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review 2017-12-10 00:50
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Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years ... Dare Not Linger: The Presidential Years - Mandla Langa,Graca Machel,Nelson Mandela

Like others I had hoped we'd have more of Mandela's thoughts after reading his 'Long Walk to Freedom' and this book is the second part of his memoirs. Compiled from his notes and texts, this is based off the writing he had started but unfortunately had been unable to finish. 


Apparently he ended up writing about ten chapters about his time in office but abandoned the work. So the rest was compiled together from Mandela's notes during his term, the original draft of the work, plus additional information to give the reader context to Mandela's rise and the political and historical context of the time. Unfortunately this shows. I'm reminded of another attempt by another author to create an autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. using similar methods (compiling a text based off of the subjects words, interviews, texts, etc.). 


I understand the impulse but like the MLK book this one just can't capture Mandela either. 'Long' required a slow reading which I was fine with because Mandela made it interesting and I was interested in his story. It just doesn't quite work here, although as a reference I'm sure others will find it very valuable. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for a book like this or it's just not the right time for me.


Borrow from the library unless you are very interested in Mandela but I'd suggest you'd flip through at the bookstore/library first before deciding to buy.

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review 2017-11-18 15:09
Podcast #77 is up!
His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt - Joseph Lelyveld

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Joseph Lelyveld about his account of the last year and a half of Franklin Roosevelt's life and presidency. Enjoy!

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review 2017-07-31 17:33
Paeans to my favorite books - VII: What It Takes
What It Takes: The Way to the White House - Richard Ben Cramer

This morning I opened Facebook to see one of my friends had posted this:



Now I get why he would post something like this. Joe Biden was a popular vice president (I suspect all of those Onion memes had a lot to do with this) whose candidacy would appeal to many of those white working-class voters who voted for Donald Trump last year. But it's not going to happen: even if you set aside his age (he will be 78 in 2020), there is another major impediment that would hobble his presidential hopes.


He is a seriously flawed campaigner.


For those of you who don't believe me, I strongly recommend reading Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes. It's an account of the 1988 presidential primaries that, though a quarter-century old, has remained remarkable relevant, in no small measure due to the candidates the author chose to focus on; in addition to the eventual winners (Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush), he also followed the candidacies of Biden, Bob Dole, Gary Hart, and Dick Gephardt. Through a combination of biography and reportage he tries to understand what it was that led people to subject themselves to the grueling and often demeaning sacrifices of a presidential contest -- the campaigning, the attacks, the toll it takes on one's family and reputation. Yet it's not just the fortuitous selection of candidates (three of whom went on to become their party's nominee and two more of whom remained prominent politicians and presidential contenders for decades afterward) that makes it worthwhile reading, as Cramer's immersive approach and almost novelistic recounting of them captures many fleeting moments that offer fascinating insights when connected to the description of the personalities that he provides.


The result has been lauded as possibly the best book about political campaigning ever written, one that has inspired a generation of political journalists much as Theodore White's The Making of the President, 1960 did a generation previously, I've only read Cramer's book once (and then over two decades ago), but the understanding it provided into the people he chronicled has never left me. It's why I can say with confidence that if Biden were to run he would never get the nomination, because the things that made him so endearing as vice president (such his gaffe-prone bluster) are the same things that would derail his ambitions -- just as they did in 1988.

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review 2016-11-25 00:00
Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History
Whistlestop: My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History - John Dickerson
John Dickerson, moderator of CBS's Face the Nation and CBS News Political Director, has taken his Whistlestop podcasts broadcast on the Panoply network, and collected them into an extremely instructive and captivating history of American presidential campaigns.

His essays on specific events that affected the downfalls or victories of a number of candidates are not presented in chronological order and Dickerson doesn’t attempt to cover every election in U.S. history. In fact, his looks at campaigns that took place in the 19th century of Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, James Blaine, and Grover Cleveland appear in the last half of the book. Among the missing campaigns were those of Ross Perot, John McCain’s second run with Sarah Palin as his running mate, James Buchanan, Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, and Franklin Pierce. Of course, if every candidate made an appearance, we’d be looking at a very hefty tome or a multi-volume series.

Instead, the book is organized thematically, with Harry Truman and Bill Clinton in the “Comebacks” category, Eugene McCarthy, Ed Muskie, Howard Dean, and Michael Dukakis in “Collapses.” Dwight Eisenhower and Andrew Jackson share a section labelled “Too Close to Call.” Ironically, the last section, “Crashing the Party,” concludes the book with the third party run of George Wallace which is, echoing similar campaigns like that of Barry Goldwater in 1964, a harbinger of Donald Trump’s win this year. In fact, one message seems to be once the two party battles began in 1800, many elections since have more in common than some might believe.

Countless discussions these days focus on the divisiveness and partisanship of our politics, as if we’re now living in times markedly different from a mythological united past. However, once the factions of government began to coalesce with the elections of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, wide chasms in the electorate began to develop in ways modern voters would recognize. The Republican party, for example, had fights between extreme conservatives like Robert Taft and so-called moderates like Dwight Eisenhower long before the Tea Party and our current Congress. Image building and spin-doctoring were evident in the campaigns of Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison who wasn’t born in a log cabin, despite the myth created around him. Mudslinging began very early in the electoral process with trustworthiness and sexual misconduct means to blacken the reputations of a number of candidates long before modern finger-pointing and sanctimony.

Of course, the history Dickerson presents isn’t ground-breaking, although many of the stories aren’t widely known but should be. His entertaining writing style keeps his observations fresh and engaging and he is even-handed in pointing to the flaws, foibles, successes, and wins for both the major parties.

Clearly, political junkies will not want to miss this collection, but I think all Americans should take the time to dig into this essential round-up of past elections. It provides context for our understanding of presidential campaigns and shows how our electoral system has somewhat evolved over the past two centuries. As well as how much we haven’t evolved, or devolved, as much as we might think.

This review first appeared Nov. 24, 2016 at BookPleasures.com:

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review 2016-10-23 20:13
Honest Abe's Guide to Presidential Elections
Honest Abe's Guide to Presidential Elections - Jack Silbert,Jim Paillot

Honest Abe's Guide to Presidential Elections, by Jack Silbert, informs readers about the US election process.  It's written from the point of view of Abraham Lincoln, and covers most everything a teacher would cover, with a bit of humor thrown in.  It is written in clear and understandable language that would be a good fit for third through fifth or sixth graders. It has fun cartoon illustrations and a glossary of terms.


Honest Abe's Guide to Presidential Elections is a great book to use during a civics discussion or around election time.  Students could use what they learn from it to hold a mock presidential election in the classroom.  It also provides great topics for debates and essays. 

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