The Washington Book: How to Read Politics and Politicians
The Pulitzer Prize–winning opinion columnist at The New York Times explores how people in power reveal themselves through their books and writings and, in so doing, illuminates the personal, political, and cultural conflicts driving Washington and the nation.
As a long-time book critic and columnist in Washington, Carlos Lozada dissects all manner of texts: commission reports, political reporting, Supreme Court decisions, and congressional inquiries to understand the controversies animating life in the capital. He also reads copious books by politicians and top officials: tell-all accounts by administration insiders, campaign biographies by candidates longing for high office, revisionist memoirs by those leaving those offices behind. With this provocative essay collection, Lozada argues that no matter how carefully political figures sanitize their experiences, positions, and records, no matter how diligently they present themselves in the best and safest and most electable light, they almost always let slip the truth. They show us their faults and blind spots, their ambitions and compromises, their underlying motives and insecurities. Whether they mean to or not, they tell us who they really are.
In his memoirs and speeches, Barack Obama constantly invoked the power and meaning of his life story, Lozada notes, a sign of how the former president capitalized on his personal symbolism, trying to transform it from inspiration on the campaign trail into an all-purpose governing tool. In a soliloquy about his hair in a self-help book published two decades ago, Donald Trump revealed not just his vanity, Lozada explains, but his utter isolation from the world, long before he entered the bubble of the White House. In deft and lacerating prose, Lozada interprets the unresolved tensions of Hillary Clinton’s ideological beliefs. He imagines the wonderful memoir George H.W. Bush could have given us but instead left scattered in throughout various books and letters. He explores why Kamala Harris has struggled to carve out a distinctive role as vice president. He explains how Ron DeSantis’s pitch to America is just a list of enemies. And he even glimpses what Vladimir Putin fears the most, and why he seeks conflict with the West. He does so all through their own books, and their own words.
Lozada reads these books so you don’t have to. The Washington Book is the perfect guide to the state of our politics, and then men and women who dominate the terrain. It explores the construction of personal identity, the delusions of leadership, and that mix of subservience and ambition that can define a life in politics. The more we read the stories of Washington, Lozada contends, the clearer our understanding of the competing visions of our country.
Carlos Lozada is an opinion columnist at the New York Times and co-host of the “Matter of Opinion” podcast. He has won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism and is the author of What Were We Thinking: A Brief Intellectual History of the Trump Era.
Photo credit: Bill O'Leary
Publisher: Simon & Schuster