Monday, 8 February 2010

“Race of a Lifetime”, by Mark Halperin & John Heilemann (Penguin/Viking)


One of the more revealing Election 2008 accounts, but with faults

The latest in a long line of Campaign 2008 books, journalists Halperin and Heilemann attempt to pull back the curtain on the campaigns and the personalities involved. Enjoying unprecedented access, and drawing on hundreds of interviews, emails, and other documentation, the authors have created an interesting account of the latest race for the White House.

The authors have tried to address some vital questions that were, they feel, either passed over or ignored by the mainstream media, including:

“How did Obama, a freshman Senator with few tangible political accomplishments, convince himself that he should be, and could be, America’s first African-American president? What role did Bill Clinton actually play in his wife’s campaign? Why did McCain pick the unknown and untested governor of Alaska as his running mate? And who is Sarah Palin, really?”

This book has been created quite a buzz in both the US and UK media around its release. Excerpts were published in many newspapers, online, and in newsmagazines. True, these samples tend to focus on the more sensational quotations and scenes Halperin and Heilemann were able to recreate or witness, but there is more to this book than sensationalism, and certainly more than the apparent wealth of material that is less-than-complimentary of Sarah Palin (excerpts the UK media seem to relish) and the Clintons.

The authors take us inside the Obama machine, where some staffers referred to him as “Black Jesus”. They unearth the quiet conspiracy in the US Senate to prod Obama into the race, driven in part by senior Democrats’ fears that Bill Clinton’s personal life might cripple Hillary’s presidential prospects. They expose the twisted tale of the affair that ruined John Edwards’s candidacy; the truth behind Rudy Giuliani’s downfall; and the doubts of Palin’s vetters about her readiness for the Republican ticket, as well as McCain campaign staffers’ worries about her general fitness for office.

Race of a Lifetime is a good read, for sure, but it is rather slow. For me, the long lead up to to the campaign for the general election was in some places annoying. I will freely admit that this is likely because I was somewhat obsessed during the election years, so have read almost every contemporary article written from at least 10 publications (I’m a news junkie), so this felt a little bit like retreading info I already had (surprises and detail aside). The election coverage was certainly more interesting, and the book improved a great deal (particularly the coverage of the McCain campaign).

If you haven’t read any books on the election, then this is a great one to start with. If you have read others, then you’ll get a fair bit out of this one, but don’t expect every page (or chapter, at that) to contain some startling or new revelation about the characters involved. The authors have a good style, and the prose are well constructed. Sometimes they go into more detail than feels necessary, which can disrupt the flow of the narrative, but it’s not too much of a problem.

Recommended, but with some small caveats.

Also try: Evan Thomas & Newsweek Staff, A Long Time Coming (2008); David Plouffe, The Audacity to Win (2009)

Race of a Lifetime is also out now in the US, but titled Game Change and released through HarperCollins. Here’s the (rather bland) artwork:HalperinHeilemann-GameChange

[ Buy the Book: UK, US, Canada ]

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