by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
No doubt Sarah Palin’s best-selling biography, “Going Rogue,” is going to be under a lot of trees this Christmas (hint, hint, Santa). But in case your favorite political junkie has already gone rogue, here are some other suggestions for those folks on your list with a political bent.
One of the best political books of all time is “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72” by Hunter S. Thompson. The book is a collection of Thompson’s Rolling Stone magazine articles covering the ’72 presidential race, from the primaries to the McGovern campaign’s implosion and Nixon’s victory.
Thompson is most famous for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” in which he introduced his “Gonzo” style of journalism to the world, but “Trail ’72” is his best work. In it, Thompson describes the motivations, misfortunes and dirty tricks involved in high-stakes campaigns without any extra polish or political correctness. It is campaign politics uncensored.
Staying true to his Gonzo style — generally described as a story in which the writer plays a central role — Thompson spends a fair amount of time describing his own travails on the road, from desperately trying to think of something to write only an hour before his deadline to the difficulties of supporting his drug habits while traveling from town to town.
Regardless of his tendency to ramble off on tangents, Thompson provides one of the most realistic looks inside a national political campaign that has ever been written. This nearly 40-year-old book is still in print and is available as a new paperback for $16.
Every year Public Affairs Press publishes a collection of the best political writing from the past year. Aptly titled “Best American Political Writing 2009,” this year’s edition brings together the best political stories from July 2008 to June 2009, which covers some incredible events: the presidential campaigns, the economic crisis, foreign policy challenges and changes, and President Barack Obama’s first six months in office.
Royce Flippin is the editor for this book series and does an excellent job of compiling stories across the political spectrum written by the best political writers of our time. This paperback is available new for $17 from local booksellers.
One of the best political books to come out of Missouri is by Columbia’s own David Leuthold. In “Campaign Missouri 1992,” Leuthold, with substantial assistance from his wife and partner, Carolyn Leuthold, summarizes a series of post-election roundtables with the winning and losing campaigns of 1992 as well as the major issues of the election. If you want to understand why Missouri politics are the way they are today, this book is a must-read. In fact, a lot of the same players who were involved in 1992 are still around today.
Today he is a congressman and a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010, but in 1992, Roy Blunt was the outgoing secretary of state and the loser in the Republican gubernatorial primary, which was won by then-Attorney General Bill Webster.
Webster went on to lose in November to Mel Carnahan — the father of Robin Carnahan, the other prominent candidate for U.S. Senate in 2010 — and then went on to the federal penitentiary shortly thereafter.
Webster might very well have been governor if his complex scheme of raising campaign cash through the Missouri Second Injury Fund hadn’t been exposed largely by then-Post-Dispatch reporter Terry Ganey, who by some miracle now reports for the Tribune. “Campaign Missouri 1992” provides the back-story for much of today’s Missouri politics.
1992 was also a year in which Democrats stuck together and ran a coordinated campaign up and down the ticket, helping each other and their party become victorious. Reading Leuthold’s book assures me that this can happen at least once in a century. I hope I live long enough to see it happen again.
Unfortunately, “Campaign Missouri 1992” is out of print and a little harder to find. I have found it at several local used bookstores and online. A copy in new condition sells for $6 to $8.
If you are interested in politics, hopefully you’ll find one of these books in your stocking come Christmas.