on December 18, 2001
One of my inspirations to become a historian stemmed from reading Theodore H. White's milestone Pulitzer Prize-winning narrative history of the exciting 1960 presidential race between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, "The Making of the President -- 1960." The big reason why I enjoyed and was so profoundly influenced by this milestone work was that it helped popularize the narrative historical approach, which merges the character-building drama of a great novel with the march of history. I found it infinitely preferable to the dry, fact-oriented textbooks I was so frequently compelled to wade through as a student. Almost assuredly, White used this style because it had become comfortable to him in the profession in which his writing career was launched -- journalism. He was a man who knew how to get a story and flesh out the fascinating aspects of the people he interviewed en route.
White certainly had a compelling drama in his midst in 1960, with John Kennedy seeking to become the first Roman Catholic ever to attain the presidency and Richard Nixon seeking to extend an eight year, Republican two term rule. As in the best of dramas, contrasts abound between the contestants. Kennedy came from a wealthy Boston family while Nixon was a middle class Southern Californian. The man of wealth was championed by liberals and unionists while the middle class Nixon was favored by conservatives of those of privilege, who feared that Kennedy and his Democratic Party followers were too radical for their tastes. Whereas Kennedy was a social mixer and, to a certain extent, an extrovert, Nixon was a solitary man uncomfortable around people.
Having experienced a cliffhanger presidential election in 2000, interested political readers and students of history can draw many correlations between Bush vs. Gore and the nail-biting race of 1960. In fact, the 1960 cliffhanger saw winner Kennedy prevail with a popular vote margin almost five times less the better than half million vote difference between Gore and electoral college winner Bush.
White, having decided that Kennedy was likely to prevail, was able to position himself at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannisport on election night. As a result he was able to furnish all kinds of dramatic, firsthand information about the reactions of Kennedy, his family members, and close political operatives.
on May 30, 2001
This book, published in 1961, has long been considered to be a classic among political buffs and those who have any interest in how the American political system works, or once worked. Theodore White (1915-1986), who was once described by TIME magazine as the "godfather of modern political reporting", created a whole new way of covering presidential campaigns with this pulitzer-prize winning book. Before this book, reporters tended to cover presidential campaigns - the presidential primaries, the national political conventions, and the fall campaign - as if they were unconnected, separate events. White revolutionized political reporting by seeing these events as simply parts of a whole - he saw the primaries, conventions, and fall campaigns as linked together, as if they were chapters in a good novel. White also changed political reporting by writing extensively about the behind-the-scenes planning, strategizing, and organizing that occurred in presidential campaigns before the first primary was ever held.
White spent most of 1960 traveling with all of the candidates, from lonely campaign stops in the Wisconsin and New Hampshire primaries (where sometimes just a handful of people greeted the candidate he was covering), to the excitement of Election Night 1960, which was the closest presidential election night of the twentieth century (with the exception of the 2000 Bush-Gore race). White is a marvelous writer, and his descriptions of the personalities, the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the momentum shifts, and the infighting, tactics, and strategies that make up a presidential campaign set the standard for a whole new generation of political reporters. White covers politics the way a good sportswriter covers baseball or football or basketball - he makes it appear exciting and glamorous.
I do have one problem with the book, and that is White's obvious bias towards John F. Kennedy. In his memoirs (published in 1978), White admitted that he gradually lost all objectivity when it came to JFK and that he came to idolize Kennedy, to the point that he was actually writing some of his campaign speeches - a gross lack of professionalism for a journalist. On the other hand, White also admitted that he strongly disliked Richard Nixon and had deliberately set Nixon up as the "villain" of the book, just as he made Kennedy the "hero". As a result White often leaves out damaging information about JFK (any mention of Kennedy's well-known womanizing or health problems, accusations of vote-buying in the West Virginia primary or vote-stealing in the general election, were left to later historians to write about). Poor Nixon, on the other hand, is looked at very critically by White - in White's version Nixon makes so many mistakes (and Kennedy is so perfect) that you wonder why the election was so close. In fact, the legend that Kennedy's brief Presidency was a kind of modern "Camelot" started with this book. Having said that, I also believe that White's skills as a writer and perceptive observer of American politics more than makes up for this weakness, and the "Making of the President 1960" should be required reading for anyone who is interested in the great game of American politics. This book's status as a classic work about a legendary presidential campaign makes it an absolute must for any political history buff.
