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Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

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A brilliant and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor A brilliant and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor mixes calculation and sincerity in his not-so-above-board campaign for the presidency. From the Hardcover edition.


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A brilliant and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor A brilliant and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor mixes calculation and sincerity in his not-so-above-board campaign for the presidency. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alejandro

    A relevant reading ALL'S FAIR IN POLITICS AND WAR I read this novel, back then in 1998, just live a month before of watching the film adaptation. Even at that moment was published as an "anonymous" work. (It was later than it was known that Joe Klein was the author of the novel. I have to admit that I didn't went crazy about for the book or the movie, at that particular moment, but again I think that it was a "too serious" story in a moment in my life that I was reading and watching lighter A relevant reading ALL'S FAIR IN POLITICS AND WAR I read this novel, back then in 1998, just live a month before of watching the film adaptation. Even at that moment was published as an "anonymous" work. (It was later than it was known that Joe Klein was the author of the novel. I have to admit that I didn't went crazy about for the book or the movie, at that particular moment, but again I think that it was a "too serious" story in a moment in my life that I was reading and watching lighter stuff. It's highly likely that nowadays I would "watch" in a different light the novel I'd read again. Maybe I'll do it someday. However, the book is a more solid product with more details and development of the characters and events. It's no secret that Primary Colors is a fiction novel based on the real presidential campaign of former President Bill Clinton. It's a book well written and it gives a very amusing view of a Clinton-like presidency without saying in open way that it was the intention, but the similarities are obvious. For readers who enjoy politics based books I am sure that this can be a great option to read. The story doesn't hesitate to show something that maybe any voter in any country knows... ...a politician will do and will say anything if that helps him(her) to win an election... ...a brutally sad truth in an age where we are eager to have true leaders. Politicians are human as any other person in any other job career, and I can understand their "character failures" in their personal areas. I am not saying that I support marital deception, but in a politician, I think that it's worse when they really don't believe in their political opinions and they are just saying them to gain the support of the voter. Political deception is worse in the sense of a voter, since I am not asking them to get marry, I am offering my vote. A cheater husband is a loser to me, not matter their kind of jobs. A cheater politician is a sad truth that each day, it's easier and easier to find in any candidate.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    I read this when it came out in 1996, even before Joe Klein was outed as the author. I love a good behind-the-scenes political story, and if that's what you like, this novel delivers it in spades. It follows the presidential campaign of Southern governor Jack Stanton, and the events are loosely based on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. Stanton is a notorious flirt and frequently gets into trouble with women. He is skilled at telling stories and manipulating people. We see the campaign through the I read this when it came out in 1996, even before Joe Klein was outed as the author. I love a good behind-the-scenes political story, and if that's what you like, this novel delivers it in spades. It follows the presidential campaign of Southern governor Jack Stanton, and the events are loosely based on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. Stanton is a notorious flirt and frequently gets into trouble with women. He is skilled at telling stories and manipulating people. We see the campaign through the eyes of idealistic staffer Henry Burton, and as events unfold, he grows more disenchanted with Stanton's behavior. While this is an enjoyable novel, I would recommend pairing it with George Stephanopoulos' memoir, All Too Human, which describes his experiences on the Clinton campaign and working for him in the White House. Both books are interesting reads and I highly recommend them for political junkies.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Coco

    I thought I may have waited too long to read this one, but since it was for sale at a library book sale, I thought, why not take a chance? I'd always wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The book was interesting, especially given the recent Hillary/Barack dust-up. Loosely disguised as fiction, this book offers an inside peek at the Clinton primary run way back in the 90s. I was amazed at how long ago it all seemed. Susan and Jack Stanton (read Hillary and Bill) are shown in a very negative I thought I may have waited too long to read this one, but since it was for sale at a library book sale, I thought, why not take a chance? I'd always wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The book was interesting, especially given the recent Hillary/Barack dust-up. Loosely disguised as fiction, this book offers an inside peek at the Clinton primary run way back in the 90s. I was amazed at how long ago it all seemed. Susan and Jack Stanton (read Hillary and Bill) are shown in a very negative light as political animals who will do anything, and throw anyone under the bus, in order to get elected. Back when Bill was president, I probably wouldn't have believed it, but after seeing Hillary's recent campaign and their sense of entitlement, it rings true. I still think they're both brilliant and quite an interesting power couple, but Primary Colors certainly tarnishes their luster. Moving slowly, the book reflects the way things get done in a real campaign. Miracles don't happen overnight. Elections aren't won in a single chapter. The book's supporting characters are well-drawn and it gave me plenty to think about. Even though in many respects, I would prefer not to. The truth here isn't pretty.

