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Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  5,506 ratings  ·  320 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 2006 by Random House (first published January 16th 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
Jul 27, 2013 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 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
Jan 10, 2010 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
May 24, 2013 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
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
Dec 19, 2007 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 rated it really liked it
Primary Colors has a great opening, describing the candidate as he might be seen by the public, projecting the image of strength, empathy, intelligence. It is 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 campaig

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.
Jan 02, 2010 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. ...more
Bodosika Bodosika
Oct 12, 2020 rated it liked it
An interesting political thriller.
Michael Burnam-Fink
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, fiction
Primary Colors is a strange beast of a political thriller, a novel based on the 1992 Clinton campaign, where the names have been changed and some events altered. Jack Stanton is a charismatic governor of a southern state, a new kind of democrat who blends populist politics with Ivy League credentials. Jack Stanton can light up a room, but he's got feet of clay. He avoided serving during the Vietnam War, and he can't stop sleeping around.

Our viewpoint is campaign manager Henry Burton, the grandso
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
Mar 27, 2014 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
Sep 07, 2019 rated it liked it
The appeal of Primary Colours lies in its conjuring of real people, in its picture of the actual figures behind this roman a clef, in its supplying of a flavour of the nerve-shredding, often nasty reality of American political campaigning.

But as a novel it's clumsy, right from the offset; compared to the gold standard of the American political novel, which I would say is All the King's Men, its language is laborious and the imagery hackneyed. It reads like it was written as a longform piece of
Jun 26, 2011 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
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. ...more
Oct 10, 2011 rated it liked it
Very informative, entertaining.
This one was hard to rate. I didn't read it when it first came out because it sounded like an overblown fad that was made popular solely because it was authored anonymously, and people were trying to figure out who wrote it and what was real in it. But it is a lot better than that, and I'm glad I read it, especially with the distance of time since the Clinton administration.

I will admit that I looked up the career dates of many people while reading this book because many characters sounded like
Rachel Brown
Dec 04, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the political satire, and the insanity of a presidential campaign, but found myself pretty uninterested in most of the characters. I also felt that the beginning and end were strong, but the middle kind of dragged on a bit. I also wish the chapters had been shorter.

Also the scandals are less shocking in the current political climate. Overall, still an entertaining political novel, even almost 25 years after it was first published.
I read this for the 2021 Popsugar Challenge prompt "a book that was published anonymously". It's one of those books I've heard about forever, but never read and it was the first thing that came to mind when I read that prompt. I was amazed how well the story evoked the Clinton campaign, although eventually the plot diverged from reality. It's a good read. 3.5 stars ...more
Carlos Mock
Oct 03, 2014 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
Victor Davis
Oct 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: movie-was-better
It's worth the read for the ending, and I find that rare in books. Most of the novel is the day-to-day chaos behind the curtain in a political campaign. And while it's fascinating, the way watching a car crash or a butcher at work is fascinating, it's not particularly literary or enlightening. By the end, though, the author has dragged us through enough muck to start to wax poetic about the nature of man and sin and will to power... And it's good.

I mean, this is stuff that just never loses its r
Paolo Aguas
I originally wanted to give this book 4 stars out of five but the problem was and always will be the slow start, the first 60 pages were very dragging which is such a pity because the last 306 pages were super interesting and entertaining especially if you follow American politics.

The way the writer was able to change the names of the people and yet leave particular news, characteristics, etc just shows how skillful he is at writing and kinda makes you feel as if you were a part of the campaign
Feb 23, 2014 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
Jan 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: own-copy
I saw the movie of the same name based on this book starring John Travolta. Joe Klein was outed as the author of this book which is loosely based on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. The story follows the presidential campaign of Southern governor Jack Stanton, a notorious flirt who frequently gets into trouble with women. He is skilled at telling stories and manipulating people while professing to care very deeply about their plight in life and how other politicians have failed them. The campaign i ...more
Will Atkins
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: for-fun
Political “Fiction”

Is it still considered taking a break from political “how-to” books if you read a piece of political fiction, written anonymously by Joe Klein, and loosely based on the Clintons?
Dec 17, 2008 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.
May 01, 2014 rated it liked it
See the movie, which (surprisingly) is better. The movie, however, lets Hillary off the hook--because Emma Thompson bought the script and played her.
T.B. Markinson
An interesting glimpse behind the scenes of campaigns.
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Books can be attributed to "Anonymous" for several reasons:

* They are officially published under that name
* They are traditional stories not attributed to a specific author
* 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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