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David Broder, Washington Post columnist and co-author, with Haynes Johnson, of The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point (Little, Brown, 1996).

Broder, the dean of American political journalists, says to start with the classics: "My personal favorites are The Making of the President, 1960, by Theodore White (Simon & Schuster, 1984), and Robert Penn Warren's novel All the King's Men (Harcourt Brace, 1983)." He finds the most valuable contribution in recent years to be a book by his Washington Post colleague E.J. Dionne, Why Americans Hate Politics (Simon & Schuster, 1992). "It certainly has the best title," he says. "But what makes the book really valuable is that E.J. takes seriously the most neglected element of politics-ideas-and does a brilliant job of tracing the evolution of liberal and conservative political thinking in the last five decades."

Ronald Elving, political editor of Congressional Quarterly and the author of Conflict and Compromise: How Congress Makes the Law (Simon & Schuster, 1995).

Elving recommends the Infinite Jest of campaign chronicles. "It would be remarkable if Richard B. Cramer, in his chronicle of the 1988 presidential season, What It Takes: The Way to the White House (Random House, 1993), performed the feat of entering the world of one presidential contender. But he manages to do it with six: George Bush, Robert Dole, Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart, Richard Gephardt, and Joseph Biden. The book runs to more than a thousand pages, and at times the writing verges on stream of consciousness. But Cramer's empathetic grasp of the personalities, faithfulness to facts, and depth of detail combine to convince." Elving notes that Cramer even moved to Kansas for several months to research his section on this year's Republican presidential nominee; that section has recently been published as a separate book, Bob Dole (Vintage, 1995).

James Fallows, editor of U.S. News & World Report and the author of Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy (Pantheon, 1996).

Fallows also finds What It Takes to be unmatched in making sense of the current campaign season: "No other book more convincingly explains why real human beings-which is what Richard Cramer shows George Bush, Michael Dukakis, and even Bob Dole to be-would subject themselves to the torture of a presidential campaign." His favorite book this year? Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater, by Gene Lyons (Franklin Square Press). "Lyons, a long-time resident of Little Rock, is both funny and completely merciless about the schoolboy howlers the national press has committed in interpreting Arkansas events while making 'Whitewater' a part of our lives over the last four years. Like Cramer's book, this one leaves the reader marveling at the gap between what an election might ideally concern and what issues and obstacles the candidates actually confront."

Larry J. Sabato, professor of government at the University of Virginia and the author of Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruptionin American Politics (Times Books, 1996) and Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics (Free Press, 1993).

Sabato chooses Honest Graft: Big Money and the American Political Process, by Brooks Jackson (Farragut, 1990). "Most political books lose their currency pretty quickly," he observes. "This is one of the rare ones that has grown in importance after the moment for which it was written had passed. Jackson followed around former House Democratic majority Whip Tony Coelho of California as he collected gobs of campaign cash from every interest group under the sun. Coelho bragged to Jackson about his successes, and in the process, revealed just how rotten the system has become. Nearly every technique and problem Jackson uncovered has worsened in the years since Honest Graft's publication; if we had paid more attention to Jackson's book at the time, perhaps that wouldn't be the case."

Alan Brinkley, professor of history at Columbia University and the author of The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War (Knopf, 1995).

Brinkley finds two books particularly valuable in understanding how American campaigns got to be the way they are today. One is Gil Troy's See How They Ran: The Changing Role of the Presidential Candidate in American History (Free Press, 1991), which he describes as "a perceptive and beautifully written study of how presidential campaigning has moved from a 'republican' model, which considered any active effort to win the presidency undignified, to a 'democratic' model, which considers anyone not willing to campaign actively insufficiently committed." The other is Michael McGerr, The Decline of Popular Politics: The American North, 1865-1928 (Oxford, 1986), "a persuasive account of how the culture of politics of the nineteenth century-mass popular engagement with an elaborate set of rituals, where politics was a vital part of community life-gave way to the more detached and impersonal politics of the twentieth century."

Kevin Phillips, political commentator and the author of eight books on American politics, including The Emerging Republican Majority (Anchor, 1970) and Arrogant Capital: Washington, Wall Street, and the Frustration of American Politics (Little, Brown, 1994).

Ever the acerbic populist, Phillips says, "I don't recommend most of the books about current American politics any more than I recommend current American politics. But I can heartily recommend The World Turned Right Side Up, by Godfrey Hodgson (Basic, 1996). Hodgson is an English journalist who has spent enough time watching American politics to get it pretty well right, yet also keeps distance enough to have no compunctions about telling a fundamental truth: After four decades of conservatives pulling themselves together to gain congressional control, Republican leaders let the anti-Clinton congressional victory of 1994 redefine their politics back into more or less the same business/financial/special interest dominance that had hindered them in the 1950s and 1960s."

Wilson Carey McWilliams, professor of political science at Rutgers and the author of The Politics of Disappointment: American Elections, 1976-94 (Chatham House, 1995).

"Recent elections certainly had no Joe McGinniss, whose book The Selling of the President, 1968, set the standard for outraged jeremiads against the American way of electioneering. But if my choices are more sober, they are no less useful for that. To make sense of the politics of money, the best book is probably Creative Campaigning: PACs and the Presidential Selection Process, by Anthony Corrado (Westview, 1992). To make sense out of the ideologies at stake in this year's contest, I'd go with E.J. Dionne's They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era (Simon & Schuster, 1996). Dionne argues that the present vulnerability of the Republican coalition offers progressives an opportunity to capture the 'anxious middle' of the electorate-if they free themselves from certain liberal shibboleths (like the emphasis on cultural as opposed to class issues)."

Jennifer Hochschild, professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and the author of Facing Up to the American Dream: Race, Class, and the Soul of the Nation (Princeton, 1995).

"I've been teaching the brilliant book Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics, by Edward Carmines and James Stimson (Princeton, 1989), for many years now. The authors examine myriad aspects of the electoral process-party platforms, legislative and presidential agendas, party identification, campaign rhetoric-and find that, before 1964, you couldn't really distinguish American parties in terms of their racial politics. But the Johnson/Goldwater campaign was a revolutionary moment in an evolutionary process: now, with the invention of a racial conservativism that was distinct from racism, racial opinions could be expressed through policy preferences on issues like housing, education, and deficit spending. The authors thus confirm, in impeccable scholarly fashion, the journalistic conclusion of Thomas and Mary Edsall's outstanding Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics (Norton, 1991): that views about race must be the single dominant explanation of just about everything that's happened in national politics since the Sixties."

Sean Wilentz, professor of history at Princeton, contributing editor of The New Republic, and co-author, with Paul E. Johnson, of The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford, 1994).

"Way back when," Wilentz says, "a lot of energy-and even, occasionally, literary talent-went into writing presidential campaign literature. For two illustrious examples, track down the young William Dean Howells's portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1860) and The Life of Franklin Pierce (Reprint Services, 1992), Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1852 biography of his college pal. Otherwise, aside from a few exceptional studies like C. Vann Woodward's 1951 work on the Compromise of 1877, Reunion and Reaction, the Presidentiad is best studied in terms of how The People make spectacles of themselves. For authoritative year-by-year coverage, see the essays in Running for President: The Candidates and their Images (Simon & Schuster, 1994), a beautifully illustrated, two-volume compendium edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Fred L. Israel, and David J. Frent."

--Rick Perlstein

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