Run for President

By Chris Breitenbach

What in the world drives somebody to actually want to be President of the United States? Ambition, sure, but a level of hubris not found in most. Here is a selection of books exploring this strange, seemingly all-consuming quest to reach the White House.

  • The Making of the President, 1960

    2009 by White, Theodore H.

    White’s book is the urtext of all the modern day campaign narratives, creating a new genre and offering a template for intimate, behind the scenes access to candidates and surrounding it with anecdotes, interesting supporting characters and a finely honed story. With this book White captured the heartbeats of the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns.

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  • Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800

    2004 by Ferling, John E.

    It’s a small measure of relief to know that even our romanticized “Founding Fathers” were not above the character smearing, scandal fanning, and downright vicious attacks we see in our modern elections. Ferling does a wonderful job detailing this bruising political battle on the threshold of a new, teetering nation.

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  • The Selling of the President

    1988 by McGinniss, Joe

    This classic of American presidential politics is a riveting chronicle of how Roger Ailes (yes, that Roger Ailes!), helped package and sell Richard Nixon during the 1968 elections. McGinniss was perhaps the first journalist to demonstrate how elections can be more about a candidate's performance than their ideology.

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  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln

    2005 by Goodwin, Doris Kearns

    One of the many delicious ingredients Goodwin covers in her Pulitzer Prize winning work of history is Lincoln’s surprise nomination at the 1860 Republican Convention. And, of course, how Lincoln, shrewd politician he was, brought three of his rivals for that hotly contested nomination into his cabinet.

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  • The Passage of Power

    2012 by Caro, Robert A.

    The fourth volume of Caro’s epic, exhaustively researched biography of Lyndon B. Johnson details his tragic rise to the executive office after the assassination of JFK. Caro provides an immersive, complex portrait of one of the 20th centuries most wily, fascinating, and larger-than-life politicians.

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  • Reaganland: America's Right Turn, 1976-1980

    2020 by Perlstein, Rick

    Perhaps nobody has offered a more in-depth chronicling of American conservatism in the postwar era than Rick Perlstein. The focus isn’t on Reagan’s run for president in 1980 so much as it is a look at the Gipper's place during the Carter years and the conditions that swept Reagan to eventual victory.

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  • What It Takes: The Way to the White House

    1992 by Cramer, Richard Ben

    Following the 1988 elections, Richard Ben Cramer wrote this sprawling, hilarious, heartbreaking, and compulsively readable account of “what it takes” to run for President. Almost 30 years from its original publication, nobody else has come close to the sheer ambition, style, and intelligence Cramer brings to the genre. There is no book on elections that has come even remotely close to this one. The best.

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  • Too Close to Call: The Thirty-six-day Battle to Decide the 2000 Election

    2001 by Toobin, Jeffrey

    Sometimes presidential elections keep going even after the vote. Toobin’s book is a riveting, queasy analysis of the 36 post-election days when one of the most vital linchpins of representative democracy was challenged and, arguably, forever damaged. Bonus: Hanging chads!

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  • What Happened

    2017 by Clinton, Hillary Rodham

    Of course, each presidential election is a binary--one person wins, the other loses. And there’s a small but growing tradition of books written by the loser. An autopsy of sorts, a work of self-help, an act of resilience. Clinton’s book, written after winning the popular vote by almost 3 million votes but losing the electoral college, is a heartfelt, smart work exploring, well, “what happened.”

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