on April 1, 2001
I hope this landmark book will be released in paperback because it is a classic which should be popularly priced. This book covered the primaries through the election. The documenting of the importance of the West Virginia primary and others may have been the beginning of the end of the convention system of selecting nominees with the subsequent switch to to the primary system. Today, the convention is just a show. Nothing important is decided there. The 1960 Democratic convention was one of the last to have any excitement as there was a spontaneous rally for Adlai Stevenson to be nominated a third time. However, the outcome was not seriously in doubt as Kennedy emerged from the primaries as the clear favorite. This was the campaign that featured the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Additionally, the issue of religion surfaced as Kennedy was the first Catholic to run since Alfred Smith. The book is enthralling and is a true classic. I read it when I was thirteen and have reread it a couple of times as an adult. I recommend it.
on October 28, 2000
If you want to understand what is happening in the closing stages of this campaign, then read Theodore White's Making of the President 1960. I was drawn to this book because of the parallels between these two very close elections featuring a cast of characters in many ways similiar: the dull but experienced Vice President running on peace and prosperity versus the more charismatic challenger who argues that American can do better. Who will win? Just like 1960, it's sure to go down to the wire.
In particular, White's accounts of the early primaries and the balloting at the Democratic Convention were completely engrossing. 1960 may have been the first modern election in that it was ultimately decided by television, but Campaign '60 started out much differently than the media-driven spectacles of today. White artfully goes behind closed doors and shows how the well-oiled Kennedy organization's battle of personal persuasion won them just enough delegates to seize the nomination. White's account of the Kennedy victory confirms the truth that the skill with which a campaign is waged has much more to do with victory and defeat than deterministic generalities like "peace and prosperity" or "are you better off than you were 4/8 years ago?"
on December 8, 1999
Theodore White's book, Making of the President: 1960, is considered a classic work of campaign reporting. Although the publishers were originally skeptical of how well the public would receive a book like this, they published White's book anyway. It was an instant best seller, and White was contracted to do works on the campaigns of 1964, 1968, and 1972 (long since out of print).
The book is a classic and well worth purchasing. His analysis of the campaign is thoughtful and still timely. White's writing style sets up the campaign as a classic battle between two strong-willed men. This narrative style works so well because of his main characters, Kennedy and Nixon. Both were emminently qualified and solid men, but personality wise, light years apart. My only minor quibble with it is that he spends much more time with Kennedy than with Nixon. The author was obviously better received by members of the Kennedy campaign. As a result, the Kennedy sections of the book are not only bigger, but better and more in depth.
In later years, White would be accused of creating "Camelot" to describe the JFK White House. Indeed, he wrote the eulogy for JFK in which the phrase first appeared (dictated to him by Jackie Kennedy). In "MOTP -- 1960," one can see "Camelot" forming, but it's not there yet. As a result, this book is still fairly even-handed in its conclusions.
This book deserves a place on any historian's shelf.
on March 19, 2005
Journalist Theodore H. White (1915-1986) captured the excitement of the Presidential campaign (and the Pulitzer Prize) with this romantic look at the 1960 race between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. White spent a year on the campaign trail, and his prose makes readers feel as if they're alongside the two young candidates as history plays out. Kennedy was just 43, brilliant, charming and charismatic, while at 47, Nixon was a brooding introvert, but also highly capable. We meet also-rans like Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson and Nelson Rockefeller. We also see the moves of king-makers like Chicago's mayor Richard Daley and Governor David Lawrence (Pennsylvania) in an era where party conventions still chose candidates. Readers get a look at then-vital issues such as religion (Kennedy was Catholic), the Cold War, civil rights, and the effect of the first TV debates in that black-and-white era when quite a few homes still lacked television. Then there's the sprint to finish line as the candidates crisscross the nation in frenzied stumps for votes. Finally, we experience the suspense of election night as the close vote is slowly tallied, ending with a razor-thin margin for Kennedy after the sun rose the next morning.
