If you still hold any doubt that election season 2016 is in full swing, you won’t be able to for much longer. With the Iowa Caucuses just days away (February 1, for those of you who aren’t keeping track) what has, up until now, looked like a whole lot of goofy political posturing will soon turn into a full-blown race to the White House. And what better way to celebrate the highs and lows of the American electoral process than cozying up with some books that make the best election season reads? Because really, there are just so many highs and lows.
Day-to-day campaign coverage can get kind of confusing, to say the least — at least in the beginning, before each party has sussed out their chosen front runner. That candidate you weren’t so sure of yesterday is totally winning today, and could just as easily be relegated to the annals of long-forgotten campaign history tomorrow. But if one thing’s for sure, it’s that election seasons are best analyzed from a distance; like that of the election-season-worthy books on this list.
Here are eight books that will help you get through election season. Get your red, white, and blue foam finger ready, because it’s on.
1. Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America by Ari Berman
If you’ve ever wondered how the 1965 Voting Rights Act changed (and in some ways, didn’t change) elections in the United States, then you’ve got to check out Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America . From the demonstrations of the Civil Rights Movement to voting booths today, Ari Berman explores what it really takes to cast your vote in the USA. Believe it or not, there are still countless ways everyday Americans are being kept from the polls.
2. Political Fictions by Joan Didion
This collection of political essays, spanning 1998 to 2000, should be required reading for anyone who has, or has thought about, participating in the American political process. Political Fictions explores everything from how separated from reality, and real life, politicians and their funders can be to, the meticulous staging of everything involved in a politician’s media persona, to the relatively recent inclusion of religion in politics. Plus, you really can’t go wrong with Didion.
3. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson’s Rolling Stone magazine coverage of the 1972 election campaigns of President Richard M. Nixon and Senator George S. McGovern is everything you’d expect from the writer who feared and loathed in Las Vegas, and more. By dissecting each candidate’s campaign, Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72 paints a portrait of an American election season that is equal parts fascinating and disconcerting — and might even make you think a bit harder about the manufacturing of your own favorite candidate this election.
4. Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times by Helen Thomas
Fun fact: Helen Thomas was the first woman to close a presidential press conference with the words "Thank you. Mr. President." A Washington Daily News reporter assigned to the White House press corps, who worked her way up into becoming the first female president of the White House Correspondents Association, Thomas really has had a front row seat in politics over the course of her long career. And you can read all about it in Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times .
5. Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeleine Albright
As the first woman to become United States Secretary of State — nominated by President Bill Clinton — Madeleine Albright definitely has a story to tell. Her nomination was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, 99 to 0, making her not only the right woman for the job, but also a complete badass. With an insider’s view on what it means to be a woman in politics, Madam Secretary is the perfect election season read.
6. Hartsburg, USA: A Novel by David Mizner
When community member and mother Bevy Baer decided to run for a spot on her local school board, she probably didn’t know quite what she was getting into. When Wallace Cormier, an uninspired writer with a "Californian" attitude decides to run against her, he probably knew even less. But somehow these two have gotten themselves locked into a political battle the likes of which Hartsburg, Ohio has never seen. Taking on an election of much smaller scale — but filled with equal passion — Hartsburg, USA has everything you’d want in a great (fictional) election.
7. Losers by Michael Lewis
When Pat Buchanan, Bob Dole, Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm, Alan Keyes, and John McCain set out on the 1996 campaign trail, journalist Michael Lewis was right the with them, documenting every politically calculated moment of absurdity that ultimately paves the road to the White House. Exploring everything from candidate’s controversial fashion choices to the money they spend, the lies the tell, and the pranks they play Losers is both hilarious and unbelievable, and will make you wonder if all the fuss of a presidential election is really that necessary.
8. Miami and the Siege of Chicago by Norman Mailer
Based on the reportage in Miami and the Siege of Chicago, 1968 was a rough year for the United States. The violence of the Vietnam War, along with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy led to peaceful protests-turned violent, and rioting all over the country. Then President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he wouldn’t be running for president for a second term. But no matter what’s happening the United States and around the world, election seasons must go on. Norman Mailer chronicles that tumultuous time in American politics in Miami and the Siege of Chicago . It’s a page-turner.