Daniel Solera's Reviews > The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election

The Battle for America 2008 by Dan Balz
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Mar 01, 10

it was amazing
bookshelves: current-events, politics

I have already alluded in my review for Heilemann and Halperin’s 2010 book Game Change, also about the 2008 presidential election, that I would give five stars to any book about this topic, even if written by a village idiot. Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson’s account of the historic battle, published last year, is no exception. Though I acknowledge that writing a review about this book based on its own merits is the correct thing to do, it is inevitable that I will end up simply comparing it to Game and for that, I apologize.

I wish I had read Balz and Johnson’s book first, and not just to laugh childishly at the hysterical combination of their last names. Although both books liberally bask in the historic nature of the race to the White House, Battle does so with a specifically historical lens. In other words, it doesn’t focus as much on the individual people as much as the greater picture and its place in American history. Game followed each candidate through profoundly intimate moments, giving readers memorable and often shocking moments that reporters missed. Battle doesn’t do this. Instead, it takes a step back and describes the situation from above, explaining the significance of each event in terms of history and demography.

Structurally, the books are very similar. Both begin with the primaries of the Democratic party, segue into the same for the Republican party and then continue onto the general election. However, Game ends with Obama offering Hillary Clinton the position of Secretary of State, ultimately framing the book as a struggle to reconcile these two electric and polarizing figures. Battle does not keep this framework and instead moves beyond the November results and well into Inauguration Day. Game gives us a lot of dialogue that we didn’t know, while Battle recounts large chunks of memorable speeches. Game revels in the gossip, treating John Edwards’ affair with the flair of a soap opera novella and Battle keeps it as a footnote.

To sum up these comparisons, Balz and Johnson took a much more conservative approach to their telling of the election. They relied heavily on post-election remarks from Obama and speeches that are readily available online, assumed much less knowledge from their readership and therefore provided a more professorial description of the events leading up to November 2008. In the absence of literary risk-taking, they have written a great book, but not a gripping page-turner. However, it is because of this punctilious approach that one discovers new aspects of the election, in spite of the considerable overlap with Heilemann and Halperin’s newer book.

Though my appetite for this book wasn’t as insatiable as it was for Game Change, I still appreciated Balz and Johnson’s cautious, restrained style. It undoubtedly earned its five-star rating, regardless of any comparisons. For anyone interested in reading about the 2008 presidential elections, I highly recommend both books, but strongly urge that this one be first in the queue.
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