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Race of a Lifetime: Book review

Race of a Lifetime

Reviewed by's Mira Bradshaw

Race Of A Lifetime charts Obama's path to the White House and tracks not only his campaign, but those of his rivals. 

This book was written by two acclaimed political reporters, Heilemann and Halperin, who observed that "despite wall-to-wall media coverage, much of the story behind the headlines had not been told". After reading their book, I agree with them.

Race Of A Lifetime is split into three parts and the book is bracketed by a prologue and epilogue. The prologue relates Obama's striking Iowa victory on caucus day, which was achieved with an unprecedented voter turnout.

Part One then moves backwards and actually examines the decision-making and preparation process that each candidate went through in order to decide to run for president. It makes up more than half of the book and primarily follows the bitter Obama-vs-Clinton campaign to represent the Democrats in the election. From fundraising to campaign strategy and team dynamics, it examines the gritty details of this prolonged battle from start to finish.

Part Two, the shortest of the three parts, looks at McCain's phoenix-like journey to secure the Republican candidacy despite major campaign setbacks and overwhelming disasters at the outset. Part Three looks at the actual presidential election. Much of this section focuses on the running-mates (and Sarah Palin in particular). Finally, an epilogue relates Clinton's appointment as secretary of state.

Despite the known ending - Obama's victory and Clinton's role within his government - Heilemann and Halperin maintain a feeling of momentum and tension throughout. The book looks at all aspects of the major candidates' campaigns, with much more detail and insight than was available in the media coverage at the time.

The authors claim intimate knowledge of disagreements, discussions, lobbying and campaign decisions. This assertion is legitimised by an authors' note preceding the book, explaining their interview process. Heilemann and Halperin also use this note to distinguish dialogue in quote marks (direct quotes) from dialogue that appears as part of the text, which is their own reconstruction. This level of accuracy engenders trust in their work.

Race Of A Lifetime relates an interesting and tumultuous election story, much of which wasn't covered by media at the time. Although this level of detailed analysis may not be to everyone's taste, this book delivers it in a compulsively readable manner. For anyone interested in the finer points of a modern political story, consider this essential reading.


Race Of A Lifetime, by John Heilemann & Mark Halperin
Publisher: Penguin
RRP: $32.00
Available: 4 January 2011