A tumultuous year yields a trove of political journalism in this anthology of magazine pieces. Leading off are sharp accounts of the Obama, McCain and Clinton campaigns, as well as Adam Sternbergh's smart look at how baseball statistics can inform election prognostications. A section on the economic meltdown features incisive analyses—and consistently dire forecasts—by Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and James K. Galbraith. Profiles of the incoming Democratic regime include Michelle Cottle's savvy take on Obama's laboriously constructed, Gatsbyesque veneer of cool. Foreign-policy dispatches range through Christopher Hitchens's memoir of being waterboarded, Mark Danner's harrowing investigation of CIA torture methods and disquieting reports from Michael Hastings and Dexter Filkins on America's sputtering war against Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Editor Flippin doesn't seem very widely read: the pieces are mainly culled from the New Yorker, New York magazine and the New York Times Magazine. (Brian Doherty chips in the lone conservative perspective in a sour piece on Obama as stealth dictator.) There are few surprises, but the compendium does showcase centrist flagship journalism at its most effective. (Nov.)
This eighth installment of an annual anthology is the first under the PublicAffairs imprint, but otherwise editor Flippin has not changed his formula of recent years. The book might more accurately be titled "Best American Political Writing from Well-Known Magazines, Mainly from the Left," which is not a criticism so much as a pitch for truth in advertising. Though blogs, columns, and books are part of our multimedia political discourse, they are unrepresented in this collection of 22 articles from The New Yorker (four), Vanity Fair(three), the New York Times magazine (two), Esquire (two), New York magazine (two), and American Prospect Online (two), plus one each from Atlantic Monthly, Rolling Stone, GQ, New York Review of Books, New Republic, Washington Monthly, and American Conservative. The book's scope, publications from June 2008 through May 2009, spans a presidential election, but pieces about the Obama victory and McCain loss are overshadowed at this point by the less purely "political" selections, such as Michael Hastings's report from the war in Afghanistan and Dexter Filkins's dispatch from the ground in the tribal areas of Pakistan. VERDICT Readers who enjoy politics, especially those who lean left, will enjoy grazing here.—Bob Nardini, Nashville, TN\
Anthology of essays that attempt to make sense of the historic political drama of 2009. If this year was arguably the most important election year in decades, it's surprising that so many of pieces read like business-as-usual political journalism. There are a few wisely chosen works, most by veteran political scribes like George Packer, Dexter Filkins, Michael Wolff and Jane Mayer, all of whom produce the multilayered, thoroughly researched stories for which they're known. Many of editor Flippin's inclusions, however, do little more than confirm mainstream journalism's abiding fascination with superficial cult-of-personality issues and image. At the bottom of the barrel are several articles that approach political issues the way People or US Weekly might. Michele Cottle's intelligence-insulting profile of President Obama for the New Republic does little more than wonder if he's "cool," or is there a "dork" underlying all this perceived coolness? Only slightly more substantial is Adam Sternbergh's discovery of a baseball-statistics geek, Nate Silver, who now scientifically predicts political contests, and Lisa Taddeo discovers the key to Obama's victory is a 30-something college dropout with a large e-mail list. Like John Richardson's soporific study of Joe Biden for Esquire, most of these profiles display an unhealthy obsession with image-making and the artifice of political "narrative." It's the lone hard-line conservative writer, Brian Doherty, who finally addresses real issues concerning presidential ambition and abuse of power-though not without paranoiac rumblings. "Right at the Edge"- Filkins' expose of the ugly truths behind Pakistan's chummy relationship with the Taliban-isprobably the best of the bunch. Uneven, but holds the occasional flicker of hope for the future of American political journalism.
“A mixture of the biggest names in political opinion journalism and others far less famed stake out a viewpoint, argue it intelligently, and collectively capture the issues and candidacies that energized the electorate in 2008.”