  4. 5 out of 5

    steph s

    Henry Burtona Democrat too young for Kennedy, unfamiliar with magicis our entree into the psychodrama-filled world of the Clintonian Jack and Susan Stanton. Libby Holdena brilliant but unpredictable friend from the Stantons' activist daystakes us even deeper, hilariously and then tragically embodying the wildest swings of our adoration and disappointment with the Baby Boomer power couple. Klein in parts of Primary Colors demonstrates a better feel for character ("Her strength in the face of this Henry Burton—a Democrat too young for Kennedy, unfamiliar with magic—is our entree into the psychodrama-filled world of the Clintonian Jack and Susan Stanton. Libby Holden—a brilliant but unpredictable friend from the Stantons' activist days—takes us even deeper, hilariously and then tragically embodying the wildest swings of our adoration and disappointment with the Baby Boomer power couple. Klein in parts of Primary Colors demonstrates a better feel for character ("Her strength in the face of this embarrassment was strange. She was drawing attention to her perfection, which only served to remind people of her husband's imperfection—it was, I realized, a vengeful act"), dialogue, meaningful plot development, a good turn of phrase ("It felt like the quiet scene just before the monster comes"), and literary imagery ("the roadsides were the color of a squeezed fingertip") than many full-time novelists. However, what makes the underrated Nichols/May film adaptation even better than its source material is that it is an undiluted love story between a nation and the Clintons. Nichols doesn't bore us with a single relationship conversation or scene between Henry and ad guru Daisy—hilariously we just see them in bed together when Henry gets a campaign crisis call. It's a great visual joke—this is just a campaign romance, not to supersede the one between candidate and country. Reading this novel makes one appreciate their restraint even further as Klein's obsession with the exceptionally stupid love story between Daisy and Henry knocks him two stars. About 40% of the way through the book the Stantons disappear, with Jack, our once "larger than life" politician reemerging every so often as an angry, uncharismatic boss who spouts the profanity-laden obvious. Instead, we get lots of this: "...we don't have to talk about it anymore, Henry. Or say any of the words. We can wait till this is over and we can think clearly, but I'm really feeling kind of quivery and gelatinous over you." There is very little great in Primary Colors the movie that was not lifted directly from Klein's book. You've got to be truly brilliant to have Nichols and May steal from you verbatim. But how could he not see that the real love story was between Henry/America and the Stantons/Clintons?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    This book was too over-the-top for my tastes, political fantasy that was extremely difficult to swallow. The characters were all greasy and self-satisfying, leaving everything to be desired from the reader's perspective. Primary Colors did not contain a single challenging thought. It was like reading an awful political soap opera with unbelievable characters. I tried and tried to connect with even the remotest strand of humanity in the characters and alas -- nothing! I kept reading and reading, This book was too over-the-top for my tastes, political fantasy that was extremely difficult to swallow. The characters were all greasy and self-satisfying, leaving everything to be desired from the reader's perspective. Primary Colors did not contain a single challenging thought. It was like reading an awful political soap opera with unbelievable characters. I tried and tried to connect with even the remotest strand of humanity in the characters and alas -- nothing! I kept reading and reading, hoping that I might be able to find even one morsel worth savoring; well, I did discover one thing -- that I don't ever want to read the book again -- and it is already lying in the Goodwill bin waiting for the next victim of utter disenchantment.

  6. 5 out of 5

    MacK

    It starts out slowly, ploddingly, irritatingly. Just like most election campaigns. You see things develop bit-by-bit inch-by-inch, see characters begin to define themselves, see conflicts begin to emerge, and find yourself wishing time or the pages would go faster so you could get to the end. Then it suddenly explodes into a frenzy of kinetic energy as though the author went on an amphetemine binge, chasing the whole thing down with a vat of red bull. Which, my half-baked mind believes, may well It starts out slowly, ploddingly, irritatingly. Just like most election campaigns. You see things develop bit-by-bit inch-by-inch, see characters begin to define themselves, see conflicts begin to emerge, and find yourself wishing time or the pages would go faster so you could get to the end. Then it suddenly explodes into a frenzy of kinetic energy as though the author went on an amphetemine binge, chasing the whole thing down with a vat of red bull. Which, my half-baked mind believes, may well be the breakfast of champions of many election aides. This is where Primary Colors is at its best. When it ignores its own self referential nature, when it forgoes the obvious parrallellism to the Clinton campaign of 1992, when it simply revels in the primary process, frantic, chaotic and almost wholly without conscious. Most surprisingly of all, when it slows down again, into a slow, embarassed recounting of mudraking cruelty, is when it reaches perhaps the zenith of its story telling. The ideals and dreams that flow into a heart whenever the strains of The West Wing opening credits play, the hopes and dreams of people who want to make a difference or change the political system, turn to foul, putrid, ashes. Your heroes, if you had any while reading it, fall, your dreams end not in nightmares, but in the slow, tremulous opening of eyelids to find the same walls, the same alarm clock, the same vapid conviction-free career politicians spouting nonsense, just like always. Yet, oddly, the book ends with a whimper. Feebly limping into the last pages, before presenting a complex, near-Faustian choice for its protaganists. But all it does is present it. And while you want your eyelids to be heavy, while you want to wash out the ashes with a Listerine waterfall, you're too jaded to want to know how it ends. But just jaded enough, to be glad you don't have to deal with politics...until you go home again.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brett

