From Giuliani’s “Leadership” to Clinton’s “Living History,” having a book - or two or three - seems like a prerequisite for candidacy in 2008. Emily Heil of the congressional newspaper Roll Callhas read a whole stack of them - so you don't have to.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. As we approached the New Year and the prospect of a few days off, we decided to prepare a show in advance about books - not the book industry - we did that to get time off on Thanksgiving. This is about some actual recent books, some of which we've already discussed on the show, that you might want to consider. BROOKE GLADSTONE: For instance, the candidate book, the one surefire way a presidential aspirant can deliver their message directly to the voters, unmediated by pundits or the press. By our count, there are a total of at least 35 written works either penned or compiled by the current crop of would-be nominees. And I trust you've read them all. [LAUGHTER] Emily Heil has cracked more than her share. She's a reporter for the Washington-based newspaper Roll Call, where she writes the Heard on the Hill column. Emily, welcome to On the Media. EMILY HEIL: Glad to be here, Brooke. Thanks for having me. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, I get that every candidate has to have a website and a YouTube video, but why do they all need to be authors too? EMILY HEIL: Writing a book is one of the few opportunities they really have to communicate in this very full way. Most of them really think they have something to say, and most of it, they think, can't be condensed into a bullet point or, you know, a sound bite. This is a chance for them to step into the role that they want everyone to see them in. So, for example, for John Edwards, that's as a trial attorney, a really crusading trial attorney on behalf of the poor. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I should say, his book, Four Trials, is an account of four cases he worked on during his career as a trial lawyer. EMILY HEIL: Yes. What struck me about Edwards' book, Four Trials, is that the first passage describes him speaking to his client, who can't himself speak. He's typing words onto a keyboard to communicate. And the message that Edwards seems to be sending is the message to voters that — I will speak to you in the same way that I spoke for this client; I will speak for those who can't speak for themselves. And he's not that explicit about it but I think that's the message he's really trying to send to readers. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Campaigning by metaphor, something you can only do through a book. EMILY HEIL: [LAUGHS] Yeah, that doesn't work so well in the 60-second ads. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] When we think of a candidate book, most of us, at least of a certain age, begin with JFK's Profiles in Courage. It wasn't a memoir. It wasn't a sort of explication on a resume. It wasn't about a personal journey at all, or at least not about his.
EMILY HEIL: No, but I think that Profiles in Courage is really the template that so many candidates aspire to in that it was a chance for a young senator to show himself, even though he didn't do it directly through himself.
You know, Senator John McCain has done something like this. His most recent book, Hard Call, mimics the Profiles in Courage template where he profiles people who've made difficult decisions. And, in doing so, he casts himself as an arbiter, in the same way that Senator Kennedy did cast himself as an arbiter of courage. And, in this way, Senator McCain is saying, you know, it takes one to know one. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, let's talk about people, though, who have had long careers, and multiple books, like McCain. Let's begin with Hillary, who wrote - or had ghostwritten for her, depending on who you believe - two books. One, in 1996, was a volume on children, called It Takes a Village, and the second one, written in 2003, a reflection on her experiences as First Lady, called Living History. What do we find out here about how she changed between those two volumes? EMILY HEIL: I think It Takes a Village is very much a policy tome. In that zone she is much more comfortable than, say, in Living History where she's perhaps a little warier and a little more self-aware. But there are some very interesting things in Living History that do speak to her as a person. Most notably for me it was an explanation of her relationship with her husband, of course, former President Bill Clinton. You really do see that they share this very strong bond, and it shows how it was forged in the early years of their courtship and their marriage. It's often seen as a marriage of convenience or a political pact, but Living History gave you a peek behind that sort of façade. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, Barack Obama also has two books in print. His personal memoir, called Dreams from My Father, which was written in 1995, well before his Senate run, much less his presidential run, and then the bestseller, The Audacity of Hope, which was released just last year. Of all the candidate authors, he is reputed to be the most talented writer. EMILY HEIL: Absolutely, I think that you're right. Dreams from My Father is a very personal story. It's a story of a journey. The Audacity of Hope is more a politician looking to show the world what he's about. If you don't mind, I'd like to read a passage from Dreams from My Father that I think illustrates his writerly sensibility. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Please. EMILY HEIL: He's talking about traveling through Europe as a young man. He's on his way to Kenya, where he hopes to learn more about his father. He writes, "I felt as if I were living out someone else's romance. The incompleteness of my own history stood between me and the sites I saw like a hard pane of glass." I really do think that's quite beautiful writing. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Romney's book, Turnaround, is about his leadership. Giuliani's book, which is [LAUGHING] called Leadership, is about his turnaround of New York. Are these basically the same book? EMILY HEIL: Mitt Romney's almost reads like an MBA casebook. He describes in very loving detail a deal that he works out to get office supplies for the Salt Lake City Olympics, and this goes on for a number of paragraphs. BROOKE GLADSTONE: [LAUGHS] Sounds gripping. EMILY HEIL: Yes. And so he casts himself in that sort of boardroom warrior role that I think he really wants to show on the campaign trial, as well. Now, Giuliani's book, Leadership, it's almost like a how-to book, as opposed to Romney's case study. You know, he's prescribing steps that people should take to be better leaders, things like have beliefs and communicate them. One thing I thought was very interesting about Giuliani's book is that one of his prescriptions for being a good leader is to surround yourself with good people. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Uh-oh! [LAUGHS] [LAUGHTER] EMILY HEIL: In retrospect it's interesting, given what we know about folks like Bernie Kerik. BROOKE GLADSTONE: His former police chief, that has been accused of ties with organized crime. EMILY HEIL: Exactly. So in some ways a candidate's book can come back to haunt them when hindsight makes some of their writing maybe more interesting than they meant it to be. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Emily, thank you so much for coming on the show. EMILY HEIL: Thanks, so glad to be here, Brooke. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Emily Heil writes the Heard on the Hill column for Roll Call.