A Great New Hampshire-Weekend Read

There's a lot of politicking still ahead of us, so to pace myself I need a break from insights about the Live Free or Die state and whether it will support a "Santorum surge," and so on. In case you're in a similar mood, here is a tip for enjoyable political reading this weekend:

WalterShapiro.pngYou can go to your local bookstore, should one quaintly still exist, or look online for Walter Shapiro's One-Car Caravan, his idiosyncratic and entirely charming report on the early stages of the 2004 presidential campaign. The book's publication date is 2003, which is a clue to what is unusual in its approach. Walter Shapiro (disclosure: a long-time friend) began covering the field of Democratic aspirants two years before the election, in 2002. At the time, John Kerry, John Edwards, Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, et al had no media pools following them and were meeting potential supporters and donors in groups of two or three. Walter traipsed around the country with them, and his resulting report has the kind of timeless texture and insight about politics that you also find in the (better-known and much longer) What It Takes, Richard Ben Cramer's wonderful account of the 1988 campaign.

It is also a sympathetic and human book, in an enriching rather than a sappy way. One of the surprises of the book is how much Walter Shapiro ends up, yes, liking John Kerry, against Shapiro's own anti-snob instincts and contrary to the well-established image of Kerry as a stiff. He makes Kerry likable to the reader, too -- maybe the DNC should have thought of airdropping the book over Ohio in 2004. The book also has this to say about the process we're now living through:

As a political reporter, I am prepared to offer a spirited defense of New Hampshire's outsized role in presidential politics. Nowhere else in the nation do voters display such fidelity to old-fashioned civic obligations.... New Hampshire may be a living monument to participatory democracy, but what in God's name is the justification for making the Iowa caucuses the campaign equivalent of the book of Genesis?

He goes on to explain his complaint about what the Iowa caucuses have done to politics, journalism, and American life. I am biased in Walter Shapiro's favor. He and I started out at the Washington Monthly together back in the Watergate era, and just after Walter's own quixotic attempt as a 25-year-old to unseat an incumbent Republican congressman in Michigan. But you don't have to know him to find this book enjoyable and still-relevant. Check it out.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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