    Primary Colors has a great opening, describing the candidate as he might be seen by the public, projecting the image of strength, empathy, intelligence. It is what is so often compelling about politics. We see some glimpse of what we wish we were. It doesn't take long though for us to start seeing behind the scenes, and Klein--whose political columns I often find to be boring reflections of the Washington consensus--does an great job of bringing out the day to day drudgery of working on a Primary Colors has a great opening, describing the candidate as he might be seen by the public, projecting the image of strength, empathy, intelligence. It is what is so often compelling about politics. We see some glimpse of what we wish we were. It doesn't take long though for us to start seeing behind the scenes, and Klein--whose political columns I often find to be boring reflections of the Washington consensus--does an great job of bringing out the day to day drudgery of working on a campaign. The way one event after another starts to look the same; how you begin to get a feel for the candidate on a personal level; how personality differences can be as important as policy arguments. Klein is good with these characters. For once, we feel Bill Clinton's pain, instead of him feeling ours. We also feel Henry's pain, and Susan's, and most of the rest. Some of the nuts and bolts of campaigning have changed since 1992, but many of the personality types involved are the same, and obviously the goal--winning--is still there. Primary Colors feels light and fun while you're reading it, but has a pleasing kernel of truth buried in there too. Frankly, I can't believe I didn't read it sooner, but it is far from out of date.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Denerick

    A strangely nuanced and under-rated book. It could just as easily be called, 'A Study of Charisma'. I'm too young to really be familiar with the Clintons (I do follow American politics pretty closely, but I was only four years old in 1992) so I cannot comment on that aspect of the book. Perhaps that lack of baggage aids my analysis of this book, because I see it as it is. Charisma is a very rare quality. Most politicians don't have 'it'. That rare, winning formula. That thing that Clinton had A strangely nuanced and under-rated book. It could just as easily be called, 'A Study of Charisma'. I'm too young to really be familiar with the Clintons (I do follow American politics pretty closely, but I was only four years old in 1992) so I cannot comment on that aspect of the book. Perhaps that lack of baggage aids my analysis of this book, because I see it as it is. Charisma is a very rare quality. Most politicians don't have 'it'. That rare, winning formula. That thing that Clinton had that so few others could ever come close to. The politics is quite interesting, the denouement adds pathos, and overall I was gripped by this book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Wow, I can totally remember hearing about this in those big-people magazines (Newsweek! Time!) when I was but a pup and seeing it on my living room table and devouring the sucker. Oooh la la! is this what it was like to be on a political campaign? Is this what real political people in the know are all about? Is this what Bill Clinton's like in person? W-O-A-H. I'd really like to give this a re-read, and soon. It'll be well-nigh Proustian, I wager.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Maryanne

    'by Anonymous' as a marketing tool? Genius. Or dumb luck. I hope the latter. There was no way this was an 'insider' book. After all the hype, I read it and was truly disappointed. (In fact I am changing my rating from 2 stars to 1 star right now.) Then the world discovered it was a journalist who wrote it, not James Carville or the like. No shizzle Sherlock.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    Primary Colors is a strange beast of a political thriller, a novel based on the 1992 Clinton campaign, where the names have been changed and some events altered. Jack Stanton is a charismatic governor of a southern state, a new kind of democrat who blends populist politics with Ivy League credentials. Jack Stanton can light up a room, but he's got feet of clay. He avoided serving during the Vietnam War, and he can't stop sleeping around. Our viewpoint is campaign manager Henry Burton, the Primary Colors is a strange beast of a political thriller, a novel based on the 1992 Clinton campaign, where the names have been changed and some events altered. Jack Stanton is a charismatic governor of a southern state, a new kind of democrat who blends populist politics with Ivy League credentials. Jack Stanton can light up a room, but he's got feet of clay. He avoided serving during the Vietnam War, and he can't stop sleeping around. Our viewpoint is campaign manager Henry Burton, the grandson of a legendary civil rights leader (think Martin Luther King), and a consummate political staffer. Burton is brought on as deputy campaign manager, and joins the slog through the retail politics of the New Hampshire primary. Challengers arise, various flavors of strange cold Northeasterners, along with scandal, as Susan Stanton's hairdresser publicly accuses Jack Stanton of an affair, and the teenage daughter of the owner of Stanton's favorite BBQ joint accuses him of impregnating her. Burton, meanwhile has his own romance with media whiz Daisy, and teams up with the bipolar and aggressively queer "dustbuster" Libby (partially based on Vince Foster) to kill threats to the Stantons, and dig up opposition research on the other candidates, including a strange story of sex, drugs, and corrupt real estate deals. When this book is good, it's very good, capturing the frenetic amphetamine rush of politics, the excitement of the game, and the larger-than-life quality of those who play it. Primary Colors gets the thrill of the great American experiment in democracy, what it means to be a Candidate, why people work such long hours for these people, the sordid deals and lies of what politics is, and the soaring ideals of what it might be. But two things bring this down. The first is that the narrator is Black, and author Joe Klein so very White. I really do not need some white dude in TYOOL 2018 to pontificate about Blackness in America. And the second is that Henry is more a witness than a protagonist. I'm not sure if he makes a single real choice in the novel. He witnesses horrible things, he sees people destroyed by ambition, he finds love, loses it, regains it, but who is he? The political animal, a bag of reflexes watching C-SPAN, the ultimate empty suit.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    When I bought this book the name on the cover was still "Anonymous" and the book was getting tremendous buzz because it was obvious Henry and Susan Stanton stood for Bill and Hilary Clinton and everyone was speculating someone close to them had to have written the book. But the reason I picked it up was simple. Back then I worked as a campaign staffer--in a presidential campaign no less, only on the state, not national level. And a fellow staffer told me I had to read this book--that it had the When I bought this book the name on the cover was still "Anonymous" and the book was getting tremendous buzz because it was obvious Henry and Susan Stanton stood for Bill and Hilary Clinton and everyone was speculating someone close to them had to have written the book. But the reason I picked it up was simple. Back then I worked as a campaign staffer--in a presidential campaign no less, only on the state, not national level. And a fellow staffer told me I had to read this book--that it had the best description of what it's like inside a political campaign he had ever read. He cited a particular passage about the ferocious pace and momentum of campaigns, and I skimmed through the book trying to find it, and this might have been it: We moved into all of this so quickly that it was difficult to comprehend. It was as if we were being borne, actually propelled, through our schedule by a lunatic tide--we were sucked out of high school auditoriums. Kiwanis club luncheons, all the other stations of the cross, sucked into this narrow vortex, a combination of gauntlet and undertow. But yes, this took me back--back to the land of coffee and donuts and no sleep, to all the cussin.' (I had been a rather priggish girl who wouldn't say even the mildest of oaths, a few months into campaign work I was lobbing F-bombs and S-words left and right. It has taken years to scrub my language clean of casual obscenity and I haven't completely succeeded.) But most of all the book gets right both what whets your taste for politics and for many causes distaste and disillusion. How Americans will forgive anything if you're charming and likable. That in politics you sell your soul for power and it's all good because you'll make up for all the reprehensible, dirty things you've done because you'll change the world! But what changes is you. Note, I'm not involved in politics anymore.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Walter

