"Game Change" is easily the most riveting and unputdownable book of the winter 2010 season.
The basics of the story we already know. Even if you didn't pick up a newspaper or watch TV in 2008, you are familiar with the main characters in this drama: an upstart politician with limited national experience, a seasoned First Lady, the maverick, the unknown political phenom and the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and his cancer-stricken wife. This was the playing field in the race for the land's highest office. We also know the ending. But what makes "Game Change" so fascinating is the in-depth story behind the story.
The success of the book is largely due to authors John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's treatment of their subjects as flesh and blood, fully dimensional human beings. As someone who watched the campaign with interest, I remember what happened. What I often wondered about is why it happened.
"Change" answers those questions and more.
What made Obama feel like this was his time? Answer: He had a lot of backroom prodding from fervent yet undercover supporters in the Washington ranks plus a true sense of destiny.
Why did Hilliary really cry in New Hampshire? Answer: Just before that press junket, a senior campaign official suggested she throw in the towel.
Why did McCain pick Palin? Answer: It was a risk-taking choice and one he thought his party would celebrate him for.
For me, the most intriguing aspect about the book was the ability to look at the three main players - Obama, Clinton and McCain - and see their overall narrative arc. Despite their images as clear-headed leaders, Clinton and McCain come off as indecisive and hesitant. Obama was not the perfect candidate when he threw his hat in the ring. But he was someone who was dedicated to being open and learning as he trudged down the year-long path to the White House. He became a better candidate as he went along and it's this capacity for intellectual and emotional growth which makes him the hero of this story and, ultimately, of the election.
The book's most stinging rebuke is left entirely for former U.S. Senator John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth. The authors say they interviewed hundreds of staffers, who obviously based on the information gleaned here, want to remain anonymous. The details of the Edwards' downfall is staggering and sad. For someone who inspired a great deal of promise, their footnote in history will go down as one of ego and selfishness. If you're just interested in that bit of the story, read NY Magazine's fascinating excerpt. (A shout out here to Katherine Johnson, who first pointed out this tidbit to me!)
The chapters on Palin don't add anything more to what we already know- the botched Katie Couric interview, her complete lack of brain stuffing and those infamous Tina Fey impressions -but further makes readers certain that she was clearly not fit to hold the highest office in the land, if circumstances had come to that.
"Game Change" is a must read for anyone who wants to examine the forces that shape our political leaders. It's an unputdownable read and the fact that this tale is true, makes it even more potent.
I'm looking forward to their next collaboration, which I hope is the president's first year in office.
"Game Change" is available at booksellers everywhere. Tune in tomorrow for my interview with the authors!