So it’s Election Day, and I’m hoping that most of you are voting today or already have. Either way, it’s a good time to review some of my favorite political novels.
There are a lot, but I wanted to highlight four that you may or may not be familiar with.
Advise and Consent by Alan Drury is a classic. It is the inside story of (wait for it) a confirmation battle in the US Senate for a nominee for Secretary of State. Obviously timely, it was referenced on occasion during the recent Kavanaugh fight. It is an excellent book. that shows us that cutthroat and ruthless personal politics didn’t start with the Trumps or the Clintons or the Bushes. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie with Henry Fonda.
A second book that is also well known is The Last Hurrah. It is the story of Frank Skeffington, an old-school ward politician who runs one last time, only to find out that the world has changed when he wasn’t paying attention. It contains an interesting bit of policy analysis (kind of) about how the New Deal changed the business of ward healers, who had formerly provided assistance to the needy…for a price. This book was made into a Spencer Tracy movie.
The third book is nearly unknown. It is by Billy Lee Bratton and is considered by many to be the best political novel ever written. It’s called The Gay Place and it contains three novellas set in Texas in the orbit of an LBJ/Huey Long-like figure and in the era of “Beef, Booze and Blondes” politics in Austin. It is indeed a great book that shows the political life in the most real sense…how power and personality shape the politics, not policy.
Here’s my favorite quote:
The truly able, it appeared, had only so much time to squander on disillusion and self-analysis. Then those destructive vanities were turned round and put to the business of doing what had got to be done. The truly gifted, as opposed to the merely clever, were too busy running things to be bothered.
The fourth is a little lighter and has won no awards. It’s called the Sunday Macaroni Club…and it’s a delightful book that tells the story of a corrupt Philadelphia politician and one of his particular henchmen. If you have been in politics, you know this guy. It’s funny and it’s true. Great beach read.
Oh, I forgot All the King’s Men. And probably a bunch of other ones. But for today, there’s your reading list.