Game Change by John Heilemann with Mark Halperin

Subtitle: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime

2010. HarperCollins. Hardcover. 448 pages.

From: the public library

In a nutshell:

In Game Change, political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin give a behind-the-scenes account of the 2008 U.S. presidential election, from the primaries to the general election. Their account is drawn from interviews they conducted with campaign staffers immediately after the primaries and then again after the general election.


Despite my current residency in the D.C. metropolitan area, I am not a de facto political junkie. I keep up with current events fairly well, mostly by listening to NPR’s Morning Edition and checking in with Google News aggregate headlines during the day – but I am not an avid follower of political news stories.

So when I read Game Change in October of this year, the insider stuff was mostly new to me. I remembered many of the gaffes and controversies and major moments and it was cool to revisit them again, but this time from the perspective of the campaign offices.

When I’ve read other reviews of Game Change, “gossipy” is a word that comes up often. The authors describe near the start of the book their efforts to corroborate what they were told, but I still took everything with a grain of salt. That said, it was dishy, turn-the-page fun. I read an excerpt to my roommate early on, and this turned into me reading aloud almost entire chapters to her at a time.

I mean, anyone running for President has to have an ego, and when you have all those egos crashing around, there’s going to be tantrums and fallouts. And then the nature of the beast, is that your friends – who happen to be politicians and influential people – may very well throw in their lot with your opponent. The stakes are high, the variables of a successful campaign are many, and the world is watching. It’s a miserable business and you wonder why anyone does this. So reading Game Change while the United States gears up for its next election was actually very timely.

The authors write entertainingly without seeming to give in to sensationalism.  Occasionally there was a metaphor or colloquialism that went over my head (and that of my roommate’s), but then there would be a turn of phrase or concise summation of a moment that would be just perfect. Also, all the campaign staff got muddled together in my head, and I couldn’t always remember their titles or background unless I looked them up in the index. If I was a political junkie, this probably would not have been a problem.

This was the right nonfiction book at the right time for me. I swore after Zeitoun that I was taking a break from harrowing nonfiction for the rest of the year. And while Game Change is not a lightweight book as it certainly provoked several engaged discussions with my roommate, its fast-paced, tidbit-filled narrative was a boost for me.

Excerpts from other reviews:

A Novel Menagerie – “I found NO excitement, joy, or pleasure in reading this political rubbish.”

Bookchickdi – “It is also must-reading for anyone who is engaged in current events, and it puts into question whether the complicated primary process in its current form is the best way to elect the most important office in the land.”

Unruly Reader – “For narrative nonfiction junkies, this book is pure pleasure. For political junkies, same thing. “


Filed under Non-Fiction

7 responses to “Game Change by John Heilemann with Mark Halperin

  1. I love my history books and my nonfiction but usually avoid books like this (politics, Things that Happened Recently) on the theory that in five weeks there will be another, better version of the story out there, and five weeks after that another one, and so one. But this book sounds awesome. Not sure if reading it now will put me into election overload mode given that Hermain Cain and the Republicans are the only thing ever showing up on my google news but…I could go for a dishy, gossipy look at the last election. Great review!

  2. This sounds awesome! It reminded me of another book I just recently read about the campaign, Big Girls Don’t Cry, which focuses on the impact the election had on women. This seems like it would be a cool companion piece to read and compare.

  3. Ellen – I know what you mean about books whose subjects are very current topics. I also like to wait for the later published books, especially if you can tell that the author of the later published book has taken the time to do research and backstory. Something like Dave Cullen’s Columbine, which I haven’t read, but I’ve heard it debunks some of the popular rumors that were taken for truth at the time.

    Kim – I think I saw your review of Big Girls Don’t Cry and remember thinking, hey that makes me think of the book I’m currently reading. 🙂

  4. Glad you liked this book, too! Your review really captured it (and made me want to re-read).

  5. Kelsey

    Thanks for your review! Have not read this one as yet. The book report featured this book this week, I honestly love listening to the show and what Elaine has to say. if you want to have a listen.

  6. Pingback: Audio Book Review: ‘Game Change’ by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

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