Wanna Know Washington? Read These 5 Memoirs
Politicians certainly know their way with words, it’s a necessary talent if you want to get far in a field that depends on your ability to control and build people’s perception of your capabilities. They’re also good at networking, i.e. finding that perfect set of speech writers, and for autobiographies, ghost writers.
It’s for this reason perhaps that political autobiographies and biographical pieces are so popular, that and the PR advantage that comes with publishing a personal memoir. With 2016 coming up, it’s almost customary to write an autobiography, publish it, and go on a book tour, as we’ve seen Hillary Clinton do recently. If you’re not politically worn out in the wake of midterm elections, there are a number of more recent autobiographical works with a political edge, and here are just a few.
1. Hillary’s Hard Choices
It makes the most sense to start with the previously mentioned autobiography — Hard Choices — from Hillary Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate. The book is of particular note because it goes into her time as Secretary of State, a controversial time in her political career given the Benghazi scandal.
She has said that the book is for those “who want to understand how leaders and nations can work together and why they sometimes collide, and how their decisions affect all our lives: How a collapsing economy in Athens, Greece, affects businesses in Athens, Georgia. How a revolution in Cairo, Egypt, impacts life in Cairo, Illinois,” and so on. She has said very clearly that it’s not a work intended for an audience of “followers of Washington’s long-running soap opera,” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have implications followed closely by critics. If nothing else, it’s a good read for those wanting to know a little bit more about someone who might be the Democrats’ presidential candidate in less than two years.
2. President Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father
President Obama’s autobiographical work, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was published in 1995 when he was getting ready to run for the Senate in Illinois. The story follows his journey as the son of a black father from Africa, and a white mother from the United States, and his self-discovery through learning about his parentage and family history. It also touches on his time in school, his personal thoughts and important events of his life.
The book has been republished since its original publication date, with an added forward after he was elected to the Senate, which perhaps he might stand by today. “I have the urge to cut the book by 50 pages or so, possessed as I am with a keener appreciation for brevity. I cannot honesty say, however, that the voice in this book is not mine — that I would tell the story much differently today than I did 10 years ago, even if certain passages have proven to be inconvenient politically, the grist for pundit commentary and opposition research.”
And it has indeed served just that purpose, even being used as proof that the president has an inherent chilly and anti-social personality that makes congressional schmoozing difficult — a particularly relevant argument given recent Senate results.
3. Sharyl Attkisson’s Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obsruction, Intimidation, and Harrassment in Obama’s Washington
If you can get through the title, which is somewhat less than succinct, the book offers a look into the reporting news industry in Washington and Sharyl Attkisson’s time at CBS as an investigative journalist facing opposition and privacy encroachment as a result of her work on controversial or scandalous items in the Obama Administration.
The books starts out with Attkisson’s computer turning itself on, and continues into the implications of surveillance and government involvement in the press. It’s critical of both authorities and publications, and doesn’t pull its punches.
4. Leon Panetta’s Worthy Fights
An account written by former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, the autobiographical work, co-written with Jim Newton, goes into his time in the position and his efforts on behalf of the effort to find Osama Bin Ladin, among other missions.
“Worthy Fights is Panetta’s addition to the Cabinet bookshelf, and it’s very readable,” writes the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, going on to describe the sometimes critical tone of the book. “Panetta confides that he thought Obama was wrong on some key decisions, just as Gates and Clinton did in their memoirs.” For those interested in a critical take on Obama and an inside look at intelligence logistics, Panetta’s book may be worth a read.
5. George W. Bush’s 41: A Portrait of My Father
While not strictly autobiographical, George W. Bush’s book about his father is in ways a portrait of himself in the sense that any book written about family and politics in the Bush family will likely be highly personal, and subject to his own perspective.
Less recently, the younger Bush wrote his own memoir, Decision Points, on his time as president. Now that he’s out of politics, there’s a great deal of opportunity for insight into the former politician, from his rather interesting paintings to his written works.
More Politics Cheat Sheet:
- 4 Election Films for Political Junkies
- Protests, Elections, and More: 5 Most Political Cities in the U.S.
- Ready for Hillary? Here’s What ‘Hard Choices’ Didn’t Tell Us
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS