4 great political books you've never heard of

The 2012 presidential campaign sure has been a humdinger. Some folks might even think it's the most, um, humdinger-iest campaign ever. If only. American campaigns have always been full of high drama, low blows, and the best free entertainment this side of Hollywood gossip. I contacted several well-known historians and asked them to name their favorite not-well-known-but-still-awesome book about American politics or a particular campaign. Their answers are below. Each book offers modern readers a chance to discover how much – and how little – things have changed.

1. 'Adams vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800,' by John Ferling

Modern readers will find much here that sounds familiar, from absurd lies spread by both sides (Federalists charged that if elected, Jefferson would seize and burn Bibles) to political chicanery (Alexander Hamilton attempted to manipulate the electoral outcome so that a vice presidential candidate would come out ahead). Had word arrived more quickly that the increasingly unpopular war with France had ended, Adams might well have won. The story is especially sad since the two men were old friends and revolutionary comrades who worked together on the Declaration of Independence. The contest was so bitter that Adams left Washington rather than watch Jefferson be sworn in. They would not speak again for more than a decade. Ferling has an elegant and clear prose style, so this is one academic book that all readers will enjoy.

– Douglas R. Egerton, author of "Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election That Brought on the Civil War."

(You can read my review of Egerton's book here and my interview with Egerton here.)

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