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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.
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The story starts before the campaign begins with Hillary preparing for her inauguration, months and months before the election, so certain was she of victory. But others in the Senate, particulary Harry Reid, had noticed Obama for a while and urged him to join in the race. And so it begins.

The bulk of the book focuses on Obama and HIllary fighting to get the nomination and Obama slowly but surely pulling ahead to get it. Hillary comes across as very entitled and arrogant while Bill is shown to be complacent and petty, both far from their public images. Bill's affairs are alluded to heavily, post-administration, though nothing comes up, he remains a volatile quandary for the campaign. Obama comes across throughout as a likeable, intelligent, highly motivated and ridiculously calm individual whose self confidence propelled him through the campaign and touched millions.

McCain and the GOP campaign pops up towards the end and the election proper is dealt with in 100 pages. McCain comes across and utterly obnoxious and angry, screaming at his wife, not caring about policy so gaffes like "The foundations of our economy are sound" happen, his debating comes across very badly because he doesn't want to learn, he makes bad decision after bad decision, ultimately leading to the worst decision of all - Sarah Palin.

Like most people I've got a fairly good idea of the person and the many, many problems with her candidacy are gone through again here. What was revelatory were what is called "The Two Sarahs" where she has the public image and then the catatonic, silent image with dead eyes. Her lack of knowledge is breathtaking and McCain's own staff begin fearing that if they won, she might be President.

Utterly engrossing, the story barrels along enjoyably and smoothly, reading like a novel, packed with political insight and information on how tough the campaigns are run and how tough the candidates are, as well as lots of behind the curtain news and unforgettable portraits of the leading players. An amazing book, highly recommended.
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on 21 November 2010
I adored reading this book! Besides being an absolute page-turner, to the point where it feels like you're reading a good fiction novel(!), it goes into detail about every aspect of the primaries and the election for the Presidency throughout their duration. Particularly stunning is its integration of opinions into the book from key figures in the States; I find it fascinating to combine a person's way of thinking with their politics, but maybe that's just me!

Aside from this, it includes all of the typical analysis of each candidate's progression to their eventual success or demise, including Hillary Clinton and John Edwards as well as Barack Obama and John McCain. It also provides an interesting focus on the Vice Presidency and its candidates, fairly assessing each and proving the media portrayal of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin could easily have swayed public perception in a dishonest way. I also found it fantastic that the authors highlight Obama's weaknesses alongside his strengths - a feature many of the publications written about his ascension appear to lack. I actually came to realise just how bitter the President of the United states was in his primary against his Secretary of State, and it has led to a full re-evaluation of his presidency in my eyes. All of this is done in a way which, as I have mentioned, makes it feel like fiction - it is paced well, and is a truly juicy read!

If you're looking for a book which comprehensively and impartially critiques the US Presidential Election to within an inch of it's life, while not becoming dull, this is the book for you.
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on 22 January 2016
West Wing nuts will love this. Pacy as a good thriller, smart but not too clever, smooth but not polished. We all know how the 2008 Democrat nomination worked out, and how the Senator from Illinois took it all the way, but this is a riveting ride and a gripping tale. A great supporting cast of advisers, media spinners, ex-presidents and shadowy business figures. Hollywood super-rich making or breaking a campaign's finances. Worried campaigners struggling to get their candidate to say that right things at the right time to the right people. Chapters alternate and switch between Obama and Clinton as the race heats up, but take a dip when John Edwards appears (only because he left no imprint on my memory). Pen portraits can be deceptive; Obama comes across as uber cool, confident and slightly arrogant, and Hillary is portrayed as rather shrill, panicking and uptight. I'm sure there's more sang froid around than this. The Republicans have an undignified scrap and nominate the ineffectual John McCain. Sarah Palin draws the wrong kind of attention. In the end, Obama and Hillary end up on the same team. The drive, passion, intelligence and patriotism of the rival candidates is clear; qualities which seem thin on the ground this time around.
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on 6 January 2016
Arrived really really fast!! Great read. Really gives an insight to the gruelling campaign they undertook just to get the nomination never mind get elected. Goes through all parts - Democratic party Nomination fight - Republican Party Nomination fight - Presidential race. Shows all candidates warts and all, highs and lows... a really great insight into the American Presidential race.
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on 18 November 2013
A very entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the main players and occurrences of Decision 2008. Was literally unputdownable. You may wonder if all the stories are fact (considering the authors must have gotten a whole lot of second hand information from 'sources'), but it's written in such a magnificent way that flows from beginning to end. Great read!
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It really feels like you are in the room. You get massive insight into the characters of the protagonists. They interviewed loads of people to be able to do this book, and it shows. It's really well written (by two top journalists). And there are a lot of laughs. I tore through this book, and will be reading it again for sure.
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on 22 February 2011
Really enjoyed this. It gallops along, and is hard to put down. It's by journalists who seem to have had an enormous amount of access to the various campaigns and candidates. A great read I'd thoroughly recommend for anyone interested in how political campaigns can grow or falter, collapse or reboot.
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on 12 July 2010
This is a good page turning book, but my big complaint is that it misrepresents itself by the title and cover blurbs. This is not a blow by blow account of the race to the presidency, but really a blow by blow account of the race for the democratic nomination. Coming up on 300 pages we were still only just getting to the Democratic convention with only 180 pages to go to cover the battle between Obama and McCain. There is no Joe the plumber, which was such a big part of the campaign, the presidential debates are glossed over, very little of the republicans trying to use Wright and Ayers against Obama, and even Sarah Palin is pretty much treated in a cursory fashion. What you do get are lots of inside detail about the Clinton and Obama slug out. But that's not what I bought the book for, so it left me feeling a bit shortchanged. If it has been subtitled 'an inside look at Obama vs. Clinton on the way to Obama's presidency' then great, but its certainly not an indepth look at the presidential election.
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on 29 January 2013
a fascinating insight into what went on behind the scenes during the race to the white house. focuses on the characters involved and their relationships, more so than policies, and is packed full of gossip! A great read!
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