Required Reading: Modern Political Memoirs


Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has finally done it. Every cent — or pence as it were — of the nearly £5 million he received as an advance (and any resulting royalties) for his memoir A Journey: My Political Life will go to the Royal British Legion, a charity dedicated to the welfare of past and current UK servicemen and women. Though the book isn’t released until September 1 in the UK (September 2, stateside), The Guardian reports that Blair is already climbing the bestseller charts.

Political memoirs have always been popular. Time magazine has a list of the Top Ten Political Memoirs, which while historically sweeping, is not nearly as entertaining as the Washington Post‘s nominees for the “Least Accurate Memoirs.” Recently, with publishers leaning on celebrity authors for assured sales, there’s been a glut of this once honored format. Here, we walk you through a few of the biggies.

If Tony Blair’s work isn’t enough, former President George W. Bush’s book, Decision Points, arrives in your local bookstore on November 9th (to many huzzahs and harrumphs no doubt). The much-anticipated collection of the 43rd President promises never-before-heard details from Election Night 2000, the attacks of September 11th, and the thinking behind invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re here with baited breath.

One time face of the Bush Administration, Ari Fleischer’s role in the communications problems that lurked around the White House finds a little light here. He talks, predictably, about the message that was his (and, honestly, every WH Press Secretary) job to shape and disseminate. The personal aspects of this memoir are interesting, but it’s revelations about the Right v. Left, Red v. Blue spin machine are what you’ll walk away remembering.

Despite your views on the former Alaskan Governor, Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue was an unmitigated success. She topped every national bestseller list, sold more than 300,000 copies in her first day, and netted 1 million copies within a few weeks. After settling into her new role as unofficial speaker for Tea Party values and wielding a sharpened political sword through this fall’s election, she’ll hit the road to promote her new book: America by Heart due November 23rd.

A similarly successful release, William Jefferson Clinton’s hefty 1000+ page memoir covers it all. His life growing up, experiences in school and early in politics, his marriage and its trials. Former President Clinton, in the role of permanent US diplomat, continues adding to the stories of his life (watching US World Cup matches with Mick Jagger, rescuing journalists from North Korea). This will get you through both his terms and into his time off the job.

President Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father chronicles his life long before he was elected. It published only a few weeks after his lauded 2004 DNC Keynote address in Boston, and received warm reviews thanks to the emotional and personal honesty the author shared. Throughout the 2008 campaign President Obama pointed to the lessons he spoke of in this book, though it isn’t strictly speaking a political memoir.

Sure, candidate-for-President John McCain wrote this book, but that was while he was still a freewheelin’ independent (sorta). Nevertheless, Senator McCain presents a great story here. It’s remarkable in he doesn’t try to rewrite history or twist his past into some grotesque drama. The man comes from a generation of American heroes but still gave in to the hijinks you’d expect from the one-time actual maverick McCain. If John McCain never needed to run for another office, this would still be worth promoting.

George Stephanopoulos’ biggest advantage seems to have been how much he had in common with his long-time boss, President Bill Clinton. This is an accessible read that still manages to probe the bowels of the spin machine. All Too Human addresses the author’s personal life as well. From Rebekah Warren’s review, “Years of backroom scheming, screaming, and relentless political attacks took a toll…. Slammed by clinical depression, he dangerously delayed medical attention, fearing the story might leak.” Stephanopoulos’ autobiography is a good reminder: This kind of book will always be colored by the writer.

George H.W. Bush uses our favorite format in All the Best, George Bush — a collection of letters. More than any other style, this helps a reader understand what goes through a President’s head. He’s not writing a memoir, per se, or a public diary like Reagan (below). These letters are deeply personal, one writer addressing one correspondent. It’s simplicity is brilliant and thought-provoking, avoiding most of the historical edit these books frequently become.

The Reagan Diaries is a basic tick-tock of the President’s daily life. In this most forward of political memoirs, Reagan walks the reader through his presidency as the man lived it. Reflecting on meetings, world events, even days spent trying to relax, this memoir reminded us why Reagan was such a likable guy. Here, he vents and rejoices in the moments between political battles and military strategy meetings.

Missed a favorite of yours? Add to the comments thread.