Very sad about the loss of Richard Ben Cramer. Since I may have an Oy Bai post in the works for later, I figured that I should write something nice about political journalists, first. I wrote in more detail about What It Takes a while ago, in which I called it “by far my favorite campaign book ever,” and Seth reposted his appreciation today.

So in the spirit of that, how about a list of great books by reporters about American politics? Especially books not about presidents. We have lots of great books about presidents. But I am looking here for books about politicians, electoral politics, government…that sort of politics. There are, of course, any number of wonderful books which are very much about “politics” in a broader sense, and I fully agree that a proper treatment of politics would include those; they just aren’t my list here. No particular order, but the top two are particularly wonderful.

Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes.

Garry Wills, Nixon Agonisties. Okay to count Wills as a reporter here? I think so. This is, by the way, the same top two that James Fallows mentioned today…he wasn’t narrowing it to books by reporters, by the way. I haven’t read anything by Wills that wasn’t worth it yet, but this is perhaps his best: 1968, mostly through the presidential election. And, of course, Nixon.

Alan Ehrenhalt, The United States of Ambition. Local politicians. Great reporter, great topic.

Robert Caro, The Power Broker. Well, you know about this one.

John Barry, The Ambition and the Power. Jim Wright and his House. Dated, I suppose, but still a great story, well told.

Fred Emery, Watergate. Had to include this one, no?

John Jacobs, A Rage for Justice. Another House one — a biography of Phil Burton.

David Marannis and Michael Weisskopf, “Tell Newt to Shut Up!” Much lighter (and shorter!) than Barry’s book on Wright, but still with plenty of great stories.

That’s eight; I’ll stop there, I think.

I want to say something smart about reporters, political scientists, and Richard Ben Cramer, but I think I’ll just leave it at saying that What It Takes is absolutely terrific, and that after twenty years of watching the six candidates, I still see them more than anything through his descriptions — and still haven’t detected a false note in those descriptions. Even if it didn’t have any larger lessons to tell, and I think it does, that’s an amazing accomplishment.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.