“This stuff would be really interesting if …”

RaceofalifetimeAs may be apparent from my column in The Independent on Sunday today, Peter Mandelson’s The Third Man was Another Book I Read On My Holidays. It really is very good, and I’ll return to it later (meanwhile, do read Donald Macintyre’s review here).

But I also read Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House (Game Change in the US), by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. It really is a fabulous book, which deserves to be up there in the pantheon. I didn’t think yet another book about the 2008 presidential election could be worth reading, but it is.

The one-liners alone are worth the cover price:

Hillary knows where she’s going for lunch next March. (Bill Daley, Democratic banker who knew the Clintons, explaining to Barack Obama how committed she was.)

He rejected the notion that running for president was a task suited only to the borderline mentally ill. (The authors’ paraphrase of Obama’s reasons for running, while recognising that he lacked the “pathological drive” of most candidates.)

This shit would be really interesting if we weren’t in the middle of it. (David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist.)

But what makes it a such a good book is the quality of the narrative and the believability of the human drama. If nothing else, it teaches the importance of the spouse in American politics — and I do not believe that our politics is that different. Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Cindy McCain, Judith Giuliani and Elizabeth Edwards provide an extraordinary gallery of secondary characters in this story (only Todd Palin is frustratingly absent from the narrative).

Above all, the authors have a lovely way with words and with historical irony. The passage on the domino effect of Hillary Clinton’s refusal to break her pledge to the voters of New York and run for president in 2004 — in which Chelsea Clinton is ascribed a decisive influence — is a gem:

By closing a door, she opened another, inadvertently setting off a chain reaction that would have enormous consequences for her deferred ambitions. The absence of Clinton in the race left the road clear for Kerry to stage his surprising resurgence. The stunning victory over Dean in Iowa. The landslide in New Hampshire. The knockout blow on Super Tuesday that sealed the nomination and put Kerry in a position to make a decision as unlikely as it was momentous: the tapping of an unknown Illinois state legislator to give the keynote address that summer at the Democratic National Convention.



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