    A novel set in the heated 1992 Presidential campaign, "Primary Colors" is the thinly disguised story of Bill Clinton's unlikely victory in the Presidential race of that year. For years this book was attributed to an anonymous author, eventually Joe Klein fessed up to writing it. It is a very uncomplementary view of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and a great look inside the excitement and passion of a presidential campaign. Written from the point of view of a Governor's aide turned campaign manager, A novel set in the heated 1992 Presidential campaign, "Primary Colors" is the thinly disguised story of Bill Clinton's unlikely victory in the Presidential race of that year. For years this book was attributed to an anonymous author, eventually Joe Klein fessed up to writing it. It is a very uncomplementary view of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and a great look inside the excitement and passion of a presidential campaign. Written from the point of view of a Governor's aide turned campaign manager, this story discusses the entry of a southern governor into a hotly contested Presidential campaign in a media dominated election. The southern aspect of this story reminded me of "All the King's Men", and in fact the politician who is portrayed in the novel is very much like the corrupted Southern Governor of "King's Men". I wonder how much "King's Men" influenced Klein in writing "Colors". The story is interesting, since it covers the campaign of an unlikely candidate and witnesses a corruption of that candidate and his family during the campaign. The speculation that the subject of this novel was really Bill Clinton really did not interest me much. But despite that, I thought this novel was good. One of the most interesting aspects of "Colors" was the willingness of all candidates in the race to engage in character assassination and unethical practices in order to win. One of the main character's aids, who believes that her candidate is above such practices, learns otherwise toward the end of this novel, to her demise. I would recommend "Primary Colors" to anyone interested in 20th Century politics and the nature of politics in the years leading up to the year 2000.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Picked this up at a library sale as I'd heard so much about it. Political intrigue isn't really my normal reading interest as I generally find all the characters and their machinations rather unlikable, and this wasn't an exception. The governor and his wife - Jack Stanton and Susan - are said to be very thinly veiled references to Bill and Hilary Clinton, which no doubt boosted this book's popularity back when it first came out. As a story itself, it wasn't hugely gripping; I can't judge it's Picked this up at a library sale as I'd heard so much about it. Political intrigue isn't really my normal reading interest as I generally find all the characters and their machinations rather unlikable, and this wasn't an exception. The governor and his wife - Jack Stanton and Susan - are said to be very thinly veiled references to Bill and Hilary Clinton, which no doubt boosted this book's popularity back when it first came out. As a story itself, it wasn't hugely gripping; I can't judge it's accuracy as an insider look at a political campaign. Overall this book seems to have more value as nonfiction than as fiction.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Vfields Don't touch my happy!

