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

3.58  ·  Rating Details ·  4,395 Ratings  ·  255 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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A relevant reading


I read this novel, back then in 1998, just live a month before of watching the film adaptation. Even at that moment was published as an "anonymous" work. (It was later than it was known that Joe Klein was the author of the novel.

I have to admit that I didn't went crazy about for the book or the movie, at that particular moment, but again I think that it was a "too serious" story in a moment in my life that I was reading and watching lighter stu
Jul 27, 2013 Diane rated it really liked it
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
May 23, 2009 Coco rated it liked it
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
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
May 24, 2013 Denerick rated it really liked it
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
Jan 02, 2010 Maryanne rated it did not like it
Shelves: politics
'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.
Dec 19, 2007 MacK rated it liked it
Shelves: contemporary, am-lit
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
Jun 02, 2013 Brett rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 10, 2010 Stephen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 26, 2011 Emily rated it it was ok
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

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.
Vfields Don't touch my 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.
Oct 10, 2011 Lyn rated it liked it
Very informative, entertaining.
Carlos Mock
Oct 03, 2014 Carlos Mock rated it liked it
Primary Colors - An Anonymous novel on politics

This is the story of a governor of "a state no one has heard of," Jack Stanton, in his pursuit for the presidency of the United States. The story is narrated from the first person point of view by Henry Burton, a bright, youngish black man who rises quickly to a key position on the Governor's presidential primary campaign staff.

Stanton is a brilliant but flawed man, who truly loves people. He really cared about "folks," as he needs them to survive
Mar 27, 2014 Walter rated it really liked it
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
Feb 23, 2014 Tassie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
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
Dec 17, 2008 Mfalco65 rated it really liked it
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.
T.B. Markinson
An interesting glimpse behind the scenes of campaigns.
Tony Laplume
Dec 18, 2016 Tony Laplume rated it it was amazing
It's fascinating, reading this twenty years after the fact. In a lot of ways, Primary Colors jumpstarted American culture, or at the very least paved the way for books, however briefly (Harry Potter was the chief beneficiary), to lead the conversation again. And it was all because, just as everyone knows "Anonymous" turned out to be Joe Klein, of the fact that Jack Stanton was modeled after Bill Clinton. Now that we've seen perhaps the last effort of a Clinton to occupy the White House (we'll se ...more
Nov 09, 2016 Michele rated it it was amazing
I was reading this book to familiarize myself with the Bill Clinton presidential campaign of 1991 & 1992, with him getting elected Election Day 1992. I wanted to get to know what was all the inside wahalla of their campaign, witnessed and documented in this book by one of their campaign members and friends (just the names were changed to protect the not-so-"innocent"), and how does it affect the 2016 presidential campaign of his wife, Hillary. All I can say is WOW! That being said, and writi ...more
Chuck Heikkinen
Nov 23, 2016 Chuck Heikkinen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, politics
A very humane look at presidential politics, written by Joe Klein, a well-known journalist who initially remained anonymous but identifies himself in an Afterword. He depicts the good, the bad, etc. in the people running for office but always with appreciation of the would-be office holders as human being with the same needs, wants, fears, pride as the rest of us. One follows Jack Stanton and his wife Susan through the eyes of Henry Burton, their committed African-American campaign manager. Ther ...more
Jan 19, 2017 Conrad rated it liked it
The book made headlines for its anonymous authorship. Later, Joe Klein claimed revealed he was behind the work. Klein is an excellent political columnist, I always look forward to his essays in Time magazine, but the book was a little disappointing. Supposedly the book is loosely based on the Clintons' rise to power. There were some interesting characters, and I enjoyed the view into how a political campaign works. However, I'd prefer that he spends his resources and time on nonfiction.
Elaine Ames
Nov 14, 2016 Elaine Ames rated it liked it
A great inside look at how a campaign is conducted. The more things change, the more they st a y the same.
Dec 25, 2016 Oz rated it liked it
Trashy but a good light read
Jan 30, 2017 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Scandal gold. Ate up every word.
Sep 17, 2016 Jerry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most important thing I learned in this book is that in the song Please Mister Please the singer is not asking the listener to avoid a song named “Be Seventeen” but rather to avoid whatever song is chosen by B-17 on the jukebox. This opens up a world of possibilities. It’s no longer a song about either young love gone awry or, potentially, about a statutory rapist like Governor Jack Stanton.

This is very clearly a story about the Clintons, using the real events and personalities surrounding Go
Apr 10, 2013 Σς rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, novel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matthew Ciarvella
Mar 31, 2016 Matthew Ciarvella rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Until the halfway point, this was a 4.5 star book. I'd just seen the movie of the same name recently so I was interested in reading the book to compare the two. I was also hoping the book would provide more insight into some of the characters' decisions.

I was impressed by how faithfully the movie recreated scenes from the book; this might just be one of the best book-to-film adaptations I'd ever seen, which is even more impressive when you consider the context in which it was created; the mid-to
Paul Chen
Jan 02, 2017 Paul Chen rated it really liked it
Joe Klein's most famous work. You have to be at a certain time of your life to like this novel. I was twenty when I read it. I believed in the possibility of the national govt to create change. I was interested by the process of politics. These things made the novel good. Klein also has a great talent for incorporating elements of nolstagic Americana into his fiction writing. All of this is not for everyone.
Sep 06, 2016 D rated it liked it
Recommends it for: die-hard politics nerds
*** ORIGINAL REVIEW -- 9/6/16 ***
i initially read this book maybe fifteen years ago because i'd missed out on the real-time crazy of the (first?) clinton campaign and presidency, as i was not-shockingly apolitical, uninvolved, and apathetic. boo, self! (rereading it now in honor of hillary's bid for her husband's old job, btw . . . stand by for updated review.)

anyhoo, i eventually accidentally heard about the buzz around this Scand'lous! book! -- a roman a' clef about bill clinton's troubled but
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Books can be attributed to "Anonymous" for several reasons:

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* They are religious texts not generally attributed to a specific author

Books whose authorship is merely uncertain should be attributed to Unknown.
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