The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library

Books That Take You Behind the Scenes of a Presidential Campaign

Posted 10/14/20 by Eric P

The only compulsion more essentially human than the drive to acquire power is the drive to write about the people trying to acquire power. And that’s how we came to have the presidential campaign book, one of the only segments of the publishing industry that’s as robust as Amish romance and high school vampires.

If you’ve been mainlining the national news for the past nineteen months, presidential campaigning may be the last thing you want to read about right now. But getting the inside dirt on past campaigns – whether it’s coming from historians, journalists who followed candidates on the trail, or other involved parties – can offer some context for the things that are happening now, and the things that will happen next time around.

Cover of A Magnificent Catastrophe

A Magnificent Catastrophe
By Edward J. Larson

Book on CD

If you think the current political climate is tumultuous, you should’ve been around for the election of 1800, which included an acrimonious campaign, a months-long voting season, disputed ballots, and an electoral college tie. And then everyone sang about delegates. Or maybe that last part only happened in Hamilton.

Cover of The Making of the President, 1960

The Making of the President, 1960
By Theodore H. White

The Making of the President 1964   |   The Making of the President 1968   |   The Making of the President 1964

White’s monumental book, which follows the Kennedy-Nixon race from the primaries through election night, won the Pulitzer and guaranteed that campaign books would proliferate on library and bookstore shelves until the end of time. In other words: blame him. In fact, White wrote some sequels of his own, including a couple – The Making of the President 1964 and The Making of the President 1968 – that you can find on our shelves or on hoopla.

Cover of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72
By Hunter S. Thompson


But then, Theodore White was a distinguished journalist. Maybe you’d prefer the narcotically enhanced perspective of a gonzo anti-authoritarian. In that case, Thompson’s chronicle of Nixon’s reelection campaign is the book for you.

Cover of The Boys on the Bus (1972)

The Boys on the Bus (1972)
By Timothy Crouse

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Covering the same campaign as Thompson – in fact, Thompson’s a character in this book too – and arguably even more influential than White’s book is this one: a fly-on-the-wall (or, I guess, fly-on-the-bus) reporter’s-eye view of the campaign trail, a treatment that helped transform campaign journalists from anonymous scribes into recognizable personalities. Reportedly, the same dynamics described in this book still persist among campaign reporters today, with the significant difference that nowadays many, or most, of them aren’t boys – as some of the authors later on this list demonstrate.

Cover of What it Takes

What it Takes
By Richard Ben Cramer

hoopla eBook   |   hoopla eAudio

This is both an exhaustively researched account of the 1988 primaries and a blast-from-the-past time capsule of formerly boldfaced names like Dukakis and Dole and Gephardt. Remember those guys? (If you answered “No,” then I’m sorry to report that you’re young and you’re supposed to be on TikTok right now.)

Cover of Game Change (2010)

Game Change (2010)
By John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

eBook   |   hoopla eBook   |   hoopla eAudio   |   Large print   |   Book on CD

Though its legacy has since been tarnished by the sexual-harassment allegations leveled against Halperin, Game Change is still an intensely readable narrative of the 2008 election’s explosive twists and turns. Its revelations irritated the teams of both Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, which probably means it’s doing something right.

Cover of Shattered

By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes


Speaking of making people mad, Shattered did not please most of the people working on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign with its unflattering descriptions of a dysfunctional team in disarray.

Cover of Chasing Hillary

Chasing Hillary
By Amy Chozick

eBook   |   hoopla eAudio   |   hoopla eBook:

Chozick’s first-person account of covering Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign is personable and often funny, and it offers a keenly individualized depiction of the tensions between a presidential campaign’s staff – depicted here in a highly unflattering, and usually amusing, light – and the reporters covering them.

Cover of Unbelievable

By Katy Tur

eBook   |   eAudiobook   |   hoopla eBook   |   hoopla eAudio

Tur, also an endearing and insightful narrator, offers a memoir that’s similar to Chozick’s but from aboard the other bus. She started covering the Donald Trump campaign in June 2015, in an assignment she thought might last a couple months but turned into a yearlong rollercoaster. The resulting relationship between the candidate and the reporter he called “Little Katy” generates some striking insights.

Though these are some of the most notable books in our collection that shine a light on the lively and often distasteful process of presidential campaigning, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Not only do most candidates eventually generate self-serving accounts of their own campaigns, but each successive election brings with it an avalanche of tomes that multiply in number exponentially over those from the previous election. Soon there will be more behind-the-scenes campaign titles in the world than a beach has grains of sand, and they’re not going to read themselves. Your mission is clear: start reading now.