I’d normally say that a reader’s awareness of how clever writers are and how many eloquent, too-clever words they use is a sign of the writers trying too hard and of their pomposity. But nothing’s further from that truth with John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Race of a Lifetime: How Obama Won the White House. In fact, the only reason I noticed their extensive and impressive vocabulary was because it was so simply used, and so many less-common, but no-less-beautiful words were slotted in so effortlessly and eloquently into the pages of this 430-ish page book.
I found myself dog-earing pages and making mental notes to find a way to use such words. Of course, they all escape me now, but having read this mighty book, I’m all too conscious of my apparently limited writing and speaking vocabulary.
The writers employing such words are of the accomplished New York magazine and Time, respectively, with such other publication notches to their names as the New Yorker, the Economist, Wired, and ABC News. I know that years of writing for these esteemed publications has honed their craft and extended their knowledge, with words gathering to them like magnets over time. But it’s also their turn of phrase—simple, direct, active, keenly observed that makes the words, grouped together, so powerful.
Race of a Lifetime was recommended to me by one of my best friends—someone who knows how voraciously I read and who doesn’t often feel comfortable pointing me in the direction of books. The glowing endorsement she gave combined with the intriguing concept of the book told me I absolutely had to read it.
The culmination of hundreds of interviews with key players—both on and off the record—and filled with inside information that can only be obtained through long-held and strongly-forged professional relationships, Race of a Lifetime is perhaps the most comprehensive and most compelling look at the race between Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and a host of other players such as John Edwards.
It’s fast-paced and thrilling, with Heilemann and Halperin making you feel as though you’re not only inside the room, you’re inside the players’ heads. Having read it voraciously for three days straight, including on a notoriously attention-sapping long-haul plane ride, I can hand-on-my-heart say (fitting given it’s a book that looks largely at American patriotism and precisely what it takes to commit yourself wholly to a process and country to win a game-changing presidential race) that Race of a Lifetime is stellar. And I say that as someone who’s not overly interested in (and who is incredibly frustrated by) politics and the guff that goes around it.
Heilemann and Halperin convey the tension, the emotion, and the details of the history-making pre-selection and presidential candidature process that saw the USA recently elect its first African American president. The campaign was long, arduous, and at times funny, and I feel as though I know Obama, the Clintons, McCain, and Palin more intimately and more truthfully than ever before.
The bulk of the book’s content concentrates on the at-times-vicious race for Democratic party endorsement between Obama and Clinton, as well as Bill’s at-times-crazy contributions to it. The latter third of the book introduces McCain and the woman who was both fascinating and like watching an only-in-America train wreck: gun-toting former beauty queen Palin. The examinations of each candidate aren’t always flattering—in fact, I do wonder if they’re these days trying to work out who leaked what to whom and when—but are simultaneously humanising and intriguing.
We see just how difficult, extensive, and hard-fought the battle was between Obama and Clinton—leading me to marvel at the kind of miracle that either of them made it over the line still standing in spite of their exhaustion. We understand the complexity of the media-drenched, fundraising-driven process that appears, to largely disinterested and objective outside observers like me, quite befuddling. And of course, we catch a glimpse of an answer into what McCain was thinking in selecting the off-the-wall Palin as his running mate. I could tell you, but that would ruin it for you. Instead I’ll simply say you should definitely read Race of a Lifetime to find out for yourself. It may have been the race of a lifetime. I’d say it’s the read of one too.