Saturday, 9 February 2013

Book Review: 101 ways to win an election

One of my most common complaints about any book is that all too often the point is made within 50 pages, and then there's another 200 pages of exposition which belabours all the joy out of the point. As always, I'll point to my favourite target of this criticism Malcolm Gladwell an extremely proficient thinker who has ruined several good ideas with his overly long books.

That's why Mark Pack and Edward Maxfield's 101 Ways to Win an Election is such an enjoyable experience to read. Rather than drag out a single central point this book is closer to a series of well written and thematically connected essays. It covers the full gamut of factors which must be considered in an electoral campaign, and many of the lessons are as applicable to any campaign.

I should add a disclaimer at this point, Mark was kind enough to provide me a copy of this book for the purposes of this review.

This book is an extremely comprehensive piece of analysis of political campaigning, and it's important to recognise that I mean analysis in it's true sense, it is an act of disassembly to identify the myriad components that comprise a political campaign. Of course good analysis is an enabler of the synthesist, giving them access to the components so they may be recombined into novel fashions. For me, that is the most useful feature of this book, in it's brevity it strips away all but the most illuminating anecdotes and instead focusses on the meat of the issue.

Of course synthetic thought is extremely rare in political campaigning (and frankly, is simply rare). The most entertaining story is about how the last campaign was won, an act of deconstruction, rather than hypothesising about how the next one might be, an act of taking what previously worked and rebuilding it into new forms. Political campaigns often fail for the specific reason that the team involved have prepared for the last campaign rather than confronted the new reality they have to deal with.

The book also stands nicely between the two main types of political writing, on the one hand we have the biographical pieces, which tend to focus on a single campaign and the role that key individuals played in it. These can be illuminating and entertaining but the value can be scattered throughout. They are primarily stories. On the other side of the coin are the pure theory books, which can be rather singular in their focus and often go into a level of detail which is frankly unhelpful. 101 Ways sits nicely between the two, with it's quick shifts between topic areas and relevant anecdotes.

I'd be hard pressed to find a relevant topic this book doesn't cover for at least a few moments. Some may complain that it is almost too brief, but if you want a book which covers the depth then use 101 Ways as a reference text and search for more specialised topics. This is a book I'll keep close to the centre of my political library to dip in and out of when the need arises. A highly engaging and relevant text.

1 comment:

  1. A very generous review - thank you!

    If anyone is therefore moved to buy it, various links to purchase in paper and electronic format are at