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A stunning evocation of the greatest political race of our times,
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This review is from: Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House (Hardcover)
Race of a Lifetime is the insider account of Barak Obama's stunning rise to the presidency of the United States. Co-authored by two of the country's top political journalists, it relies upon some 200 hundred off-the-record interviews with campaign insiders (we're never told which ones) and moves along with the pace of a novel.
Although Obama is the central character, the narrative revolves around other key players, principally Hillary Clinton, but also John Edwards, John McCain and Sarah Palin. It altered my opinion about Clinton - who comes across as thoroughly decent, diligent and admirable character - but reinforces what I knew about the others.
Those who saw and loved the last two brilliant series of the much-missed West Wing are in for a real treat. The powerful characters and breakneck narrative seem more in tune with a fictional creation than the staid world of politics.
Yet truth is stranger than fiction, and had that programme's creators devised characters such as Sarah Palin, they would have been accused of parody.
Palin - with the egomanic and sleazy John Edwards - comes off worst in this book, although it is her ignorance rather than cynicism or ego that is her worst sin. It remains a terrifying thought that she could have been a missed heartbeat away from being the most powerful person in the world.
One of the books' best episodes recounts her cramming sessions on forign affairs. During a lengthy primer on twentieth century history, of which she knew nothing, one ofe her aides suggests a break. "No, no, no, let's keep going," said Palin with the apparent wonderment of a child. "This is awesome."
The book should be read with a few reservations. It's certainly not (thankfully) political science, yet not even a work of journalism - which would be properly sourced - rather a piece narrative non-fiction. We have to trust the authors' integrity to faithfully and even handedly deal with their off the record sources, and for some readers that will invariably be a leap of faith too far.
Yet in my view, the book is richer and more candid for being off the record and gossipy. It's well-written, fascinating and a rare thing among books of its genre - a real page turner.