    Sometimes I read something I feel I should be reading. This one I heard about for years. While reading I felt like I was with a crafty caricature of Bill Clinton. There were scenes that jumped of the pages and got deep in my minds eye - well done. I enjoyed Primary Colors more than expected probably because it's so far out of date. It took me two months of lunch breaks to read but it was worth it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    Very informative, entertaining.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paolo Aguas

    I originally wanted to give this book 4 stars out of five but the problem was and always will be the slow start, the first 60 pages were very dragging which is such a pity because the last 306 pages were super interesting and entertaining especially if you follow American politics. The way the writer was able to change the names of the people and yet leave particular news, characteristics, etc just shows how skillful he is at writing and kinda makes you feel as if you were a part of the campaign I originally wanted to give this book 4 stars out of five but the problem was and always will be the slow start, the first 60 pages were very dragging which is such a pity because the last 306 pages were super interesting and entertaining especially if you follow American politics. The way the writer was able to change the names of the people and yet leave particular news, characteristics, etc just shows how skillful he is at writing and kinda makes you feel as if you were a part of the campaign itself with all of these different inside information things. Now I want to compare the film and the book, I saw the film first and it was probably more than 12 years ago, I enjoyed the film and I loved how they made the actors John Travolta and Emma Thompson look like both Bill and Hillary Clinton and at that time I really enjoyed the ending because it gave you answers. Now with the book what I liked most about it was the ending it’s way different from the film, it doesn’t give you the answers it actually allows the reader to analyze the character and the situation and decide what the ending actually is based on their own analysis and I feel that really makes the book more superior than the film, but again this should have gotten 4 stars but the dragging start really killed it for me.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Will Atkins

    Political Fiction Is it still considered taking a break from political how-to books if you read a piece of political fiction, written anonymously by Joe Klein, and loosely based on the Clintons? Political “Fiction” Is it still considered taking a break from political “how-to” books if you read a piece of political fiction, written anonymously by Joe Klein, and loosely based on the Clintons?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Mock

    Primary Colors - An Anonymous novel on politics This is the story of a governor of "a state no one has heard of," Jack Stanton, in his pursuit for the presidency of the United States. The story is narrated from the first person point of view by Henry Burton, a bright, youngish black man who rises quickly to a key position on the Governor's presidential primary campaign staff. Stanton is a brilliant but flawed man, who truly loves people. He really cared about "folks," as he needs them to survive Primary Colors - An Anonymous novel on politics This is the story of a governor of "a state no one has heard of," Jack Stanton, in his pursuit for the presidency of the United States. The story is narrated from the first person point of view by Henry Burton, a bright, youngish black man who rises quickly to a key position on the Governor's presidential primary campaign staff. Stanton is a brilliant but flawed man, who truly loves people. He really cared about "folks," as he needs them to survive both politically and just plain physically. He feeds off the energy of the people with a charisma that is infectious to all those around him. He's married to Susan Stanton, a smart lawyer who despises his louche sexual adventuring but is driven by her own demons. Stanton main flaw: he can't keep his pants on. As the campaign struggles in New Hampshire, it has to be in damage control because of a Cashmere McLeod, Susan's hairdresser, who sells the story to a tabloid alleging she had an affair with Stanton. She has recorded her conversations with Stanton but through Henry's ingenuity, they are proven to be hacked conversations from the governor's cell phone superimposed with her own. However, he did have the affair. The next hurdle in the campaign is New York. The governor forms an alliance with NYC's mayor, Richmond Rucker, but Rucker can't deliver so they fight. The governor of the state, Orlando Ozio, has been thinking of running himself for the presidency so he boycotts the campaign efforts. Lawrence Harris, Stanton's main opponent, wins NY State and seems unstoppable. At this point, the campaign turns negative: it seems that Sen. Harris campaign platform has statements about balancing the budget by reducing Social Security benefits. The Stanton campaign seizes on this at the Florida primary. In the ensuing debate, Harris is so enraged that he suffers a heart attack and ends up in a coma. Martha Harris, the Senator's wife, recruits a prior governor of Florida to take over the campaign: Fred Picker. Mr. Picker is a really nice man and decides to campaign honestly. He fires all of his advisers and just "talks" to people. He immediately destroys the Stanton campaign - not to mention that at this time there's a rumor that Stanton got a black young girl pregnant: Loretta McCollister, daughter of Stanton's friend Fat Willie. However, Picker has skeletons on the closet. Olivia (Libbie) Holden, Stanton's chief of staff who's in charge of digging the dirt, finds out that Picker was involved in some shady developments in Florida, was a cocaine addict, and perhaps a homosexual. Henry and Libbie decide they will not allow Stanton to use this against Picker and, as Stanton goes to deliver the dirt to Picker and to tell him that he's no longer running, Picker tells Stanton he's the one who's not running and endorses Stanton for the Presidency. Whether or not it is an account of Bill Clinton's road to the White House, the circumstances behind this crackling, highly perceptive study of a presidential campaign are bizarre. Publisher's Weekly said: "not even its publisher, Harold Evans, who signed the book, or its editor knows the identity of the author." Assumptions run wildly that it might had been someone close to Clinton's campaign, but it still remains speculation. The novel isn't perfect. The main romance - between Henry Burton and Daisy Green - isn't really well-defined. In as much as it makes for a fun easy read, the story is not believable, even for the mid nineties. One thing is for certain: in view of President Obama's failures in spite of his clean credentials, this book is "about the ability to lead. It's not about perfection." People smile, listen, do pathetic favors and fudge when they can't. They tell them what people want to hear, unless they think they want to hear something else. People live an eternity of false smiles: "because it's the price you pay to lead." Somehow I wish our current President had more of Jack Stanton. I think our country would be a lot better!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Victor Davis

