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Political Fictions

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  516 ratings  ·  36 reviews
In these coolly observant essays, Joan Didion looks at the American political process and at "that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life." Through the deconstruction of the sound bites and photo ops of three presidential campaigns, one presidential impeachment, and an unforgettable sex scandal, Didion reveals the mechanics of Am ...more
Kindle Edition, 354 pages
Published (first published 2001)
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Another gem in the crown of Joan Didion’s collection of non-fiction writing. In “Political Fictions” she explores the nature of our political system in the United States and the manner in which we all buy into the story. It is my understanding that the book was released in 200 and what struck me was just how prophetic most of her ideas were, especially in the wake of the recent 2008 election.

Various thoughts and notes I made on the book are as follows:
• A 1995 essay about Newt Gingrich concludes
I would have a hard time articulating why I can't stand Joan Didion even if her husband and daughter hadn't just died; these days, complaining about the woman feels like torching an infirmary. But Political Fictions struck me as just unbelievably arch when I read it. When it comes to Democrats, she definitely has a bad case of Monday Morning Quarterback combined with New Convert Syndrome, so she wants ideological purity to lead them immer weiter to victory and gets bitterly mad when it doesn't.
Didion (a favorite of mine for her lyrical essays on cultural movements, such as Haight-Ashbury in 1968 in her book 'Slouching towards Bethlehem) takes on politics in the 1980's of George Bush the first. Her harshly honest expose of the inner world of republican politics is particlarly relevant today, two decades later.
A wonderful antidote to the sometimes obnoxious over-excitement surrounding the 2008 American presidential election, Didion's "Political Fictions" reminds us why revving up the engine of hope when it comes to political change usually leads to frustration. As a marker of her often unintentional prescience, consider her observation about the robotic mantras of the 1992 DNC:

"Not much at their [the Democrats' 1992] convention got left to improvisation. They spoke about 'unity.' They spoke about a 'n
Lance Mannion on the Journalist as Impressionist:
The best journalism is the work of writers who see it as their job to base their opinions on verifiable facts and deliver impressions that are the result of taking a long, hard look at the facts and thinking deeply and seriously about them in order to understand what they hinge on and what hinges on them.

That’s what Bill Moyers does. That’s what Joan Didion does, that’s what John McPhee does, and, when they were in their prime, used to do as well
Lindsey C.
I heard/saw Joan Didion speak at Mizzou just after this book was released. Basically she chronicles politics of the last two decades, from the election of George H.W. to his defeat by Clinton to Clinton’s impeachment to the election of George W.

Didion is wry and often sardonic and it’s easy to see why the NYT has described her writing as “night scope sniper prose.” Indeed, and Didion’s target is the pansy, self-serving politicos who hide behind their spin-doctors.

Her writing style is unique an
David Cupples
The nuts and bolts of politics as practiced in the US, or rehashing topics like Clinton-Lewinsky and so forth aren't the most interesting subjects for me, but leafing through and seeing discussion of Central America in the '70s-'80s, in particular El Salvador and the massacre at El Mozote, and then noticing discussion (albeit brief) of Reagan's intervention in Grenada, I knew I had to read this book. It consists of essays originally published in the New York Review of Books. Didion's literary st ...more

In one of the stronger collections of her essays, Political Fictions revisits a series of essays she wrote in the last decade of the 20th century on assignment for The New York Review of Books. In these writings she covers the elections between 1988 and 2000 and finds much to talk about. Dukakis, Bush the first, Bush the second, and Clinton are the main focus but we also see references to Monica and " Compassionate Conservatism. "

Through it all what Didion most observes is the corruption of th
May 28, 2008 Marit rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Marit by: Zandbroz
I found this book by chance, perusing the magnetic shelves at Zandbroz, a funky indy store in downtown Fargo, ND. Bought it on a whim and found that I just love Didion's writing style and combining it with this subject matter just leaves me smiling, wanting more. The pictures painted of the political world are revealing, feeding my always-hungry curiosity.
Jason Larimer
I read this in June 2002 and I can't believe I forgot to add it to my list. It is an excellent guide to all the wingnuts popping up in politics. Better yet, it was written just about the time the wingnuts began to pop up.
In which Didion eviscerates the political process, and expresses her frustration and disdain for the way the political system is its own self-sustaining ecosystem, further and further removed from the people it is meant to serve.

"That this crude personalization [seeking "the human story" instead of the accurate or productive one] works to narrow the focus, to circumnavigate the range of possible discussion or speculation, is, for the people who find it useful to talk to Mr. Woodward, the point.
I'm gonna buck conventional wisdom here and say that this is better than Slouching Towards Bethlehem or The White Album. All of these essays seem essential to me, well-reasoned and thought-provoking. If they're all take-downs to some degree--not that that's surprising for political essays--it's excusable given that Didion's disappointment is tied to real issues--most pressingly, minority rights, but also intelligent, active journalism and the use of language in politics. "Eyes on the Prize" is t ...more
Hank Stuever
Kind of an "After-After Henry," unfortunately plunked down right around 9/11 and therefore pretty much instantly irrelevant to Topic A. This book collects Didion's long-form, analytical essays (some of which were very long book reviews in the NYRB) through the Clinton years. On the one hand, "Political Fictions" is lacking another half-dozen or so essays that would round it out -- the margins are narrow and the type is leded-out, reflecting a paucity of material to choose from; she just wasn't w ...more
Crabby McGrouchpants
"Another of Those Agreements to Overlook the Observable":
The Routinization of Avoidance and Denial in American Politics
As Delineated in Joan Didion's Political Fictions

