What if, instead of short, online articles with shocking titles about politicians designed purely as clickbait, or news pundits who take audio snippets out of context, or twitter wars that distract from real-life issues that need attention, we actually heard about politician’s beliefs, upbringing, accomplishments, and plans?
What an idea, huh?
We could discuss where the candidates stand on the issues and point to actual actions they have taken, rather than discussing whether they, say, decided to wear a scrunchie or whether they are “electable” or “qualified.” (Let’s be real, Donald Trump was neither of those qualities and he still managed to win the presidency.)
How could we do this? Where could we learn what the politician is actually thinking? Why, in their book, of course! I find that this is one of the best ways to really get to know a candidate. Since 2016, I’ve read a handful of these books, including The Secretary: A Journey with Hillary Clinton from Beirut to the Heart of American Power by Kim Ghattas, What Happened by Hillary Clinton, This Fight is Our Fight by Elizabeth Warren, Becoming by Michelle Obama, and Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home: One Mayor’s Challenge and a Model for America’s Future.
These books are where I get a better understanding of the candidates, who are often dragged through the media mud. It’s where I learned that Hillary has a lot of diplomacy experience and that she (who was constantly criticized for not being “real”) is a book nerd who loves being a grandma, watched Downton Abbey, and eats Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. I learned that Elizabeth could afford college even though her family almost lost their house when her father had to take time off of work to recover from a stroke. Her mother got a minimum wage job at Sears and this provided enough income to keep the family afloat. Today, this isn’t possible, so Elizabeth is deeply concerned about the price of college and other financial burdens people face. I learned that Michelle worked hard to become a high-paid lawyer before she met the philosophical Barack and realized her job wasn’t as fulfilling as she’d hoped it would be. I also learned that Mayor Pete has used research and analysis to implement new strategies and technologies to improve life in South Bend, Indiana, like a program to fix up or demolish 1,000 vacant homes in 1,000 days.
While Paul Farhi, author of the 2014 Washington Post article, “Who Wrote that Political Memoir? No, Who Actually Wrote It?” would argue that these books aren’t written by the politicians themselves, but rather by a team of ghostwriters, I’m not bothered by this fact. It’s obvious to me that these very busy people don’t have months of free time to write lengthy novels. I’m more concerned with the information presented inside and the impression I get. If I had to sum up Hillary, Elizabeth, Michelle, and Pete in one word, it would be “smart.” These four are incredibly well-educated, insightful, reflective, and service-driven. Their intentions seem to be coming from the right place, and they align with my own values.
That’s not to say that political books are “fun” or easy to read. In fact, I find myself moving at a snail’s pace through these fact-heavy, name-dropping books. I don’t know what it is about nonfiction, but the books always feel 100 or 200 pages too long! Walt Hickey from FiveThirtyEight.com found Audible.com data on how far people listened into 24 different political books. In most cases, readers only made it to around 50%. These lengthy books turn into 10 or even 20+ hours of audiobook, so it’s no wonder people can’t read them all.
My Advice on Political Nonfiction:
- Challenge yourself to pick up a political read, even if it’s not something you’ve read before. Bonus points for reading a book about a candidate currently running for president. Extra bonus points if it’s for a person on the other side of the aisle from you.
- Remember that nonfiction is broken up into chapters, so you can jump around to sections that interest you the most. Dense, statistics-heavy sections may appeal to some readers, but are easily skimmable or skippable for others.
- Share what you’ve learned with other people. Often, things you’re reading about aren’t covered in the mainstream media. For instance, did you know that South Bend, Indiana, has ShotSpotter technology, which uses “microphones to acoustically pinpoint gunshots” so that officers can “be immediately dispatched to the scene of a shooting…whether someone called it in or not” (Shortest Way Home)? Why have I never heard of this before? I’m certain Milwaukee, Wisconsin – not far from where I live – could benefit greatly from this technology. Now I’ll have to do some further reading to find out more about the technology and its effectiveness.
In Pete Buttigieg’s book, I’ve already added eight notes and 110 highlights on my kindle, and I’m only 54% of the way through! My library loan will end before I’m done reading the book, but I’m already so impressed by Mayor Pete that I intend to keep up with his campaign and talk him up whenever I am given a chance. While I’ve seen Pete on TV and online, I didn’t get the amount of clear, focused information that I received from his book.
Have you tackled any political reads? Do you plan on picking up a politician’s book any time soon?