How to read "Game Change"

"Game Change" by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann offers more heat than light.

If you were one of the voters who enjoyed viewing the 2008 election of Barack Obama to the US presidency as a lofty symbol of change, scanning "Game Change" by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann may – sadly – convince you of the opposite. The book, by two high-profile campaign reporters, is only being released today. But it is already making headlines of the least attractive variety.

Among the most-talked-about/blogged-about tidbits in the book:

– Senate majority leader Harry Reid's racially insensitive remarks about President Obama's appeal as a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

– Reports of a "war room within a war room" within the Hillary Clinton campaign, allegedly pulled together to deal with questions about Bill Clinton's fidelity, including rumors that he was having "a sustained romantic relationship" with an unidentified woman.

– Some particularly ugly revelations about life within the John Edwards campaign, including reports that some of his staffers strongly suspected that he was having an affair well before it was reported in the media and a devastating portrayal of his wife Elizabeth as "abusive, intrusive, paranoid."

Of course there's more as well (including Obama's reported lack of enthusiasm over being paired with Joe Biden, Sarah Palin's supposed remorse – after her interview with Katie Couric – over having accepted the vice-presidential nomination, her reported propensity to mistakenly call Joe Biden "O'Biden", and charges that Chuck Schummer and other Democratic senators backed Hillary Clinton in public but Barack Obama in private.) You can read about it in The Atlantic or ABC News) or Politico or just about anywhere else you look online this morning.

Michiko Kakutani, in her review of the book in the New York Times, cuts to the chase by asking immediately what seem to me to be the most pressing questions about this book: "Why another book on the 2008 campaign, a year after the inauguration of President Obama? What more is there to say about a race that was covered day in and day out by newspapers, magazines, television, radio and bloggers? Is there anything more to learn about the candidates – and does it matter to an American public now focused on unemployment and health care and terrorism?"

Her answer seems to be ... sort of.

The book she points out, is "a spicy smorgasbord of observations, revelations and allegations – some that are based on impressive legwork and access, some that simply crystallize rumors and whispers from the campaign trail, and some that it’s hard to verify independently as more than spin or speculation on the part of unnamed sources."

Don't expect to learn much about policy by reading "Game Change," she advises. However, she allows, "Game Change" does "leave the reader with a vivid, visceral sense of the campaign and a keen understanding of the paradoxes and contingencies of history." As long as you're comfortable with the fact that much of that view comes from "the realm of gossip and reflect[s] the views of chatty and, in some cases, bitter, regretful or spin-conscious aides," then this would be your book.

Otherwise, if you're just interested in the juicy tidbits, you might be just as well served by sticking to the blogosphere.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor. You can follow her on Twitter at

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