Christopher Snyder
May 31, 2013
Little Red Schoolhouse
(undergrad vers.)
- 1 -

¶ When Joan Didion states, "[t]his kind of [political]

forecasting, which was based on analyzing mathematical models

of the thirteen presidential elections since 1948 and the state

of the ec
A few observations that struck me while reading:

-The opening is predictable and pretentious. I'm tired of the attitude from some journalists that they are too good to cover the campaigns/politics. It seeps through and colors their work. I guess she's at least kind enough to air the dirty laundry right out front.

-It strains credulity to think that you can build a case that someone is being dishonest, as she does of midlevel Reagan officials in The West Wing of Oz based on the tenses they use year
Hai-Dang Phan
As this election year heats up, Didion's cool prose delivers some much needed (at least for this citizen) critical distance on American politics.

Here's the intro to the brilliant first piece, "Insider Baseball": "It occurred to me, in California in June and in Atlanta in July and in New Orleans in August, in the course of watching first the California primary and then the Democratic and Republican national conventions, that it had not been by accident that the people with whom I had preferred t
I really wanted to get this one in before the election. Political Fictions is a collection of essays on the political process, political figures and noteworthy elements of various campaigns that Joan Didion observed and comments on in her uniquely analytical voice.

What I had hoped for was some insight into what all happens every four years, what all it means. "Insider Baseball" delivered with its portrayal of the Dukakais campaign from within. (The Bush-Dukakis election is the first one of that
This collects together Joan Didion's writings on the flea circus politics of the years 1982-2000, when she was covering the national conventions for the NY Review of Books.
On the minus side, the best of these essays (such as a gem on Newt Gingrich) are slightly overwritten, and one or two about twice the length they need to be Not at all typical of Joan Didion--I don't remember a single word in excess of requirements in The Year of Magical Thinking.
On the plus side, very astute analysis of the e
Didion dedicated this collection of essays on campaigns to her husband, the journalist John Gregory Dunne. The dedication, unidentifiably brutal or tender, goes like this:

"This book is for John Gregory Dunne, who lived through my discovering what he already knew."

Read this like John, for the pleasure of recognizing some of its truths. Didion's position is, as usual, all irascibility and rancor for the showmanship of presidential politics. She misstrusts columnists, advance, candidates, photograp
Insider baseball. Still really fine after ages and ages of news.

All the essays in this collection are good, but my favorites would be the four listed below which were first published at the New York Review, plus Didion's introduction, which can only be found in the book format.
Didion is supposedly a compelling clear writer. Not in this book. It's darn near unreadable, which is a pity. Basically, Didion deconstructs political campaigns in the late 80s and 90s, and has disdain for everyone. That's great. Politicians truly earn disdain every day. In my younger days, I loved Didion's tone, but now it just grates. She offers nothing but disdain -- one can imagine her making that mildly sour face -- it just isn't worth a real frown, you know. I simply wish I hadn't read the ...more
I finally finished reading these essays for the second time. It was well worth it; a chronicle of politics in America in the eighties and nineties; not surprising how not that much has changed. The deck chairs have been rearranged since then. Perhaps the youth of that time have grown into more enlightened grownups. Perhaps not.

Joan Didion. An invaluable American voice.
It's not perfect and it's not as lyrical as some of her other essays but it's a good book.
I've heard many criticisms of this book and I don't think any of them are particularly valid.
Her message may not be deep enough for some other, more intellectual writers but I think it's important because it's sensible and accurate.
Frederick Bingham
A collection of essays first published in the "New Yorker' magazine. Many of them are quite old, dating back as far as 1988. I skimmed one from '2000 and found it to be tedious and incoherent.
I feel smarter for reading Political Fictions. Seriously though, it's a well-sourced look at politics I lived through but didn't appreciate or understand enough.
Oct 21, 2008 DoctorM rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in politics and the grey dust of the American Dream
Shelves: essays, politics
Acid, spare, coolly distanced--- Joan Didion's political writing is all those things. And she's always--- always ---worth reading.
Gregg Martinson
Didion is one of the best living authors today and she takes on politcis in a wonderful journalistic way that few journalists do.
Joan looks at the frail egos of some of past political leaders including Clinton and Gingrich.
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Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She's best known for her novels and her literary journalism.

Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.
More about Joan Didion...
The Year of Magical Thinking Slouching Towards Bethlehem Play It as It Lays Blue Nights The White Album

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“The genuflection toward 'fairness' is a familiar newsroom piety, in practice the excuse for a good deal of autopilot reporting and lazy thinking but in theory a benign ideal. In Washington, however, a community in which the management of news has become the single overriding preoccupation of the core industry, what 'fairness' has often come to mean is a scrupulous passivity, an agreement to cover the story not as it is occurring but as it is presented, which is to say as it is manufactured.” 4 likes
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