What to Read during an Election Year: Campaigns, Primaries, Spin, and Just the Facts

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Some Georgia Tech faculty members and librarians have recommended books that may help make sense of the 2016 presidential election – through the lens of previous elections.

The recommendations range from books on the strategizing and deal-making of modern-day campaigns to a nonpartisan book of election facts and figures dating back to 1789.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 

By Hunter S. Thompson, Straight Arrow Books, 1973

 “This book is an inspired chronicle of the presidential race that rivaled the inanity of the 2016 election season — as seen through a chemical haze and the jaundiced eye of Hunter S. Thompson. The book is a compilation of the many articles the inimitable Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone magazine while covering the 1972 presidential campaign between President Richard M. Nixon and Senator George S. McGovern. His nearly stream-of-consciousness writing centers on the Democratic Party battles – including the infighting to try to block McGovern’s nomination, the hoopla leading to the replacement of Eagleton as the vice presidential candidate due to mental health treatments, and the catastrophic defeat to Nixon. His stories are often vulgar, always humorous, and perhaps not always 100 percent based in fact. Yet, McGovern aide Frank Mankiewicz has been credited with calling Thompson’s tome ‘the least accurate and most truthful’ book about the race. It’s definitely a wild ride through the political landscape of the ‘72 campaign, and a very fun read in 2016.” 

— Lori Ostapowicz Critz, assistant dean, Collection Strategies, Georgia Tech Library 

A Mindful Nation

By Tim Ryan, Hay House, 2012

“Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio’s 17th district is an outlier in an era of ‘scorched earth’ politics and instant commentary. In A Mindful Nation, Ryan describes his personal and professional experience with mindfulness meditation, and how this practice could have a transformative impact in arenas as diverse as education, health, support for military veterans, and even the economy. The claims in his book are supported by an increasing number of research studies suggesting that mindfulness and related social-emotional practices can indeed improve some outcomes in education and health. The chapter on integrating mindfulness practice into educational settings is particularly inspiring since Ryan eloquently connects emotional states of children in stressful environments with the capacity for learning and retention. Mindfulness is by no means a panacea for the complex, entrenched problems facing the nation, but Ryan’s book suggests this simple practice could have substantial benefits across a range of public policy domains.”

— Ameet Doshi, subject librarian for Public Policy, Georgia Tech Library

Simpler: The Future of Government

By Cass Sunstein, Simon and Schuster, 2013

“I have read [several books on elections], but the most important is Simpler by Cass Sunstein. Sunstein is a legal scholar and former head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has used the breakthroughs in behavioral economics to improve government. Sunstein discusses the importance of crafting policy and law that takes these progressions into account, but he also focuses on efficiency in government. He recommends evidence-based policy through cost-benefit analysis and randomized controlled trial on every policy.”

— Seth M. Porter, co-coordinator of Library Instruction and Social Sciences Librarian, Georgia Tech Library

Presidential Elections: 1789-2008

Published by CQ Press. (The latest of these is 2009, with no update for the 2012 election.)

“With the spirit of impartiality as my guide, I recommend Presidential Elections: 1789-2008. This volume is essentially a book focused on facts as recorded — with less editorial slanting than others. It is for election geeks, or those who like to swim in facts and figures. Unlike many other political or election writings, this is not a narrative story. Unfortunately, many of the ‘narratives’ inevitably begin to tilt toward the author’s political bent. For example, they portray one side or the other as the bad/good boys and girls or purposefully/accidentally demonize the proverbial opposition. So, again, for the nonpartisan perspective, I’d suggest this one.” 

— Scott W. Braley, instructor, School of Building Construction  

And three recommendations from Richard Barke, associate professor, School of Public Policy: 

The Making of the President, 1960

By Theodore H. White, Atheneum Publishers, 1961 

“White won the Pulitzer Prize for his account of the Kennedy/Nixon campaign. In some ways, it’s a reminder of how politics worked before television dominated the campaigns: strategizing and back-room deals, for sure, but also personal connections and concerns about nuanced issue positions.”

The Selling of the President 1968

By Joe McGinniss, Trident Press, 1969

“This account of the 1968 election puts today’s campaigns into perspective: the focus on television images, the beginning of the influence of Roger Ailes (then a producer of The Mike Douglas Show and, until recently, the power behind Fox News), and how the low opinion media aides have of the American public translates into campaign strategies.”

The Boys on the Bus

By Timothy Crouse, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003 (first published in 1973)

“This brief and entertaining book reveals the emergence of modern political campaign strategies during the Nixon/McGovern contest, especially some early attempts at the ‘spin’ manipulation that now characterizes our election campaigns. The book is serious but also sometimes hilarious. It’s still used as a text in journalism courses.”


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Kristen Bailey
  • Created:11/07/2016
  • Modified By:Victor Rogers
  • Modified:11/08/2016