Political books tell us much…

Get ready for a new wave of political books as the Democrats hit the campaign trail. The New York Times reports:

Five likely contestants for the Democratic nomination in 2004 either have released new books, have signed up to write their own books or have authorized others to work on their stories. Meanwhile, current best-seller lists show that celebrity polemicists sell well, particularly when their cable-news employers provide a built-in publicity machine.

And many of these books are of a type, according to the Times.

Two categories of political books are most likely to get attention these days, publishers say. One type is by people using their visibility to market their ideas (like television pundits). Then there are the books by people who hope their ideas will enhance their visibility (like prospective candidates).

Actually, I would split the two classes this way: entertainment versus image-making. If you want political theory (i.e. if you really want to learn something about politics), you’ll have to look to such authors as Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, Hamilton, Mill, Marx, Lasswell, Easton, Edelman, Lakoff, and Riker. You’re not going to get it from entertainment titles such as “Slander” (Coulter) or “Stickin” (Carville).

The image-making titles are the ones written by prospective candidates. These books are usually light on theory, too. But there’s much in them to be learned about the candidates. Such books represent the images the candidates wish to portray, which is not to say these books are inaccurate. Rather, we can learn much about a candidate by the facts he/she chooses to reveal and the spin with which the facts are revealed. There’s a lot to be learned from the flights of fancy, too.

For an example of what I’m talking about, you might be interested in reading an essay I wrote about Ronald Reagan’s autobiography. Click here for the .pdf file. (78K)