    It's worth the read for the ending, and I find that rare in books. Most of the novel is the day-to-day chaos behind the curtain in a political campaign. And while it's fascinating, the way watching a car crash or a butcher at work is fascinating, it's not particularly literary or enlightening. By the end, though, the author has dragged us through enough muck to start to wax poetic about the nature of man and sin and will to power... And it's good. I mean, this is stuff that just never loses its It's worth the read for the ending, and I find that rare in books. Most of the novel is the day-to-day chaos behind the curtain in a political campaign. And while it's fascinating, the way watching a car crash or a butcher at work is fascinating, it's not particularly literary or enlightening. By the end, though, the author has dragged us through enough muck to start to wax poetic about the nature of man and sin and will to power... And it's good. I mean, this is stuff that just never loses its relevance. Not since All the King's Men, not now. Only certain kinds of people are cut out for this work—and, yeah, we are not princes, by and large. Henry, you know this better than anyone. You've watched Larkin, you've watched O'Brien, you've watched me do it. Two thirds of what we do is reprehensible. This isn't the way a normal human being acts. We smile, we listen— you could grow calluses on your ears from all the listening we do. We do our pathetic little favors. We fudge when we can't. We tell them what they want to hear—and when we tell them something they don't want to hear, it's usually because we've calculated that's what they really want. We live an eternity of false smiles—and why? Because it's the price you pay to lead. You don't think Abraham Lincoln was a whore before he was a president? He had to tell his little stories and smile his shit-eating, backcountry grin. He did it all just so he'd get the opportunity, one day, to stand in front of the nation and appeal to ‘the better angels of our nature.' That's when the bullshit stops. And that's what this is all about. The opportunity to do that, to make the most of it, to do it the right way—because you know as well as I do there are plenty of people in this game who never think about the folks, much less their ‘better angels.' They just want to win. They want to be able to say, ‘I won the biggest thing you can win.' And they're willing to sell their souls, crawl through sewers, lie to the people, divide them, play to their worst fears—

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tom Lee

    The appeal of Primary Colours lies in its conjuring of real people, in its picture of the actual figures behind this roman a clef, in its supplying of a flavour of the nerve-shredding, often nasty reality of American political campaigning. But as a novel it's clumsy, right from the offset; compared to the gold standard of the American political novel, which I would say is All the King's Men, its language is laborious and the imagery hackneyed. It reads like it was written as a longform piece of The appeal of Primary Colours lies in its conjuring of real people, in its picture of the actual figures behind this roman a clef, in its supplying of a flavour of the nerve-shredding, often nasty reality of American political campaigning. But as a novel it's clumsy, right from the offset; compared to the gold standard of the American political novel, which I would say is All the King's Men, its language is laborious and the imagery hackneyed. It reads like it was written as a longform piece of journalism - so I was less than surprised when I learned its author is indeed primarily a journalist. I'm not saying I didn't find it enjoyable and gripping, and reading it I can't help feeling that the writers of Veep must have cribbed a few ideas from its pages. The tone is certainly one anybody who has watched Veep or its British forebear The Thick of It will recognise and relish. But if I was a book snob I'd ask whether you could really call this 'Literature.' Oh wait, I am a book snob, and the answer is barely, but as a critique of politics and the associated machinations, it's absolutely thrilling.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tassie

    Having seen the movie more than once, I was driven to read the book. That, and the numerous copies at the free book venue in town. So I grabbed it, and I read it. And it was a struggle. It's not that the book is badly written, because it's not. But the film adaptation was so close that there wasn't much room for more in the book. There's one love story line that's not in the movie, but otherwise the vast majority of the movie is just like the book, thus removing the idea that the book is somehow Having seen the movie more than once, I was driven to read the book. That, and the numerous copies at the free book venue in town. So I grabbed it, and I read it. And it was a struggle. It's not that the book is badly written, because it's not. But the film adaptation was so close that there wasn't much room for more in the book. There's one love story line that's not in the movie, but otherwise the vast majority of the movie is just like the book, thus removing the idea that the book is somehow superior. If I hadn't seen the film, this might have been riveting, and it must have been revalatory when it came out. But now it just seems a little dated and a little trite.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    I saw the movie of the same name based on this book starring John Travolta. Joe Klein was outed as the author of this book which is loosely based on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. The story follows the presidential campaign of Southern governor Jack Stanton, a notorious flirt who frequently gets into trouble with women. He is skilled at telling stories and manipulating people while professing to care very deeply about their plight in life and how other politicians have failed them. The campaign I saw the movie of the same name based on this book starring John Travolta. Joe Klein was outed as the author of this book which is loosely based on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. The story follows the presidential campaign of Southern governor Jack Stanton, a notorious flirt who frequently gets into trouble with women. He is skilled at telling stories and manipulating people while professing to care very deeply about their plight in life and how other politicians have failed them. The campaign is seen through the eyes of idealistic staffer Henry Burton, and as events unfold, he grows more disenchanted with Stanton's behavior. This is definitely a believable story.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mfalco65

    I have been a politics junkie ever since high school and this book hooked me right away. Forget the Clinton angle, it is a great story regardless.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nooilforpacifists

    See the movie, which (surprisingly) is better. The movie, however, lets Hillary off the hook--because Emma Thompson bought the script and played her.

