comes across as rather erratic and impulsive. Also, both Hillary and McCain were shown as actually caring about, and enjoying, their jobs in the Senate; while Obama could devote himself 100% to the campaign because he was so obviously unconcerned with his Senate seat. The most difficult person to understand as a human being - based only in the information provided by the book - is Sarah Palin, again because most of the information on her campaign seems to have come from Steve Schmidt, who obviously neither understood her nor cared for her much. Actually, the two "characters" who are portrayed only positively whenever they appear are Joe Lieberman - who comes across as a genuinely good and kind man - and, maybe ironically, George W. Bush.
Of course, the one person portrayed as having no redeeming characteristics whatsoever is John Edwards. That may be slightly unfair.