Title: Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime
Author: John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Narrator: Dennis Boutsikaris
Genre: Narrative nonfiction
Acquired: Purchased through Audible
One Sentence Summary: Game Change is a gossipy, inside politics style narrative of the 2008 election, from the historic primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to the Republican vice presidential selection process, concluding with the general election between Obama and John McCain.
One Sentence Review: Game Change wonderfully captures the grand ambition and theatrical failures that come with a bid for the office of President of the United states.
Review: The 2008 election, which began with a fight-to-the-death primary for the Democrats between two historic candidates, and concluded with a whimpering fight between a two-time candidate and a political wunderkind, was memorable for many reasons. Many journalists (and people in general) at the time knew there were bigger issues at play than can be adequately explained in the daily grind of the news, but in the frenetic pace of an election cycle, those questions don’t really have time to be asked and answered.
In Game Change, authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have tried to write about this election in a way that sits somewhere between daily journalism and definitive history, and have succeeded in writing a book that captures both the grand ambition and theatrical failures of a bid for the American presidency. I thought this book was utterly fascinating, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for even minor political geeks.
Now, admittedly, there’s a level of political dorkiness you have to ascribe to in order to find stories about the campaign strategies going into the Iowa primary absorbing enough to motivate you to pack your house for an impending move. I have that level of dorkiness, so my love for this book probably isn’t surprising. But what Game Change does really, really well is convey how much human folly and human ambition plays into the decisions that govern a presidential candidacy. Stories about Obama’s astounding arrogance and Palin’s unvetted rise to national candidate mean something, even if a discussion of the electoral map leaves you yawning.
One of the things I wondered about going into the book was whether Heilemann and Halperin would write about the election in such a way that they would give away some of their own opinions about the candidates. That concern ended up being unfounded — the book pretty equally skewers every one of the major players to some degree and points out the ways the candidates’ own flaws resulted in key strategy errors along the trail. Of all the candidates, I think John Edwards (and his wife, Elizabeth) and Sarah Palin end up looking the most flawed, but I don’t think there’s anything malicious in the way Hellenmann and Halperin have written about them.
That even-handedness is probably tied to my other favorite part of this book — the level of candor Hellenmann and Halperin received from the people they interviewed. The authors conducted more than 300 extensive interviews, but all of them were on “deep background,” protecting the interview subject’s anonymity. There’s certainly things to question about this method (how to verify events or how to ensure honesty), but I agree with the authors’ assessment in the introduction that this level of anonymity was essential to tell the story as they did. This is probably the most honest political book I’ve ever read, and that’s part of what makes it great.
Truthfully, I don’t have much to say about the books narration, done admirably by Dennis Boutsikaris, or the production. Nothing in particular stuck out to me — good or bad — which is probably the sign of a narrator and producer who just stayed out of the way and let the book speak for itself (so to speak, anyway). The audio is a little on the long side, almost 15 hours, but the fact that the 2008 election is still pretty fresh makes it easy to keep track of where the book is going even with the a little extra length.
I thought Game Change was a fascinating book, and reading it now — in the gearing up phase of another major election — was a good decision for me. It’s provided a sense of realism to the campaign, and a good reminder that candidates are people who are prone to mistakes and posturing. Politics is both grand and petty, but it’s all part of what will someday be a great story.
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!