The Best Books on the American Political Process

With the American election upon us, the media will be full of stories from the campaign trail and deep analysis of what the election might mean for international relations and the global economy. For those students currently studying for their A-Levels – regardless of what subjects they are doing – this will likely be the first American election they will have watched closely. They will see a campaign that is brutal, often unpleasant, but where the stakes are incredibly high both for America and the rest of the world. What are the best books that can help students understand the political process as it is in America and what is likely to follow? We asked a political consultant for their views, and this was their suggestions.

Hardball – Chris Matthews

Not well known in the UK, Hardball is an accessible handbook that explains how power really works behind the scenes. Set around a series of key principles – like the art of compromise – it has barely dated since its publication in the late 1990s.

Buck Up, Suck Up… – James Carville & Paul Begala

Written by two legendary Democrat consultants who ran Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, Buck Up, Suck Up… explains the principles behind successful campaigns. While clearly a work of the 1990s, its primary lessons remain relevant.

All the Kings Men – Robert Penn Warren

Some say this is the best political novel ever written. It tells the story of a cynical Southern populist Governor and how he maintains power and influence in the state. It isn’t one to inspire people about political motivations, but it’s a useful insight into what people will do to cling to power.

The Power of the Vote – Douglas Schoen

Written by a veteran pollster, the book provides an insight into how political campaigns and Governments too have come to rely on polling to dictate their actions.

The Audacity to Win – David Plouffe

This is the inside account of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 victory, told from the perspective of the campaign manager. Sophisticated even for political insiders, this is still a book that non-specialists will find useful.

The Political Brain – Drew Westen

The extent to which political campaigns try to move voters emotionally is not sufficiently appreciated. It’s a hugely dominant theme in American campaign life. Westen’s book explains how campaigns do this and why they take it so seriously.

The Selling of the President – Joe McGinniss

For most of the last 50 years, TV has dominated US elections – only now being challenged by the power of web. This classic account of President Nixon’s victory shows how campaigns have often been built on the ability to project image via TV.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Joe Trippi

Trippi’s book about Howard Dean’s web-focused campaign for the Presidency was revolutionary when it came out nearly a decade ago but will feel like a museum piece for young people. That said, it explains the origins of digital campaigning and the hope that many had for its ability to reconnect people with politicians.