A Magnificent Catastrophe: the tumultuous
election of 1800, America's first presidential
Edward Larsen (Free Press, 2007)
Here's a vivid retelling of the presidential election campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson that brings the fierce rivalry that was called "America's Second Revolution" to brawny, brawling life and reveals the pivotal roles played by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The bitter infighting and the sophisticated political jockeying of 1800 put paid to the notion that America would be governed by enlightened consensus. Instead, it resulted in the two-party system we know today. Readers will find a plethoria of similarities between the intense electioneering of THEN, and the heated political races of NOW.
(Same as it ever was...)
Realigning America: McKinley, Bryan, and the Remarkable Election of 1896
R. Hal Williams (University of Kansas Press, 2010)
The presidential election of 1896 is widely regarded as one of the few that brought about fundamental changes and realignments in American politics. New voting patterns emerged, a new majority party seized power, and national policies underwent a paradigm shift to reflect new realities. The monumental struggle between Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan set new standards in financing, organization, and accountability. Back then, the Republicans were the party of central government, national authority, sound money (think: the gold standard), and activism, while the Democrats preached state's rights, decentralization, inflation, and limited government (and the silver standard). (Say what????!!! I know, you have to read it to believe it!) It's also the campaign that birthed Bryan's stem-winder "Cross of Gold" speech. Williams paints a vivid portrait of down-and-dirty, two-fisted politics when the participants still wore waistcoats.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House: humor, blunders, and other oddities from the presidential campaign trail
Charles Osgood (Hyperion, 2008)
You can always count on Charles Osgood to provide a good laugh while he enlightens. Here he presents a treasury of anecdotes from presidential campaigns over the past seventy years. You'll find lighthearted speech excerpts, interviews, and press-conference quotes from the campaigns of such presidents as FDR, Truman, and JFK. Who could imagine the dour Bob Dole wise-cracking to reporters? But after a loss in the primary, he quipped: "I slept like a baby--every two hours I woke up and cried."
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72
Hunter S. Thompson (Warner Books, 2006)
Darkly humorous, off-beat, moody... to say the least. In this newer edition of the classic account of the dark, very dark, underbelly of American politics, the original "gonzo" political journalist presents his frankly subjective, very subjective, observations on the personalities and political machinations of the 1972 presidential campaign between Richard "Tricky Dick" Nixon and the straight-arrow George McGovern, who just passed away at the age of 90 on a few weeks ago.
The Selling of the President
Joe McGinniss (Penguin, 1988)
McGinnis wormed his way into the inner sanctum of Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign for president. What he found was a nest of advertising technicians, ghost writers, P. R. experts, and pollsters who cynically plotted the re-branding of a loser into a winner and the clever packaging that sold America the most corrupt Presidency in its history.
What It Takes: the way to the White House
Richard Ben Cramer (Random House, 1992)
Talk about the audacity of hope? How do these people convince themselves that they have the right stuff to sit behind a desk in the Oval Office and trod the floor where Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower paced? (Okay, Roosevelt didn't pace, he wheeled.) Journalist Cramer chronicled the 1988 campaign and put the candidates -- Robert Dole, George H.W. Bush, Joseph Biden, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart and Michael Dukakis -- under the microscope and on the analyst's couch to glean some insight into the qualities that lead to success or failure as a presidential candidate. Watch the candidates as they make their way through the primaries, fine-tuning stands on issues, struggling to retain their individuality while being hounded by ravenous journalists, pummeled and massaged by numerous handlers and browbeaten by their image wizards. Dukakis comes off as a humorless know-it-all (maybe it's a good thing he lost), while Bush the Elder emerges as a compulsive nice guy and witty, too, such as when he quips, "I deny that I have ever given my opinion to anybody about anything.''