This superb best-seller isn't flawless. The author favors Kennedy and discounts (or ignores) charges that he was a rich and under-prepared playboy, while also forgiving Nixon's red-baiting, "Tricky Dick" style. Still, THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT is an exciting read, and a more optimistic volume than the three nearly-as-good versions the author wrote after the 1964, 1968, and 1972 campaigns.
With this book, Theodore White reinvented how Presidential campaigns are covered. Never again could a major candidate engage in a primary campaign with only a single reporter following him around. White's success ensured that every event and public conversation in a campaign, however minor, would be duly reported. Like many groundbreaking classics, it may seem trite today to readers accostomed to knowing every little detail of a candidate's life. But White invented this type of journalism, and if read with that in mind this is still a spellbinding book. It reads like a suspense novel, and is a compulsive page turner right to the end.
on December 10, 2001
One of the best, and incredibly influential. What we know today about Kennedy was not probably available to White, and nobody would have dared to put it in print at the time anyway. White's books on the '64, '68, and '72 campaigns are just as good, and though long out of print are readily available and cheap at any used book store. Classic stuff!
on May 16, 2007
Gave a great deal of insight into the Kennedy campaigns, but less useful comparison from Nixon side. Would have been more useful if were more equal, as was the campaign of the insider against the new face, but the writer was more involved with the Kennedy side. Nonetheless, gave some insight on both sides.
Not as sure as some historians are that it is going to give much added understanding of how the 2008 campaigns are likely to be run, or the problems they are going to face.
I have always thought one of the traps of historians is thinking that events in their lifetime are somehow "special". We regularly accept accounts of how technology has changed our life so much in the past few years, but neglect to consider how truly earth-shaking the invention of the telephone, steam engine, and stirrup were in their own time. This book helps dispel some of that mythology.
=== The Good Stuff ===
* We like to think that Barrack Obama harnessed a new force, the internet, in his campaigns of 2008. No doubt he was the first candidate to truly have an online presence, but as this book shows, he was mere following in the footsteps of men before him. JFK and even to some extent Richard Nixon put the new medium of television to work for them in 1960. In many cases they learned by doing, and looking back, it seems that JFK's men learned faster. But if you substitute "website" and "email" for "TV ads" and "directed phone campaigns", the election technology of 2008 and 1960 is remarkably similar.
* We also see many of the same issues showing up as in modern elections. The choice of an ideal running mate, what states to campaign in, how to allocate scarce resources...really the game hasn't changed all that much.
* White does a nice job of relating the tale. Even though the text is over 50 years old, it still reads like a contemporary work, and could easily have been a more modern work. It was very interesting to read of Nixon while he was still considered somewhat of a "good guy", without all the baggage that would clog up the story if it had been written after 1973.
* White seemed to have good access to the Kennedy campaign, including details of some rather confidential meetings on strategy and decisions on when, where and even if he was going to run. The Nixon folks, as expected, were someone more secretive, but even parts of that tale come through in the book.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff===
* The book screams for an "Afterword" describing the net results of the 1960 election-not so much from a political history viewpoint, but its effect on campaigns in general. For certain it was the first election that showed the need and benefits of "big money" in campaign chests, but also the ability for a relative unknown (JFK) to bypass, or at least influence the choice of a party for their candidate. Certainly Reagan, Carter, Clinton and Obama took note.
=== Summary ===
Anyone who is a fan of politics, and especially of the strategies and tactics of political campaigns will enjoy the book. it is a bit outdated on details, but the underlying concepts of communication and use of technology in elections are as relevant today as 1961. I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it to anyone with an interest.