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Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics Paperback – January 31, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


Herding Donkeys is a well-reported tour de force.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“Lively [and] instructive, in some ways especially now.” ―The New York Review of Books

“Wonderful…reads like a scene out of the next The Social Network.” ―The Huffington Post

“Berman's book is the Howard Zinn version [of the Democratic comeback], the story of the people who were pushed out of the frame.” ―David Weigel, Slate

“An excellent account of the rise and fall of Obama's organizing efforts.” ―The New Republic

“The resurgence of the Democratic Party in the past two election cycles is one of the most important--and least understood--political stories of the new century. Ari Berman tells that tale with reportorial verve, a keen eye, a sharp pen, and a wealth of fresh insight. If you want to understand the grassroots revival of progressivism in America, and also the new challenges and aching disappointments that have come along with it, this is the book to read.” ―John Heilemann, national political columnist for New York magazine and coauthor of GAME CHANGE

“Ari Berman has written a political narrative so revelatory and exhilarating it kept me up nights reading. Herding Donkeys is some of the freshest and incisive political reporting out there, and Berman, who has the keen eye of a novelist, is one heck of a storyteller.” ―Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America

Herding Donkeys is essential to understanding how the Democratic Party came back from the dead in 2006 and 2008. But it's especially good at explaining what happened to all of Barack Obama's grassroots energy. This is a hopeful but also sobering tale, told with strong inside reporting.” ―Jonathan Alter, author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One

Herding Donkeys is political reporting at its finest. In his spirited debut, Ari Berman takes readers inside the back rooms and living rooms where politics actually happens, but his novel vantage point doesn't prevent him from rendering the tough but fair judgments every great political reporter needs to make. This is a ripping account of the Democratic Party through an intense period of historic transformation.” ―Michael Tomasky, author of Hillary's Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign

“An intriguing behind-the-scenes look at how the Obama campaign built on the grassroots movement that had catapulted Dean to prominence. . . . Engaging and balanced--a stand-out book.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“With a keen appreciation of political strategy as well as an eye for telling anecdote and amusing detail, Ari Berman tells the amazing story of the Democratic party's revival. Berman's reporting vindicates the fifty-state strategy of Howard Dean and the determined organizing of Barack Obama--and shows why grassroots activism is still the most potent force for change in America.” ―Joe Conason, author of Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth

“Ari Berman tells the rollicking and rousing story of the fight for the soul of the Democratic party that has reshaped American politics. Full of riveting revelations, vivid reporting, and a cast of colorful characters, Herding Donkeys captures the exhilaration of the grassroots insurgency that Howard Dean launched--and Obama seized--to realign our political map. At a time of disillusionment with establishment politics, this book is solace for the soul. It is a timely reminder that the grit of tenacious organizers and antiestablishment politicians in red, blue, and purple states alike offers Hope 2.0.” ―Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher, The Nation

“While a scoop-rich tome like John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's Game Change can tell us a lot about how campaigns are won and lost from the top down, Berman's more thoughtful book is equally good fun in telling the story of the election from the bottom up.” ―Dana Goldstein, The American Prospect

About the Author

ARI BERMAN is a political correspondent for The Nation and an Investigative Journalism Fellow at the Nation Institute. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, and he is a frequent commentator on MSNBC and National Public Radio. He lives in New York City.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (January 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312610629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312610623
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,437,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Howard Park on October 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Herding Donkeys" is about the singular political journey of Howard Dean and several unknown (at least on the national level) grass roots activists in places like Boise, Waco and Western North Carolina who laid the foundation for the election of Barack Obama and many Democrats in Congress in 2006 and 2008. In some ways the story is a familier one -- feisty outsiders get fed up and plot thier way to political power even where they are outnumbered and ignored by power brokers in state capitols and, especially, Washington, DC. The book gives a sense of what made the Obama Campaign different -- because it began as a progressive movement in 2003 and 2004 when nobody outside of Chicago had ever heard of Obama.

Dean, an outsiders insider, is juxtaposed against Rahm Emmanual who plays the part of an insiders insider. The two are the Democrats' yin and yang. This book is told from Deans perspective as well as the organizers who learned campaigning and new internet tools with Dean and never stopped until Democrats took Congress in 2006 and the White House in 2008. Occasionally the chronology in the book is confusing as characters such as Dean then Obama organizer Jeremy Bird bounces from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Ohio to Washington. Herding Donkeys captures much of the zeitgeist of a time that has passed and hints at what has become of the forces that propelled Obama in 2008. It's an look at what political organizers do in places like Colorado Springs and Florence, SC before the big money and big media take hold of a movement and many of the brash young organizers move to Washington to replenish the ranks of the dreaded establishment.

Berman's achievement is that he has written a new kind of campaign book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bruce, South Carolina on October 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As a Northerner living in South Carolina, I was intrigued by Ari Berman's book describing the transformation of red states to blue or purple. His book vividly portrays the `hidden' democrats in America's blue states. It was heartening to read how the progressive democrats began to emerge from their cocoons to support Obama. They went from a minority to a majority; a force of nature.
Behind that force of nature, however, was Howard Dean, who motivated thousands of volunteers to rally behind their candidate and stand up for Change!!

Berman's descriptions of people and places make the book a page turner. I could not wait to read what happened in Idaho, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio and was intrigued by the 200 people he interviewed. I was also given much needed insights as to how the political system works and fails. Ultimately Howard Dean who launched a successful 50 state strategy, does not get acknowledged, nor lands a position in the new Administration.

The last part of the book describes the challenges that Obama has faced and how
his administration did not support the constituency that elected him and the consequences which may be obvious in this coming election.

However, the book is upbeat, informative, and I am looking forward to a sequel. Nice job, Berman!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Karen J on November 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Berman's analysis of the Democratic Party provides an eye-opening account of what's right and what's wrong. I found the information about organizing across the state of North Carolina (I too am a transplanted Northerner) fascinating. He gives readers an up close and personal view of how a small group of citizens can indeed make a difference within our complex and often frustrating political system.

Perhaps the best thing about Berman's approach is his use of language. This book tackles a usually dry topic in an easy to read manner. Regardless of the reader's level of participation in politics, Berman's explanations and analysis are easily understood and might even encourage readers to get involved at the local level.

Perhaps today's Democratic Party leaders should take some time to read this analysis. Who knows? They might regroup and rebuild!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Linda, Murray Hill on October 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Berman's book is a riveting account of how the grass roots movement started during Howard Dean's campaign and successfully motivated America to come out to inspire the country to vote and elect President Obama. whom they believed could finally be the voice of the people.

From the beginning, the book captures your attention, as Berman goes thru the red states: Texas, Indiana, Colorado, North Carolina and meets the people who want change and work hard to accomplish it. From the back roads, to the inner cities, to the middle class mansions, all walks of life come together to turn this election in their favor.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way Ari gave the political facts a novel-like flavor. It was engaging from the beginning. You felt you were in those living rooms, making signs, putting up posters, calling your friends. He gives vivid descriptions of the organizers and their sometimes unconventional environments. After each chapter, I was totally looking forward to the next state and the people I would meet there.

Also, Berman gives clear and articulate insights as to why Obama's popularity with the grass roots movement has hit some rough patches.

There is humor, insight, political savvy in this book. I recommend it for anyone who cares about their country, their government, and how making a change is possible.
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