A must-read for politics junkies, with plenty of lessons on how not to run a campaign.



A probing history of the 2020 presidential race.

Building on Shattered, their excellent account of Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 campaign, Allen and Parnes attribute much of the success of the Biden campaign to a combination of fortuitous events. In some ways, Biden was a weaker candidate than Clinton, as his age, demeanor, and tendency to make faux pas statements weighed against him. Though the race was tighter than any Democratic campaigner would have liked, Biden’s opponent was Donald Trump, whose character flaws and scandal-plagued administration far surpassed any of Biden’s shortcomings. For instance, though Trump was advised countless times to attempt to show empathy for the victims of the pandemic, which he repeatedly called a hoax, he refused to do so for fear of appearing weak. Trump also believed that “there were millions of Trumpsters out there who just hadn’t voted for him yet.” He may have had a point, but Biden still beat him by 7 million votes. Biden’s good fortune also owed to the failings of those who faced him in the primary, and, as the authors clearly show, it was the result of significant effort on the parts of Black organizers and voters, particularly Stacey Abrams, who emerges here as a superbly effective political savant who withheld her endorsement of Biden until it was clear that he would be the candidate. Other news in these pages: Though Barack Obama proclaimed Biden as his brother, the authors write that he “had worried that his friend would embarrass himself on the campaign trail” and didn’t call to congratulate him until the networks finally declared the election on Nov. 7. In the end, in 2020, Biden “caught every imaginable break.” As one staffer noted, “if President Trump had just acknowledged there was a virus, even midway in August or September, acknowledged this is a fucked-up situation, and pivoted, we would have gotten crushed.”

A must-read for politics junkies, with plenty of lessons on how not to run a campaign.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-57422-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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