Not all political prose is literature. Here's our guide to the really good stuff
Writing a book has become pretty much de rigueur for presidential aspirants. All but two of the 17 declared candidates in the 2008 presidential race have published at least one book or have one due out soon. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is considered a second-tier candidate but is nonetheless on his second title, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a second-tier Republican, has just released his fifth. It's enough to overwhelm the most determined student of modern politics. And much of the genre, penned by ghostwriters or image-conscious candidates disinclined to reveal secrets, isn't exactly riveting. But a few of the Oval Office aspirants have put pen to paper with considerable grace and candor. Where they have not, journalists have stepped in with investigative biographies. U.S. News sifted through a dozen and a half recent titles by and about the current crop of would-be presidents to offer a guide to the season's best:
Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden
• A U.S. senator now knocked for his long-windedness, Biden was so vexed by a childhood stutter that he dreaded being called on in class and prepared scripts for such occasions. That's just one of the revelations in this book, which also places Biden among the long list of White House hopefuls who've been shaped largely by their religious faith. As a Roman Catholic school student in gritty Scranton, Pa., and, later, in the blue-collar suburbs of Wilmington, Del., Biden learns the "biblical exhortation that man has no greater love than to lay down his life for another man." With a proud father who managed a car dealership and an Irish mother who tells him he's as good as anyone, Biden wins a U.S. Senate seat at age 29 and runs for president in 1988 as a "baby boom" candidate. The book's most dramatic scenes come as allegations of plagiarism in his campaign speeches and in an earlier law school paper wreak havoc on his presidential bid. The storm hits just as he's leading the confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Biden's offer to step down from the chairmanship is rejected by fellow committee members, and Biden succeeds in torpedoing Bork's nomination. But he quickly withdraws from the presidential race. Explaining the working-class origins of Biden's brash political style, Promises to Keep makes it easier to understand why Biden is reprising his campaign amid such a crowded field.
A Woman in Charge by Carl Bernstein
• Bernstein's biggest breakthrough may lie in discerning that Hillary Clinton has a soul, and daring to look inside it. Bernstein describes the Clintons' marriage as a "dialogue of ideas and aspirations and a lasting love" and asserts that "while Bill sought solace in his familiar escapes" after the shocking letdown of 1994's Republican revolution, Hillary "read the Bible of her Methodist childhood and considered anew the explicit message of service in John Wesley's teaching." That's not to say that Bernstein has taken up softball. He illustrates how Hillary's overconfident gestures as first lady were constantly backfiring, minting new enemies and squandering opportunities for policy and political gains. She booted reporters from the West Wing upon her arrival in 1993, incurring their enduring wrath, and insisted her husband sign executive orders loosening Reagan-Bush-era restrictions on abortion during his first week in office, telegraphing a leftward lurch after Clinton's centrist presidential campaign. Still, Bernstein says the way in which Hillary most differs from her husband may now help her win his old job. She's eminently adaptable, evolving from "embattled first lady to establishmentarian senator."