Back in the olden days, readers interested in the history of a presidential race would have to wait until the year after the election to read a book about it. Theodore White created the genre of presidential campaign books with The Making of the President 1960. It was published in 1961. White wrote three more books in the series, and they are still great reading for people interested in the history of American politics. Although be forewarned, the 1964 and 1968 books are enormous.
There was once a time when it was considered unseemly for even the most ambitious candidates to announce before the calendar year of the election. That’s one reason that John F. Kennedy waited until Jan. 2, 1960, to formally announce. George McGovern broke the mold by formally announcing on Jan. 18, 1971, which turned out to be the right strategy for a long-shot who needed plenty of time to organize. Jimmy Carter studied the McGovern campaign assiduously, and used its tactics, including the very early announcement, to win his own long-shot race in 1976.
So now, with almost everyone practicing McGovernism, the presidential campaign has been going hard for much of the pre-election year. If you want to know the history thus far, the just-published Election 2012: The Battle Begins is a strong choice. It’s written by Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon, and published by RealClearPolitics.com, the world’s best political website. Election 2012 is e-book only, and costs just $2.99. The ideal reader might be someone who lives abroad, is very interested in American politics, and only gets the limited coverage available from the International Herald Tribune, or foreign papers. In the United States, readers who are so fascinated with politics as to want to read a history of the election the year before the election will probably already know most of what’s in the narrative. Yet even those readers will find interesting details about the behind-the-scenes strategizing and the battles within the campaign staffs, especially for Gingrich, Bachmann, and Pawlenty. And the story of how Huckabee looked very seriously at a run, and then backed away. Readers will also learn about the inside of the Romney campaign, but not about behind-the-scenes turmoil, because this time around Mitt’s campaign is as smooth and unflappable as is Mitt himself while on a debate stage.