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Political Fictions

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,067 ratings  ·  95 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
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 27th 2002 by Vintage (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  1,067 ratings  ·  95 reviews

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Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it

There are eight essays here, excluding Didion's foreword (although that's worth reading as well), spanning the late 80s to the year 2000. A couple- like "Newt Gingrich, Superstar", and "Political Pornography", about the books of Bob Woodward- narrow the focus to a single person or body of work, and a couple- like "Insider Baseball" and "The West Wing of Oz"- draw unexpected but intuitive connections among seemingly disparate subjects, but each one is excellent and worth reading. One of the stren
Dec 05, 2020 rated it liked it
I picked this book up because I was told that Joan Didion was part of wave of writers called Literary Journalists, in that they wove a storyline from among the myriad of source quotes and factual event recordings that went on in a typical journalistic piece. What I read was a series of long essays still mired in disparate source quotes, woven into complex, run-on, and fragmented sentences, some that spanned whole paragraphs – certainly not your everyday journalistic writing.

Many of these pieces
Nov 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 2000 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 conclude
Joseph Sciuto
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Joan Didion's, "Political Fictions," Is a collection of about ten essays that primarily deal with how presidential campaigns are so staged that almost everything you see a candidate say or do, right down to how many steps it takes a candidate to walk from the Oval Office to greet a group of reporters is choreographed. It more or less covers the period from 1981 to 2000, with a heavy emphasis on 1988 to 2000. There are roughly ten essays, the reason I can't give a correct figure is because so man ...more
Dec 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I experienced a large range of low emotions in the wake of the 2016 presidential election: disbelief, shock, anger, indignation, confusion, revulsion, despair, depression, anxiety. I chose this book, in part, because I wanted to settle back in to Didion’s exacting language after enjoying two of her books so much, and because I was seeking some political and historical perspective.

The connecting theme of this collection is the creation of narrative - the media appearances, showmanship and public
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The essays in Joan Didion's Political Fiction cover American politics from the mid-1980s to the 2000 "election" of George Bush. They rest on a premise Didion validates over and over again: the stagecraft of national leadership in the United States is individual ambition in search of popular wherewithal, and when no wherewithal is to be found, it is readily enough created and then sold to an increasingly alienated, largely nonvoting public as "true" by a collaborationist press.

U.S. political lead
I agree with another reviewer who said that t his would have been even better with better candidates. I read t his way long ago so my review maybe a bit vague. But I enjoyed i t. I like to read anything and everything political.

I would like to see her come out wit h another book about what is going in right now in America. I just got done watching Trump's impeachment trial. It makes me sad that people..adults..OUR POLITICIANS who serve at our pleasure..act like they are three years old, slinging
Matthew Wilder
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Didion is now being sniped at by the new, identitarian left as too snobbish. Well, she is. She is a conservative too, in the old, old sense of that word. But by gum, she is observant; she knows the linguistic rules of order; and she can generate a mystic sense of oracular terror out of a copyright note. She may loom the largest, both poetically and prophetically, of the mid century giants. (The last quarter here, a series of book reviews that snipe at Newt Gingrich, is dullish.)
Mar 25, 2007 rated it did not like it
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. ...more
C. Scott
Feb 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I've never read Joan Didion before and I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Her analysis is so smart - with apparently very little effort she provides some Chomsky-level critiques of the American political system. A joy to read.

The best parts are when Didion chooses a target like Dinesh D'Souza or Bob Woodward and ruthlessly deconstructs their work. The way she disassembles, piece by piece, D'Souza's self-serving Reagan hagiography brings a smile to my face. The way she plucks apart all the conv
Jan 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Alas, she has spoken to me, the muse of attractive and stylish millennial women, inspiration to well-read 20-somethings. Political Fictions is a collection of essays written between 1988 and 2000 and has been my favorite work of Joan Didion's so far. Perhaps it's the continued relevance and truth her essays contained about the absolute production and shenanigans that go into presidential campaigns or the distance between candidates and their political parties or even the growing disenchantment a ...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
Mar 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 20, 2007 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Erika W. Smith
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2018
This book focuses on presidential campaigns from 1988-2000 - I was born in 1990 so have no memory of the Bush #1 and Clinton campaigns, was aware of the Clinton scandal but didn’t know what it was about, and remember Bush/Gore but didn’t comprehend how unprecedented it was. So this was a really illuminating read, especially considering how many people mentioned are still active in politics today. I wish I’d read it during the 2016 election!
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
1992 or 2020, Jerry Brown or Sanders, Clinton (he/his) or Biden.. all the same.
Oct 14, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, nonfiction
I found the writing style to be incredibly dry and that the narrative voice assumed a familiarity with the details of the time-period being described. While I was able to discern what Didion was saying, I did struggle throughout reading this book.
McGrouchpants. 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
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it

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
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Didion's central argument throughout the essays in Political Fictions is that our democratic elections (and the entire apparatus that surround them) are only nominally connected to the electorate itself. She argues only a small percentage of the population has become the deciding element in elections, this outcome is favorable to political elites (as the population they must appeal to becomes much more manageable), and this outcome was actively contributed to by the political media. She frequent ...more
Aug 28, 2008 rated it liked it
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 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009, politics
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
Nov 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
I'm glad that I picked this up after watching the new Netflix documentary on Joan Didion! I'd previously had Slouching Towards Bethlehem on my to-read, but for some reason, had never gotten to it. Will absolutely pick that up now. These political essays were incisive and funny page-turners. The only complaint I had was that this copy I read didn't have original publish information on each essay. I would have liked to know as I was reading them, what audience/publication they were originally comp ...more
May 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jason Larimer
Sep 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more

Everything old is new again...
Dennis Littrell
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Skewering the politicos

I hope what Joan Didion, essayist extraordinary, learned from this adventure in pol land Americana (that her husband, John Gregory Dunne, "already knew," as she notes on the dedication page) is that there is not a dime's worth of difference between Republicans (they suck!) and Democrats (they suck!) in this democracy by capitalism. Well, maybe fifteen cents. How terribly, terribly impatient I got with Bill Clinton and the demos, that is until George W. took office and then
Patrick McCoy
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm not exactly sure why I missed out on reading Joan Didion's 2001 book of political essays, Political Fictions. I suspect it might have something to do with thinking that he essays weren't relevant since they mostly were written between 1988 and 1998. Recently on a political podcast, recommendations were made about documentaries about Republican spin doctors Get Me Roger Stone and Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story as well as Didion's essay "The West Wing of Oz" that was included in this collec ...more
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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.

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