  26. 4 out of 5

    T.B. Markinson

    An interesting glimpse behind the scenes of campaigns.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Dougherty

    I know I read this in the early 00s but it was a pleasure to revisit it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tony Laplume

    It's fascinating, reading this twenty years after the fact. In a lot of ways, Primary Colors jumpstarted American culture, or at the very least paved the way for books, however briefly (Harry Potter was the chief beneficiary), to lead the conversation again. And it was all because, just as everyone knows "Anonymous" turned out to be Joe Klein, of the fact that Jack Stanton was modeled after Bill Clinton. Now that we've seen perhaps the last effort of a Clinton to occupy the White House (we'll It's fascinating, reading this twenty years after the fact. In a lot of ways, Primary Colors jumpstarted American culture, or at the very least paved the way for books, however briefly (Harry Potter was the chief beneficiary), to lead the conversation again. And it was all because, just as everyone knows "Anonymous" turned out to be Joe Klein, of the fact that Jack Stanton was modeled after Bill Clinton. Now that we've seen perhaps the last effort of a Clinton to occupy the White House (we'll see), it's definitely worth revisiting this remarkable touchstone. Actually, this is the first time I've read it. I saw the movie, which starred John Travolta and was released in 1998, among a string of movies that failed to topple Titanic at the box office (bet you can't name the movie that did, although its title is certainly ironic, all things considered). In a lot of ways, that movie wildly oversold the book. It sold Stanton as the ultimate Travolta good guy, maybe the last time Travolta's '90s comeback really meant something, and basically the end of that comeback. Travolta ended up mired in very Stanton-style scandals, ensuring he'd never have a resurgence again (I mean, probably, knowwhatimean?), which is about what you'd expect from a movie that subtly turned the basic story into outright hero worship. I'm not convinced that's what it was. In a lot of ways, it was a straight-up indictment of Bill Clinton, which is likely the reason Klein initially declined acknowledgment. In a lot of ways, Klein painted a portrait of Clinton, I mean Stanton, as a gangster. Maybe that's the way politics always were in this country (the whole Hamilton/Burr scandal was all about this level of politics, and that was two hundred years ago!), we'll put aside for the moment. But Klein paints a pretty deliberate portrait of Clinton, no matter how much he obscures his subject. He ultimately splits off Clinton into his own opponent, which is about as meta as you can get: please try and make the argument that Fred Picker is anything but the ghost Clinton always wished was standing right beside him, always waiting for that one big argument to help patch things over one more time, as Picker does Stanton, improbably, at the end of the book, not only taking on the Whitewater scandal, but the drugs thing ("I never inhaled," Clinton famously declared), too. The most intriguing thing Klein does is make a black man the lead character. It's funny, because there have been people arguing for years that Clinton was "the first black president." I honestly don't know if that's what Klein was thinking, that this was the biggest piece of satire in the whole thing, but I'd like to consider it a possibility, even if only on a subconscious level. You really have no idea how much of what we do is on a subconscious level. We're constantly exposing ourselves. A little, well, like Clinton, I mean Stanton. Right about now you're saying to yourself, This is an awfully political review, and therefor based on whether or not I agree with his assessment of Clinton, I can probably skip the rest of it now. And you would have every right. Writers have offered skewed perspectives on public figures basically forever. Shakespeare actively participated in the burial job of Richard III, after all. If it's okay for Shakespeare, surely Klein shouldn't think twice about doing it, too? Except Klein doesn't necessarily bury Clinton. I think he does, but then, he also hasn't spent the last twenty years dropping negative remark after negative remark about the guy, either, and clearly that hasn't been the case for everyone. What he does here is try and let the record speak for itself. I mean, you have the big scandal that got him technically impeached, the womanizing. A lot of what Clinton became was because he idolized JFK. We get that. Klein gets that. He named his Clinton surrogate Jack. You really can't get much more on-the-nose than that, right? But Klein's Stanton is a man driven less by idolizing Kennedy and more because of a father he never knew (but even there, Klein has an interesting curveball, one that feeds right into his probable-conclusion of Stanton's need for enablers), who had to stand out at any cost, and who convinced himself and a great many other people that he was worthy of all the attention directed at him. "At any cost" ends up meaning a great deal. The character Kathy Bates plays in the movie, Libby Holden, more than easily steals the book, too. She's outsize in every way, and at one point pulls a gun on a guy she badly needs to confess something in order to smooth over the first womanizing scandal. But when it comes to the second, she provides the crux for the ending of the book when she kills herself, distraught over what helping the Stantons has cost her over the years. She's ostensibly a stand-in for Vince Foster, the aide who committed suicide, which Clinton conspiracy theorists have never believed. Well, Libby does kill herself. Libby was a lesbian, in some ways the embodiment of what Susan Stanton always wanted to believe about herself, or at least that's what Libby thought. She kills herself because she found out Picker was gay (at least under the influence of cocaine, or so he claims; that's one of the elements of this book that surely did not sit well with the very audience it was meant to assuage), and that the Stantons were perfectly happy to use that against him. It was in effect a betrayal of Libby, the final reveal, so that we finally see how much Jack Stanton is willing to compromise. The book ends with Jack attempting to make a case for imperfect people still being able to make perfect leaders. Henry Burton, the black man who for most of the book seems so much like Jack Stanton that it's really not hard at all to see Klein as having at least attempted to split Clinton not only into Stanton and Picker, but Henry as well, admits he doesn't believe this. By omission. It's a damning conclusion. And after twenty years, since no one seems to have said so, one that seems to have gone completely unnoticed. All Primary Colors really seems to have achieved is contributing to the cult of personality that Clinton helped bring back into American politics, where it's not really the message (little else but generalizing about policy and conviction can be found within these pages) but the messenger that matters, how well they're able to sell sincerity, how well they sell you on what's best for you. Henry Burton is a black man. In some ways he's sold by Klein as a grandson of Martin Luther King, Jr. But in the end, he could be anyone's grandson, anyone's son. Bought and sold, if he continued down the path he started at the beginning of the book, all the same, all over again...So, no, Henry Burton is not Jack Stanton. And he's not Bill Clinton. After twenty years, after seeing the act reprised all over again...Maybe this isn't the worst politics can be, but still, it's the only thing we've got, and like it or not, this is what it's been since any decent American can remember. Klein isn't arguing for or against the kind of politics on display in his story, but rather whether it's the right kind of politics, the oldest story in America, when our first president was elected mostly because we won the war, and he was the one left standing when it was all over. Politics, wars of attrition, they're the same. They never end and they're always the same...Primary colors, blood and tears...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Devon

