Our Favorite Campaign Books
Many of us at Change Media love not only working in politics, but reading about campaigns in our off time. Campaign books and political memoirs aren’t just a niche genre for campaign and history nerds; they’re a fascinating portal into our nation’s history. These books allow readers to better understand the mood of the country through the lens of national elections. We’ve pulled together some reviews of a few of our favorites, but would love to hear from you: what’s your favorite campaign book?
TRUMAN by David McCullough
As a fan of Presidential biographies, I couldn’t help but be drawn to legendary historian David McCullough’s 900-page dive into the life of our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman. One of the most fascinating points in the book is the 1948 election, Truman’s only Presidential run, where he faced immense odds, including two third-party candidates stemming from the Democrats, yet prevailed with enough electoral votes to claim victory. Many pundits assumed the campaign was over after southern delegates walked out at the Democratic Convention over Truman’s inclusion of civil rights in the Party’s platform, but “Give ‘em Hell, Harry” went out and won over farmers, union workers, and many other voters from different walks of life. What I took away from this was that fierce campaigning on real issues affecting real people will always prevail over safe, broad, impersonal strategies.
BOYS ON THE BUS by Timothy Crouse
I actually picked up Boys on the Bus because Evelyn recommended it to me. Essentially, it’s a look at political journalism during the 1972 presidential campaign cycle (Nixon’s re-election year!) from a reporter who lived it: Timothy Crouse of Rolling Stone. It’s a really fascinating look at the mechanics behind campaigns and reporting at the time: part political, part historical, and even part technological, as it explains how print and TV journalists got their stories from the campaign trail to the studio or newsroom. Although I did pick up on some scary comparisons between the Nixon administration and our current President (i.e. hating reporters and essentially abolishing the Presidential news conference), I think Boys on the Bus is a really interesting and fun behind-the-scenes look at politics and journalism at a pivotal time in history.
WHAT HAPPENED? by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Whatever your thoughts are on Hillary Clinton and the 2016 Presidential Election, there’s no doubt that this book proves to be a rare insight into running for the most powerful job in the world. I picked the book up as an ex-Hillary staffer wanting to hear directly from the big boss what her thoughts were on what went right and wrong on the campaign. Beyond that, the book was an honest and candid look at the campaign in the candidate’s own words, without media spin (clearly a rare opportunity for Clinton, or frankly, any candidate). The book provided interesting takes on how presidential campaigns have transformed—the elevated power of digital advertising in politics, the new role that media companies must be willing to play in politics, and how to practice message discipline against an opponent like Donald Trump.
FEAR & LOATHING ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL by Hunter S. Thompson
This book was given to me by a dear friend when I began working on one of my first major campaigns. While many of Hunter’s methods were unorthodox (please don’t drink whiskey while driving cross country), few can deny that his approach to journalism gave a fresh perspective over the day-to-day sensationalism that often takes over American media consumption. Fear & Loathing follows the many candidates involved in the 1972 Presidential Democratic Primary and the subsequent General Election. One of the biggest takeaways for me was that the larger the campaign, the more difficult it is to “turn the ship” – to adjust quickly as needed. Campaigns at all levels are large, clunky organisms that are comprised of many different people with many different ideas promoting one individual. They’re grueling and stressful for each team member in their own ways. As consultants and advertisers at Change Media, it’s important for us to recognize these normal and natural organizational issues to be able to adapt quickly, give sound advice, and produce great products for our clients.
GAME CHANGE by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
The book Game Change covers the 2008 Presidential Election, which incidentally was the first election I was able to vote in and the first time in memory that I was actively interested in politics. Game Change is not without its issues; it reads like a gossipy tell-all. More seriously, one of the authors has a record of sexual misconduct allegations in his past. That said, the book was an opportunity to hear from the team members that built the campaigns of Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and Mitt Romney. The book details every phase of a campaign; the launch, working with the media, producing ads, retail politics in Iowa and New Hampshire, handling the mudslinging, and more. It’s a good third-party perspective on 2008, but still feels current to our politics today.