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Political Fictions

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  615 Ratings  ·  41 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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Jan 12, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
"This is something one should talk about in another time, in another country."
― Major Jocoaitique to Todd Greentree and Major McKay in Joan Didion's "The West Wing of Oz", Political Fictions.


"History is context"
― Joan Didion

"Joan Didion—and I mean this in the most adoring and complimentary way possible—is a well-known stone cold bitch."
― Madeleine Davies in "Joan Didion's Crème Caramel Must Be Very Hostile", Jezebel, 2/12/15

How could I not forever love Joan Didion? She is a prose goddess who is
Nov 11, 2008 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, didion
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
Jun 20, 2007 Conrad rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 29, 2012 Justin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 28, 2009 Seán rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, 2009
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
Mar 02, 2016 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I guess it's no surprise to my friends that I like this book so much, but even I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Perhaps "enjoy" is not the best word - reading about the machinations of both Republicans and Democrats in the 1980s and 1990s reminds you, sadly, that nothing has changed. But I am amazed at how Didion "reads" the political stage like a dense piece of literary work, noting how carefully-written stories, fabrications, and narratives drive so much of what we think is a rational ...more
Sep 22, 2008 Bryant rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lindsey Culli
May 22, 2007 Lindsey Culli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
E. Ce Miller
Jul 05, 2015 E. Ce Miller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection of political essays, spanning 1998 to 2000, should be required reading for anyone who has, or has thought about, participating in the American political process, anyone who has thought about voting, or not. In the opening of the collection, Didion mentions what she considers a “Sisyphean aspect” to writing about politics—and after reading this collection in its entirety, readers will suspect that perhaps there’s not just a “Sisyphean aspect” to writing about politics, but to the ...more
David Cupples
Jan 24, 2015 David Cupples rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 10, 2015 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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 really liked it  ·  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
Sep 03, 2011 Jason Larimer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 16, 2015 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 20, 2013 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Smiley 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
Dec 13, 2008 Brandon rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 25, 2008 Jaclyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bill Lenoir
Jun 13, 2015 Bill Lenoir rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent analysis of how US national politics have become so dysfunctional. A good read to prepare for the upcoming presidential election. Joan Didion does what the mainstream press appears unwilling to do: Actually read source material to figure out what people and the data actually say.
Jan 09, 2010 Martin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 27, 2014 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Insider baseball. Still really fine after ages and ages of news.
Aug 03, 2013 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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.
Dec 07, 2011 Jeanette rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 10, 2014 Poland rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apr 08, 2016 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My only complaint about these penetrating political essays is that Didion often writes long, complex sentences with lines and lines of parenthetical material thrown in, which makes for difficult reading at times. She is brilliant, but writing clear, straightforward prose is apparently not her style.
Tim Kennedy
Oct 28, 2015 Tim Kennedy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing here is occasionally so mannered it flirts with self parody, but the perception and insight are, as always, astonishing. Didion for president.
Nov 06, 2015 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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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...

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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
“What seemed novel about the use of focus groups in the 1992 campaign was the increasingly narrow part of the population to which either party was interested in listening, and the extent to which this extreme selectivity had transformed the governing of the country, for most of its citizens, into a series of signals meant for someone else.” 0 likes
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