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Primary Colors Mass Market Paperback – November 1, 1996

3.8 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The famous -- or infamous -- roman a clef about the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. You've read the hype; now read the book.

Primary Colors has its rich rewards as a savvy insider's look at life on the stump. But it travels far beyond mere gossip and expose and discovers a convincing world of its own, peopled by smart cookies, nutcases, and wheeler-dealers, whose public and private lives illuminate each other -- sometimes by casting dark shadows. This story spans the novelistic spectrum from bedroom farce to high moral drama, and it paints a picture of the political state of the nation so vivid and authentic that one finds in it the deepest kind of truth -- the kind of truth that only fiction can tell. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The circumstances behind this crackling, highly perceptive study of a presidential campaign that remarkably resembles Bill Clinton's are bizarre. We are assured that not even its publisher, Harold Evans, who signed the book, or its editor knows the identity of the author. A third party, independent of both the publisher and the author's agent, verified his (or her) credentials and oversaw the contract signing. All this has naturally led to the assumption that the author may be someone highly placed in Washington, possibly even within the Clinton Administration; the intimate knowledge of Washington folkways the narrative exhibits seems to bear that out. On the other hand, the literary sophistication on display-the shaping of the story, the characterizations, the atmosphere, the dialogue-is so considerable it seems a professional writer must be at work. But while the mystery may help galvanize sales, it does not affect the quality of the book, which stands as a definitive political novel for these uneasy times-a novel that's knowing about the easy abuse of sincerity, the overblown role of the media (all reporters are "scorps," short for scorpions), the readiness to confuse means with ends. Henry Burton, the narrator, is a bright, youngish black man who rises quickly to a key position on the presidential primary campaign staff of Jack Stanton, governor of a small Southern state. Stanton is a brilliant portrait of a born politician, a man at once deeply calculating and genuinely spontaneous in his human reactions; his wife, Susan, a smart lawyer, despises his louche sexual adventuring but is driven by her own demons. Around them revolves a superbly observed staff, a mixture of deep cynicism, muddled idealism and, in the person of Libby, a ghost from Stanton's past who is at once explosively funny and tragic, a compulsive seeker of the truth. Stanton's fortunes fluctuate wildly in the campaign as he slogs through New Hampshire, endures a drubbing in New York (where a governor not unlike Mario Cuomo decided not to run) and seems to cause a heart attack in a buttoned-down rival in Florida. This inspires the entry of a mystery candidate with a magic touch, who turns out, in one of the novel's few overplotted passages, to have his own complex problems; the resolution, however, strikes just the right uneasily ambiguous note. Throughout the book, the attention to physical and emotional detail in the draining political process, the sparkling intelligence and-through the use of Henry as hero-the unusual empathy with which a range of African Americans are portrayed suggest a very considerable new novelist.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 507 pages
  • Publisher: Warner Books (November 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446604275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446604277
  • Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 0.9 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,832,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Callaway on January 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is easily one of the finest pieces of literature I have ever read. Whether or not it is an account of Bill Clinton's road to the White House is irrelevant, the story is amazing. I read this book twice because, to this day, I wonder what the main character, "Henry Burton" thought of "the Candidate."
"The Candidate," Jack Stanton, was the enigmatic southern governor, "of a state no one has heard of," who happened to be running for the presidency. He was a brilliant but flawed man, who truly loved people. He really cared about "folks," as he needed them to survive both politically and just plain physically. He fed off the energy of the people with a charisma that was infectious to all those around him. It had its advantages and disadvantages. The fact that he was wonderful people helped, the fact that he was promiscuous did not.
The characters were so vivid and well told. Richard, the campaign manager, Daisy, the media person, and subsequently Henry's girlfriend, and Libby. . .Who could ever forget Ms. Olivia Holden? She was amazing. The Stantons were amazing too. Susan, the Governor's wife, was so strong and intelligent.
Now, this book could be taken from one of two perspectives. The first is conviction. This book suggests terrible things about the governor and if you are looking for an open attack on "The Candidate," you have got it. The second perspective is to look at it as a book by a staffer who really loved his employer, even though some of his traits were less than admirable. Henry said early on in the book, that he looked too favorably the Governor, and felt he could not do his job as best he could.
Whoever this book is about, whatever it is about, it doesn't matter. It is a great story about a man who, though not perfect, feels the people, and truly wants to help them in an effort to give them a better life.
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Format: Hardcover
After starting the 1990s by publishing "Bonfire Of The Vanities," Tom Wolfe wrote an essay decrying the state of fiction, how too many authors wrote convoluted, esoteric novels designed to win elitist approval and be ignored by the masses: Why oh why can't some journalist swoop in and write a novel that's really about life and people we know, like the great Frenchman Zola had?

Joe Klein seemed to notice this, if "Primary Colors," the book he had published under the moniker "Anonymous," is any indication. This was a book taken so directly from life that it became a parlor game figuring out who was who. Sure, Jack Stanton was really our then-president, and his wife Susan was Hillary Clinton, but who was that crazy Libby woman supposed to be? Or the shadowy narrator, Henry Burton?

The buzz gave "Primary Colors" most of its popularity, but one wonders just how interested people are in the book now that Bill Clinton is retired. Probably not much, which is a shame, because "Primary Colors" deserves better than being a '90s time capsule.

If you haven't read "Primary Colors," one thing you need to know about it is it's not a note-by-note recitation of the Clinton road to power. It takes some similar turns, and some prescient ones (Monica was not news when this came out in 1996), and in general Jack and Susan Stanton are recognizably Clintonesque, but there are some liberties taken that make the real First Couple seem like the saintly Carters by comparison. The plot takes some jaw-dropping turns, in a sort of shameless "Desperate Housewives"-way that makes for fun reading.
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Format: Hardcover
What is politics in the modern age besides the pursuit of a momentary rush? "Primary Colors" works because it depicts a lot of folks in a big hurry, and the mess they make of their own morality and vision because of it. If it takes a lifetime of experience to build an ideal, it's inconceivable that it can be executed in the course of a presidential campaign, and Klein's book is about the shedding those ideals, and the residual effects of what remains. Gov. Jack Stanton has won his primary by book's end, but it is unclear by that point what he's won for.
It's important to remember that Henry, the narrator, joins the campaign because he's worked/lived inside two so called "revolutionary" political machines and been disillusioned by both: That of his civil rights activist grandfather, whose lessons from the 1960s are more held as artifacts than used as themes to live by; and his first boss, a black senator, whose concept of victory in Congress had becoming forcing presidential vetos. Henry finds a man in Stanton with the mainstream charisma and skin tone to forge a Kennedy's touch on political history. Henry then discovers the perils of having mainstream charisma, both in his own man, and the late challenger who nearly steals the crown, Freddy Picker.
The book has its weaknesses. The sexual liasons are a bit too evened out when Henry sleeps with Stanton's wife. There is little time for introspection. In choosing a nearly insane women as the book's eventual conscience, Primary Colors edges too close to "only the mad are truly sane" paradigm. That this woman, a close friend of the Stanton's and a campaign advisor, commits suicide at the end is a ripoff, considering so little time was devoted to her troubles in the book.
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