Political fiction

As the election season ends, I’m interested in picking up some fiction with a strong political (preferably realistic) bent. Something that explores how mundane or grand political events were handled elsewhere and elsewhen.

Any suggestions?

See if you can find any of the old Fletcher Knebel novels. They are dated, of course, but Knebel knew how to write a good narrative.

Former Clinton staffer Joe Klein’s Primary Colors, a thinly fictionalised account of the trials and tribulations of a Bill Clinton {Jack Stanton, in the novel} campaign staffer during Clinton’s first run at the primaries is a pretty much indispensable read for an insider account of how the politics you see on TV is actually put together behind the scenes.

Allan Drury’s first Washington novel, Advise and Consent, is a classic from 1959. It may be the best representation of that long-lost political world.

Unfortunately he did a long series of sequels after that and they descended into the tropes of what was at the time nutty conservativism. One whole novel concerned the riotous upheaval of… the U.S. vetoing a U.N. resolution. (We never had at the time. We have since. I’m not sure even political obsessives remember the details today, but I’m positive there were no riots in the streets.)

Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah is the equivalent for local politics. Written in 1956, it features a mayor of what is obviously Boston, the head of an old-time political machine, who is stunned in the election to discover that the old ways of politicking had been turned on its head. The problem with the book is that it focuses totally on the Mayor so you never see what is attractive about or is happening in the other side. Still a classic.

Gore Vidal has done a series of books, the Narratives of Empire, written not in chronological order, about Washington’s place in American history. *Burr *is my favorite, but it’s also about the earliest era. The novel may or may not match what you would call realistic. Vidal’s take on the world often is more satiric than real, though it’s hard to tell with him. He’s also as left-wing as Drury is right-wing.

Christopher Buckley has written a long series of satiric, and certainly non-realistic, books about the modern Washington scene. Thank You for Smoking, recently made into a very good movie, is my favorite of his.

I haven’t read every book by every author mentioned, though.

If you want a very hefty dose of 19th century British politics, try Trollope’s Palliser novels. They’ve also been made into a TV series.

If you don’t mind British politics, try the following:

House of Cards


A Very British Coup

Both describe the subversion of democracy from within the power establishment, but come at it from VERY different political viewpoints. Both great reads, and also both were very good TV series as well.

Another Clinton book (though it might seem dated now) is Christopher Buckley’s No Way to Treat a First Lady. It was so funny it made me snort coffee up my nose.

Becoming Madame Mao

It deals quite a bit with Madame Mao’s life in general, but even that seems to largely be involved with politics though it seems like it shouldn’t be (like opera.) A good read and quite thought provoking.

Definitely a rather evil woman given that this will probably be the most gracious look at her that you’ll find and she’s still fairly well merrily planning the Cultural Revolution with the full expectation that it will destabilize the nation and cause millions of deaths.

I think the greatest American political novel is All the King’s Mean by Robert Penn Warren. What a great book. I have read it quite a few times. I can’t seem to open it without being drawn in. (and the Broderick Crawford-starring movie of the book is a pretty good movie. but the book is great IMHO).

Mentioned in another threadis Jeff Greenfield’s 1995 novel The People’s Choice. Not a brilliant book, but a dman fine discussion of how the Electoral College works and how easily it could fall apart.

oh my god, I can’t believe I misspelled All The King’s Men.

and I missed the edit window.

Haven’t read it, but All the King’s Men is excellent. :slight_smile:

However, I recommend reading a biography of the real Huey Long first. It’s a story more amazing than the fiction. And it’s hard to understand All the King’s Men at this remove without understanding the political and social reality behind it.

I’ve been thinking about having another look at Irving Wallace’s THE MAN, about how a black man becomes President of the US.

A lot of people had to die in Wallace’s mid 1960s political landscape for that to happen. I don’t believe I’ve touched the book in forty years, but it was a pretty good read back in the day.

Penn Warren’s novel is the classic of its type. I read that one in grad school, and it was the most readable novel I studied.

When was Joe Klien a Clinton staffer? He’s always been a journalist and columnist as far as I know. During Clinton’s administration, he was working for Newsweek, CBS, and The New Yorker.

another vote for this one (not to be confused with “that one”). not the fastest page turner on the shelf, but a really good primer on the e.c… it answers many of the questions on the board lately.

I used to like C. P. Snow; it’s been a while since I read him. His books are very much English and may now seem a bit dated, though.
You could try The Corridors of Power

“You may say that - I couldn’t possibly comment…”

Have they brought out book versions of The West Wing,I totally enjoyed all of the series and would enjoy reading it also.

Thanks, everyone. Most of these names are complete blanks for me other than Primary Colors. I’ve watched “House of Cards” on TV. Similar to the book?

I just reread what I posted and it comes off weird. Lemme try again.

Thanks for all of these recommendations. I hadn’t heard of lots of them and am interested! :smiley: