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Deliciously funny and intimately observed narrative of the 2008 presidential election

"Race of a Lifetime" ("Game Change" in the U.S.) is an in-depth look at the democratic and republican primaries and the actual campaign for the U.S. presidential election 2008. Written by Time editor-at-large Mark Halperin and former The Economist journo John Heilemann, this focuses specifically on the main players in this almost shakesperian drama: Barack Obama, John McCain, John Edwards, Bill and Hillary Clinton and that enfant terrible of U.S. politics, Sarah Palin. The material for the book is taken from over threehundred interviews the two conducted during the campaign, but to keep things as candid as possible, there are no references to the sources. One could argue that this is a major flaw in a book on political history, but if everybody would have been on record, it would have likely made a dull read.

I love American politis: the sleaze, the manoevering, the partisanship, the absolutely staggering hypocrisy (especially when it comes to matters of faith and race). This is undoubtedly the best show on earth, and so I devour every book or documentary that I can get my hands on. 'Race of a Lifetime' was especially fun as it quotes generously, is peppered with four letter words and keeps a great pace. Halperin and Heilemann are not particularly sympathetic to any of the politicians and do not engage in favoritism, although the Clintons easily get the most coverage, but this is mainly due to their dramatic run through the primaries. The narrative is peppered with anecdotes that are viciously funny (e.g. the three main republican contenders standing next to each other at the urinals, cracking jokes about Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin's inability to focus on the numerous lectures prepared for her). Hillary definitely comes off better than Bill, who is often described as a bumbling bubba with a mean streak who can't help but meddle in his wife's campaign. McCain is being described as principled but politically inept, Edwards as an egotistical buffoon, Obama as overly intellectual and incredibly lucky, Hillary as tough and professional, but when it comes to Sarah Palin the authors have no remorse at all. Described as a complete airhead with a attention span of a small child this book certainly destroys her future ambitions to play a major role in republican politics, because if only a quarter of the stories about her are true, she is certainly unelectable (well, she was before, but Republicans didn't see it like that yet. Now they will).

The enormous organisations these campaigns have become are well described, with the travelling between campaign stops featuring prominently. After hours of travelling, little sleep and endless stump speeches the candidates soon get cranky and grumpy, adding to the very human picture that the authors paint. Similar detail is being devoted to the surgical dissection of the amateurish mistakes by some of the political professionals and the continuous problems that the private lifes of the actors throw up.

After hundreds of pages about ultra-cynical plys and plots, the book ends optimistic and even a bit touching with an epilogue on Obama's attempts to get Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State and how her intial conflicts are overcome by the genuine desire to serve her country.

This is the most fun I've had reading about American politics in a very long time, and I can't stress enough how you should rush out and buy this now.

It will do you good.


John Heilemann & Mark Halperin: "Race of a Lifetime"

Viking 2010

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