Friday, 2 April 2010

The Obama Books

Like everyone else it seems, I'm fascinated by the Obama campaign and the impressive grassroots movement that was generated around it. So far I've read two books which I think have best evaluated the campaign and I thought I'd write a few lines about each here.

The first is The Audacity to Win, David Plouffe's somewhat self congratulatory look at the campaign he managed. Beautifully written and fascinating in its depth and honesty it was an absolute pleasure to read. I found it difficult to put down.

The first half of the book is by far and away the better section. The campaign in its early stages and during the Obama v Hillary period is where many of the most innovative and impressive ideas came into their own. I think most pundits have now recognised that Obama v McCain was a forgone conclusion, particularly once Palin was involved.

The structure of the grassroots campaign has been the source of much writing, but to see it from the insider's perspective makes it fresh and interesting. So many campaigns have tried to lift these tools and have failed to generate anything like the interest Obama did. The Conservatives have tried exceptionally ha
rd to do it in the UK and so far, have met with little success.

The book is honest, accepting that much of the public support was self generating and the best contributions came from people who had no part in the official campaign. There's probably a lesson for us all there.

There is a tone of slight smugness, and a trace of arrogance to it all. But to me, thats fine. Plouffe managed to get an African American elected to the post of President. he can be as smug and arrogant as he likes. Its just a shame that the failings of the campaign arent better highlighted as an object lesson to readers who want to replicate his success and avoid the pitfalls.

The second book worthy of mention is Race of a Lifetime, by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. These two journalists had an impressive amount of access to the campaigns and gathered a huge range of sources and quotes.

The book is written almost as a political thriller, rather than an accurate record of historical fact. In many ways that makes it a lot more fun. There are torrid affairs, shouted arguments, thrills, spills and behaviour which would probably shame 8 year olds.

Its a lot more fun than Plouffe's book and it has a lot more honesty. Staff are quoted showing all the candidates, on both the Republican and Democrat sides at their best and worst. Reading about the rationale behind the Sarah Palin pick is one of the more amusing sections.

There is also a lot of material which is interesting and useful for a campaigner. Staff talk openly about how they brought (or tried to bring) people on board, and provide probably more insight than they truly meant to.

Race of a Lifetime is definately the fun book of the two. There's lots in there which is academically useful, but its also just a great read.

So there you go, my first book reviews, go forth, buy both these books, they will make you a better person.


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