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

3.57  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,136 Ratings  ·  230 Reviews
Henry Burton, a former congressional aide of mixed race, is half-flattered, half-dragooned into a staff job for Jack Stanton, the governor of a small Southern state who has set his sights on the Presidency. Henry watches in admiration, horror, and amazement as the Governor mixes calculation and sincerity in his campaigning, dodges a draft-controversy bullet, and then some.
Audio Cassette, Abridged, 0 pages
Published January 16th 1996 by Random House Audio (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 28, 2013 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 26, 2009 MacK rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 24, 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  ·  review of another edition
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.
Carlos Mock
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
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 01, 2015 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
Matthew Ciarvella
Apr 06, 2016 Matthew Ciarvella rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"Primary Colors portrays a convincing world of its own, peopled by smart cookies, nut cases, and wheeler-dealers, whose public and private lives illuminate each other - sometimes by casting dark shadows. The story paints a picture of the political state of the nation so vivid that one finds in it the deepest kind of truth - the kind of truth only fiction can tell." (From Amazon)

Hmmmm...I wonder which President this book is based Whether there is more truth or fiction through
Jan 30, 2015 Justin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fictionalized tale of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential run is a fun and fascinating look inside the American political machine – the good, the bad and the ugly. Even now, nearly 20 years after it was written and long after political columnist Joe Klein was outed as the author, it still resonates.

The book captures the charisma of Clinton (err, Jack Stanton) that allowed him to survive one scandal after the other, the calculating professionalism of Hillary (err, Susan Stanton) and the hard, u
Gabriel C.
Apr 04, 2016 Gabriel C. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016, bookriot2016
Depressing and infuriating. I liked how it was written in a breakneck slang and how (fairly often) an emotional response on the part of a character would be revealed directly contrary to what would normally be taken as the implicit response, forcing instant reevalution, like a garden path sentence. Maybe I should have liked it more than I did, but after reading Mao last month, I feel like my fingers have been burned with one-sided hits. The funny thing is, you get the impression that this isn't ...more
Apr 30, 2015 Colleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poli-sci
I started this shortly after Hillary declared for the 2016 election, and found that, while I can recognize how Jack Stanton's character is a simulacrum of Bill, it was literally impossible for me to have anything besides an image of Hillary in my head as I read anything Susan Stanton said or did. Except, mercifully, for exactly one scene, hah.

But. Political relevance in the modern day aside-- this is just a darn good read. As a work of political-science/ electoral fiction, and simply as a book--
Dec 17, 2008 Mfalco65 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 12, 2015 Nuru rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Putting to one side the Clinton comparisons, this was an enjoyable read. It's interesting how things have changed and stayed the same in the 20 years since publication, especially with regards to what would cause a national scandal now?
Really enjoyed how it weaved in the difference between the charisma & wattage of becoming a leader vs the actual day to day job of improving people's lives, it was remarkable that all the talk of policy in this were always in a theoretical sense. Most of a po
John Findlay
I bought this book at a library used-book sale, and hadn't gotten around to reading it. But this year seemed the appropriate time. Actually, it was better than I expected, although certainly not great literature. One could certainly see similarities to Bill Clinton's campaign through much of the book, but there were some twists and turns that kept it suspenseful. All in all, I would consider it a good, light summer read. One does get a perspective as to what a presidential campaign looks like fr ...more
Jan 02, 2016 Gina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Saw the movie The End of the Tour about David Foster Wallace this weekend. Enjoyed gaining a better understanding of the author. Felt a little like a voyeur looking in. The referenced little state university in Illinois where he taught and the movie set, is my alma mater (it was actually a large state university, but that's a small detail). While the journalist who would later propose an article on the newest phenom of the publishing world to his editor was reading Infinite Jest, his girlfriend ...more
Rob Walter
This is a good, solid book, but I didn't get a whole lot more out of it than I did from the film, which I saw first. That's no fault of the book, of course, but a really good novel is impossible to turn into a good movie because there's too much going on in the pages (a really good short story can be almost as good on film, though). With Primary Colours there's nothing happening in the prose or the characters beyond the superficial, and while the dialogue is fantastic, the best of it made it to ...more
Nov 06, 2015 Corielle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would! Primary Colors was initially written anonymously but later revealed to be by Joe Klein (a political columnist). The book focuses on Henry Burton, a congressional worker who still believes in the good that politics can do, as he gets sucked into the campaign of Jack Stanton (who is basically Bill Clinton). As Stanton's past is revealed (an affair, a draft dodge, another affair...) Henry loses his idealism and the reader gets an excellent view of p ...more
Aug 09, 2013 §-- rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, novel
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
The novel by Joe Klein ("Anonymous") is a thinly disguised re-telling of the 1992 Democratic Presidential 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.
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