It’s Super Tuesday, do or die time for the Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination. With 10 states in play, decisive victories could finally solidify Mitt Romney’s status as nominee-to-be, but to do that he’ll have to fend off a fierce challenge from a surging Rick Santorum and finally kill off a resilient Newt Gingrich. It promises to be a nail-biter finish—in keeping with the supreme drama that’s marked this most unpredictable of campaign seasons.
Politics is a bruising business, of course, and it’s given us a rich selection of books that take readers beyond the stump speeches and into the sometimes glorious but more often ugly workings of political machines.
“The Making of the President, 196o” by Theodore H. White
White revolutionized political reporting with this trailblazing account of the 1960 battle between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Loaded with insider dope, the book is a deep dive into how campaigns work, and also a brisk history of a pivotal moment in American history and culture. White went on to write several follow-ups covering the elections through 1972.
“The Selling of the President” by Joe McGinnis
Ace political writer McGinnis burst onto the national scene with this groundbreaking look at how a kicked-around Nixon finally won his presidency–through careful marketing and image management. Yes, of course we take this stuff for granted now, but remember, this book came out in 1969, and though it may be graying a bit on the temples, it still holds its own.
“Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” by Hunter S. Thompson
Pity the democrats vying for the presidential nomination in 1972, and the journalists covering them. Both were subjected to the boozy, drug-fueled anarchy of an at-his-prime Thompson driven by a burning hatred of Nixon. Over the course of his “reporting” for Rolling Stone magazine, Thompson started a (false) rumor about one Republican presidential hopeful being a drug addict, and shared a surprising moment with Nixon himself, discussing football in the back seat of a limo.
“The Boys on the Bus” by Timothy Crouse
Thompson wasn’t the only Rolling Stone writer prowling the campaign trail in 1972; Crouse focused his attention on the press corps as they contend with a never-ending chain of deadlines, handlers exhibiting varying degrees of ineptitude, and the rigors of life on the road. Just think: Back then these guys had to lug around typewriters and tape recorders the size of the Bible.
“Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
An explosivé expose of the 2008 presidential campaign, veteran journalists Heilemann and Halperin’s post-mortem on the 2008 presidential race is loaded with inside scoop and shocking revelations. Granted, you’ve surely heard about the juiciest bits already–Elizabeth Edwards’s less than saintly demeanor, the profound dysfunction of the McCain-Palin camp, Hilary’s strategy to deal with Bill’s alleged sustained dalliances–but the tick-tock account of political maneuvering goes a long way toward exposing the charnel house-aspects of the way campaigns work now.