    This novel was written over 20 years ago and politics have changed considerably in the face of social media. But then again, politics haven't changed. There will always be past sins coming out of the woodwork, voters now just have faster access to them. Opinions are lasting, and they're created in one moment. Primary Colors is a predecessor to shows like House of Cards and VEEP, with less laughs and less murder. It's a pretty dense novel but it moves quickly. It's pretty easy to pick up the This novel was written over 20 years ago and politics have changed considerably in the face of social media. But then again, politics haven't changed. There will always be past sins coming out of the woodwork, voters now just have faster access to them. Opinions are lasting, and they're created in one moment. Primary Colors is a predecessor to shows like House of Cards and VEEP, with less laughs and less murder. It's a pretty dense novel but it moves quickly. It's pretty easy to pick up the personality of the Clinton's throughout the book; Bill's casual authenticity and Hilary's no-nonsense approach. I do wonder why a white author made the narration from the perspective of a biracial black man dealing with racial issues. It felt a bit "token". Is this a perspective that speaks the truth to biracial readers? In his afterword, the author is taken aback that critics called him racist, as he puts it: "Hey, weren't my two heroes, Henry and Libby, respectively black and lesbian?" When Jodi Picoult wrote about issues facing black women she came with the approach, "I understand this is not my perspective but I believe this is a story that needs to be told." Joe Klein doesn't seem that have that same sentiment. I'd also like to point out that 1998's film adaptation of Primary Colors was my first Rated R film I ever viewed which is the main reason I picked it up at the library. I have no recollection of the film except they swore A LOT. There are a few poignant quotes that resonated with me..."And that's what this is all about. The opportunity to do that, to make the most of it, to do it the right way - because you know as well as I do there are plenty of people in this game who never think about the folks, much less their 'better angels'. They just want to win. They want to be able to say, 'I won the biggest thing you can win.' And they're willing to sell their souls, crawl through sewers, lie to the people, divide them, play to their worst fears-" There sure are plenty of those people in power Jack...there sure are.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    This novel details the ups and downs of a political campaign in the US. Jack Stanton os running for democratic presidential nominee in the democratic primaries. The story unfolds through the eyes of Henry Burton, who works for the campaign. There are setbacks and high flights, scandals and triumphs. The writing style takes some getting used to - i hadn't gotten used to it by the end. It is fractured and jolts around a bit. Some things I didn't catch, though that may have been due to the fact that This novel details the ups and downs of a political campaign in the US. Jack Stanton os running for democratic presidential nominee in the democratic primaries. The story unfolds through the eyes of Henry Burton, who works for the campaign. There are setbacks and high flights, scandals and triumphs. The writing style takes some getting used to - i hadn't gotten used to it by the end. It is fractured and jolts around a bit. Some things I didn't catch, though that may have been due to the fact that I am no insider to American politics. To the European mind, the campaign seems quite insane. The amount of money and energy that goes into a run only for a nomination is staggering. In my country, the fact that a party exceeded the 7 million ceiling for spending on a general election made the news. While the story seems crazy, this is not because it seems unrealistically thought out - quite the opposite. I would be interested to hear what the author - if they are still alive - thinks of todays US politics.

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