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Running for President Through the Bookstore

Aug 15, 2007 (Morning Edition)

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'The Audacity of Hope' 'Hard Call'

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Many of the people running for president are also newly published authors. Other candidates are dusting off old books. Democrat Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village has been released in a 10th anniversary edition. Republican Mitt Romney has written Turnaround, an account of his time running the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The phenomenon of candidate books dates back to John Kennedy's Profiles in Courage. Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for the 1956 book.

Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek and author of two historical books, says the current wave in candidate books started in 1976, when a then relatively unknown Gov. Jimmy Carter wrote Why Not the Best?

"It was a way of getting his vision of the country out," Meacham tells John Ydstie. "And since then, it's become a kind of course requirement for a presidential candidate to publish something. How many people read them I think is a very open question."

Meacham says Barack Obama's books, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father have been among the most successful because of the Democratic senator's compelling life story.

"One of the most ancient devices in presidential politics is to sell one's life journey as the qualification for high office, whether it's Lincoln in the log cabin or Andrew Jackson standing up as a 14-year-old to the British and having the British officer hit him in the head with a sword," Meacham says. "And it was, I think, very astute of Obama to use his own life in that way."

Meacham says Republican Sen. John McCain's book Hard Call, about moments when leaders had to make difficult decisions, is perhaps the most useful in helping judge a GOP candidate.

"If history has taught us anything, it's that ultimately it's the character and the personality of the man or the woman in a moment of crisis that shapes the destinies and lives of the rest of us," Meacham says. "Any tool we can put our hands on to try to figure it out is useful, and I think these books are part of that tool set."

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