So, long term readers may remember that two years ago, I spent the autumn and early winter in Washington DC for my day job – to work on the coverage of the Midterm elections. This autumn, the pandemic has changed everything – except the Presidential election is still happening next week and I’m still interested. So in the run up, I’ve been reading books about American politics again – and here are the highlights!
Team of Five by Kate Andersen Brower
Kate Andersen Brower specialises in writing about the White House and the people who live and work in it and her latest book is a look at the relationships between ex-presidents and between the ex-presidents and the current president. Donald Trump gave the author an interview for the book, but he’s not the centre of the story. Started when there were five living ex-presidents (George H W Bush died in late 2018 but is a prominent part of the story), Team of Five looks at the relationships between Jimmy Carter, the two Presidents Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It looks at how they have dealt with the norm busting presidency of Donald Trump, but also at what you do when you’re no longer the leader of the free world and the different ways they have handled their post presidency career – from learning to paint (George W Bush) to moving back to a tiny town in Georgia and starting a foundation that has helped eradicate guinea work (Jimmy Carter). As with Andersen Brower’s books about the vice-presidents (First in Line) and the First Ladies (First Women), it is big on the interpersonal relationships and less on the policy minutea, which is mostly what I want at the moment. If you want some election reading but have read enough Trump administration books, this is the one for you
Hoax by Brian Stelter
Brian Stelter is CNN’s chief media correspondent and the host of their show Reliable Sources. This is his second book and as he’s also younger than me, I feel like a total underacheiver. Anyway Hoax is Stelter’s look at the relationship between Fox News and Donald Trump. It takes in the presidential campaign – glide down the golden staircase onwards but goes right through to the early days of the Coronavirus and how the president handled it. If you haven’t really watched much Fox News, but have heard a lot about it, this will expand your knowledge of the channel, but it also has lots of inside sources and information about that’s happening behind the scenes and how it fits into the right in the US and the Republican party. I’m not sure it’s going to make you feel better about the world, but it will help you understand the polarisation that is happening (has happened?) in the US a little better.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
After writing a heroine based on Laura Bush in American Wife, in her latest novel Curtis Sittenfeld has gone full on alternative history of a real person with a novel about what Hillary Clinton might have done if she hadn’t married Bill. In this book, Hillary Rodham breaks up with the charismatic Bill and goes on to forge her own path. There wasn’t anything in this that struck me as being wildy implausible. I haven’t read all the biographies of the two Clintons bu I have watched the recent tv documentary series about her though, and the CNN series about the Nineties, which covers the Clinton presidency and this hit all the points that you would expect and transforms some of the moments from what really did happen into events in this alternative narrative. I was *very* anxious for the last third of this book to see where this was going to end up, because several different outcomes (some much more satisfying than others) seemed possible but when I did get to the end, I felt like I had had a really satisfying and well constructed reading experience, if you know what I mean. My favourite Sittenfeld novel is still Eligible – her Pride and Prejudice retelling which is just so clever and funny (NB Rodham is not funny), but I liked this a lot and I know I’ll be recommending it and lending my copy around.
Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump
I’ve read a lot of books about the Trump Administration, and I thought I had read enough and knew everything that I was going to learn. But then President Trump’s niece wrote this book and I decided to make an exception. Mary Trump is a qualified pyschologist as well as being a member of the Trump family, and this made Too Much and Never enough a bit different from the rest of the books by journalists, ex-administration figures and the like. Now the author clearly has her own agenda and axe to grind and you need read it through that lens but with all that said it’s a fascinating look at the inner workings of the family of the 45th President of the United States. It is a lot, and I would definitely not have liked to have been a child in that family, but as far as insights into the forces that moulded Donald Trump, it’s pretty unique in terms of access and insight.
She Represents by Caitlin Donohue*
For my final pick I have gone for something completely different. This is a well put together resource for young people who want to learn more about women in politics – from across the political spectrum. It is skewed towards the US (and the author explains in the introduction that this is because that is where the book is being published), but also includes some women from the rest of the world. It looks at their policies and what they stand for – as well as if they have been involved in controversies. I thought it was a great overview that would provide a good jumping off point for more in-depth reading as well as encouraging young people to get involved in politics and activism by seeing what other people who look like them or have backgrounds similar to their own have accomplished in politics.
So there you are. Here are my top picks for election related reading this time around. You should be able to get hold of them all fairly easily from where ever you get your books from, and they’re all in ebook too. And if you’re a US citizen reading this, please remember to make your plan to vote. Every election day here in the UK, I get a text message from my mum (and she sends them to every woman in her address book I think) reminding me that women died so that I could vote. My earliest memory of elections is walking to the polling station in my village with my mum while she told me the story of Emily Davison – the suffragette who was trampled to death by the King’s Horse at the Derby in 1913 (a story that stuck with me so much that I made this video about it for General Election day 2015). So voting is important – it’s the way you show what you think of the politicians in charge and have your say.
Happy Reading – and here’s hoping that this time next week we have a result!