A Vote for Books
October surprises with election-themed books
Don’t despair, voters. Interesting times are fodder for interesting books, and throughout history both elections and political movements have led to some of the world’s greatest reads. Some candidates are voracious readers, others, barely literate; neither has stopped anyone from writing books about them. We can’t wait for the exposés of the 2016 campaign; for now we’ll look back at some historical perspectives on the political process.
Think the upcoming election is tumultuous? How about taking a look back to the founding of our country? What a wild ride! The 2016 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, Hamilton, is a great place to start. Hamilton: The Revolution (Grand Central Publishing, $45) includes the full libretto for the show annotated by creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, and reflections on the production process and cultural magnitude by both Miranda and Jeremy McCarter, former New York magazine and News week cultural critic. The show follows the life, love and political climb of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, and his untimely demise at the hands of his former colleague, Aaron Burr.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Demons provides unerring proof that not much has changed during the last 150 years in the way politics and political movements function — and the crazed motives they inflame. Set in a provincial town in Russia around 1871, Demons mercilessly dissects not only the strait-laced politicians of the time and the devious radicals, but also the machinations of the levels of society supporting each political movement. Yes, it’s long, and yes, it’s Russian, but it’s brilliant, complex, funny and heartbreaking. Think of it as a new Netflix series.
Twentieth-century books on the American process include a couple of classics on the 1972 presidential campaign. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 (Simon & Schuster, $17) includes a new introduction by Thompson’s successor at Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi, and while it begins to expose the limits of the Thompson style, it also contains enough no-holds-barred truth-telling to sustain interest. The better book on Nixon’s eventual landslide — and on journalism as it’s practiced even today — is Timothy Crouses’s The Boys on the Bus (Random House. $15.95).
Of course, fear and loathing pretty much sum up the 1968 election. Who better than Norman Mailer to chronicle both party conventions that saw the anointing of Richard Nixon among Republicans and a deeply divided Democratic party haunted by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy? In Miami and the Siege of Chicago (Random House Trade Paperbacks $18), deemed “terrifying” by The New York Times, Mailer is both eyewitness and participant to America’s political future on the brink.
No doubt Mailer would have had a field day with the “fraud of the century,” the 19th century. Michael F. Holt’s By One Vote: The Disputed Presidential Election of 1876 (University Press of Kansas, $22.50) examines the contest between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel Tilden, which saw the largest voter turnout ever (82 percent) and Hayes’ razor-edge victory — of a single electoral vote.
The wackiness and inspiration of the 2008 race seems like only yesterday. Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin (Harper, $16.99) goes beyond sound bytes and teleprompters to reveal the sordid details about the candidates and their campaigns: the screaming, the cussing, the infidelities (and not just among the Clintons, but the Edwardses, McCains and Giulianis, too); how woefully unprepared vice-presidential pick Sarah Palin was — and in the minds of some, then-Sen. Barack Obama. But is anybody ever qualified for the job as Leader of the Free World? Try not to think about it as you cast your vote.
New Releases for October
October 4: My Own Words, by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Simon & Shuster, $30). The notorious RBG lays down some tracks.
October 11: The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, by Sebastian Mallaby (Penguin Press, $35). A much-needed critical biography of the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve who oversaw the economic collapse.
October 18: The Secret History of Twin Peaks, by Mark Frost (Flatiron Books, $30). A well-earned break from the madness of politics and a good preparation for the upcoming new Twin Peaks series.
October 25: A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life, by Pat Conroy (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $22). This new nonfiction collection comes on the heels of this much-loved writer’s death in March. OH
Scuppernong Bookshelf was written by Martha Adams-Cooper, Shannon Jones, Steve Mitchell and Brian Lampkin.