Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics
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Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  3,255 ratings  ·  190 reviews
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 m...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 1st 1996)
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Catch-22 by Joseph HellerThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienUlysses by James JoyceMoby-Dick; or, The Whale by Herman MelvilleHoly Bible by Anonymous
The Most Begun "Read but Unfinished" (Initiated) book ever
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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 e...more
Alejandro
I read this novel back then in 1998, just before of watching the film adaptation. I have to admit that I didn't went crazy about for the book or the movie. However, the book is a more solid product with more details and development of the characters and events. I am not saying that it's not good. It's more likely that I wasn't the right reader for that kind of book at that moment. Who knows? Maybe if I try it again now, I'd like it more. However, it's not in my plans to re-read it. It's a book w...more
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...more
Stephanie Sun
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 t...more
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 th...more
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.
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.
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...more
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...more
Brett
Primary Colors has a great opening, describing the candidate has he might be seen by the public, projecting the image of strength, empathy, intelligence. It 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....more
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,...more
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 a...more
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, t...more
Vfields is 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.
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.
Lyn
Very informative, entertaining.
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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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...more
Jon
The novel by Joe Klein ("Anonymous") is a thinly disguised re-telling of the 1992 Democratic Presidential primary...at least the first part of it. This book gave me the most insight into the Clintons' behavior since I learned that they once claimed a tax deduction for used underwear donated to the Salvation Army. Governor Jack Stanton (aka Bill Clinton) stumbles his way through the primary campaign with a combination of dumb luck, bad behavior, policy smarts and, above all, overwhelming sincerit...more
Jacob Bergroschtje
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Micah
'Primary Colors' is the equivalent of 'The Remains of the Day' for political junkies. In the way that 'Remains' answers questions of professionalism, dedication, and loyalty for butlers, this book addresses those same issues - 'true believerism' - for political aides and campaign workers.

As a novel, it was very enjoyable with all the elements of excitement, violence (mostly political, but a few carnal episodes, too), romance, and twists and turns (probably not for all readers). As a roman a cle...more
Nathaniel
Joe Klein is a tacky weasel of a man, and so is the premise behind this book. While anyone who lived through his presidency knows how much of a moral stain Bill Clinton is, Klein's deciding to turn his private experiences on the campaign trail into a marginal novel is as tacky as it is unprofessional, especially when he had a reasonable - and accurate - expectation that such a story would become a financial success. On top of that, this book has the tired "he said she said" feel of the worst of...more
Mark
Picked this up for $1 at the public library. It was okay. I work with a few people who are in the corporate advocacy/lobbying biz, and, having only a few glimpses, I can see where the pace of such political types is as frenetic as this book seems. Now that I've consumed the book, it will be interesting to read the associated hub-bub about it when it came out...
Danny
You've gotta be with me. That line is the meat of Primary Colors. It's about relationships. The ones we have. The ones we want. The ones we should have avoided. And, maybe most importantly, the ones that sustain us.

Loosely (or specifically) based on Clinton's first run at the U.S. Presidency, the book explores the the tangled web of relationships that surround the key players in and around the campaign, and their ramifications. Ramifications that feel perilously close to bringing the entire camp...more
Nicholas
After all these years, this is still a hell of a good book. It feels more like 90s nostalgia than "ripped from the headlines" fiction these days, but it's still a great read for those of us who still get excited about politics and want to get a peek behind the curtains. I don't know how much is fact or fiction, but it's certainly entertaining.

Some of the stereotypical Southern characterizations got a little tiresome and Libby Holden's manic diatribes sometimes required a couple of readings befor...more
Lani
Sep 08, 2008 Lani rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jill, Diana
Shelves: modernclassics, own
Considering how politically oblivious I am now, and how even less attentive I was during the election this is about, I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It was also a rather timely read considering Hilary's recent run and the current election.

I expected the book to really drag and blather on about politics and policy, but that's not what it's about at all. I did have a difficult time keeping track of some of the campaign staffers, but towards the end of the book it became more focused...more
Erin
Primary Colors is a barely fictionalized version of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. There were things in the book that I remember reading in the newspapers and hearing on the evening news -- the sex scandals, the drugs, the wheelin’ 'n’ dealin’ of two Southern politicians -- but the real meat of the story is all the things that happened behind the scenes: what the "pols" and campaign reporters see, the relationships that develop between campaign members, and the drive that keeps polit...more
Emilia P
Hm. Well, first of all I loved the movie which is why I read the book. And the book was good--I read it really fast. It started out very strong...and there were lots of moments in it. Like the movie, however, and like a primary campaign, it dragged on at points and one got a bit lost in the action or lack thereof. However, in a movie, there are faces to go with the characters names and, well, watching a movie takes less time than reading a book. So basically, my experience of the book suffered f...more
Alison
I think this would have been an easy 4 stars if I hadn't seen the movie, but I think a clear strength is the twists and turns that make you want to keep turning pages to find out what happens next. Since I already knew what was coming next I didn't have that suspense. Overall though I think it was interesting and well written, as well as being a culturally interesting book in terms of looking at the 1990s.
Mark R.
Funny, sometimes overly long, fictional take on the 1992 primary election, with candidate Jack Stanton taking the place of Bill Clinton. The book would likely be intriguing were it not inspired by that election, however. The writing is smart, funny, and makes quite a few points about American politics and our electoral system.

The main character, Henry, a young political consultant hired to aid the Stanton campaign, is at once likeable, and through his eyes the reader sees the kinds of difficult,...more
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Joe Klein is a longtime Washington, D.C. and New York journalist and columnist, known for his novel Primary Colors, an anonymously written roman à clef portraying Bill Clinton's first presidential campaign. Klein is currently a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a former Guggenheim Fellow. Since 2003 he has been a contributor at the current affairs Time news group. In April 2006, he...more
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