Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics Paperback – July 5, 2016
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
"[Swaim's] book is not a tell-all or an effort to settle scores. Instead, it’s a wryly funny, beautifully written, sometimes bewildered, always astute dissection of what it is like to perform a thankless job for an unreasonable person in a dysfunctional office during a period of unusual turmoil. . . . Swaim is so talented a writer, and has such an eye for a telling detail, that you suspect you could put him in any workplace—chicken-processing plant, airport sunglass emporium, stoner skate park—and he would make it come alive in the best possible way. . . . He may have been unsuccessful as a platitudinous speechwriter, but he has produced a marvelously entertaining book." (The New York Times)
“The most ‘instant classic’ book I’ve read this year. . . . Revealing and unusual: a political memoir that traffics in neither score-settling nor self-importance but that shares, in spare, delightful prose, what the author saw and learned. The Speechwriter feels like Veep meets All the King’s Men—an entertaining and engrossing book not just about the absurdities of working in the press shop of a Southern governor but also about the meaning of words in public life.” (Carlos Lozada Washington Post)
“[Swaim] writes . . . in a breezy, elliptical manner, letting his material work for him. . . . Swaim is insightful not only about Sanford but about the nature of modern political communications. . . . Although it left me feeling slightly dubious about democracy, I have no trouble calling The Speechwriter, with its gloomy reflections and wonderfully vivid character sketches, the best American political memoir written in my lifetime.” (The Spectator (UK))
"A masterpiece." (The Times (UK))
"Barton Swaim's little jewel of a memoir reads like the best political fiction. Beyond taking you into the core of an epic political meltdown, Swaim's funny story also illuminates the eroding standards of language, the oddities of office life and the exquisite torture of working for a narcissistic and unappreciative boss." (Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies)
"At last: a political memoir 100-percent free of axe-grinding, score-settling, and self-promotion. What’s left? A beautifully written, hilariously human inside look at a certain governor’s ruinous, um, hike on the Appalachian Trail." (David Von Drehle, author of Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year)
"Politicians don’t always come with warm smiles and narcissistic dispositions, but it was Barton Swaim’s bad luck to work for one, and our good luck that he stayed long enough to tell his very funny tale." (Jeffrey Frank, author of Ike and Dick)
"Swaim's book is an uproariously funny and sometimes just weird story of idealistic belief and politics corrupted by narcissism and ruined by scandal. Unfortunately it's all too true." (Karl Rove, author of Courage and Consequences)
“A wry and eloquent memoir . . . offering an inside look at the life of a political wordsmith and, along the way, a portrait of a politician who was his own worst enemy. Beautifully written . . . The Speechwriter is a cautionary tale and well-timed, appearing as the race for the White House intensifies, with politicians crowding rooms hoping to impress and true believers hanging on every word they say.” (Wall Street Journal)
“Darkly humorous. . . . Anyone who’s ever sought to maintain sanity in an absurd workplace knows that it requires a kind of gallows humor, a tone Swaim maintains throughout this terrifically entertaining book.” (The Boston Globe)
“Swaim's Veep-like experience of working for Sanford supplied him with a book's worth of mortifyingly hilarious anecdotes, and he tells them exceptionally well. But the greatest value of The Speechwriter is the deeper truths about political language, and the people who employ it, that Swaim learned during his tour of duty. . . . The best book about politics I've read in years.” (GQ)
“A deeply humane study. . . . Swaim is plainly a gifted writer. His professional experience shows in a firm, easy command of language; with disciplined consistency, his sentences do what they’ve been ordered to do. There’s a smooth economy to his prose, which rarely staggers or overheats. If it isn’t always lyrical, it still has a lean charm that more writing should. . . . The Speechwriter [is] urgent reading, for both its literary and civic merits.” (The Millions)
"The governor's marital infidelity . . . and other moral shortcomings take a back seat here. And deservedly so, for Swaim's approach is far more entertaining and, if you care about language, far more indicting. He describes an administration in which the mistreatment of language—and staff—was commonplace." (NPR's Book Concierge (Best Books of 2015))
“It would be hard to find a better book in the year leading up to the 2016 election than Swaim’s memoir. . . . His account is unlike the usual political insider’s story. For one thing, it’s better written, funnier too, blessedly concise, and free of huffing and puffing.” (Christianity Today)
“One of the few good books about speechwriting. . . . [Swaim] has a fine eye, a gift for satire, and a clean, clear style. . . . Highly readable and entertaining.” (Washington Times)
“In an elegiac tone that recalls Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel All the King’s Men . . . [The Speechwriter] is less an account of a politician’s fall than an inquest into mass democracy. . . . His speechwriting days may be over, but Swaim seems to have found his true voice.” (Foreign Affairs)
“A must-read.” (PoliticalWire.com)
“A deftly funny look at life inside the Sanford bubble and a thoughtful, clear-eyed account of what it takes to put words in the mouth of a politician in love with the sound of his own voice.” (Free Times)
"Excellent.” (Times Literary Supplement (UK))
“[The Speechwriter] is brilliant. It’s not a 'tell-all,' nor is it even really an attack on Sanford. Instead, The Speechwriter is a dead-on depiction of life inside a modern day political spin room--with Swaim demonstrating on every page the supreme talent he brought to the table. Talent which Sanford wasted. . . . As for the politician chronicled by the book? Swaim nails him. The Speechwriter doesn’t just provide us the occasional glimpse into Sanford’s confounding eccentricities and chronic narcissism--it literally exposes the flawed essence of the man.” (FITSNews.com)
“The Speechwriter is a funny book. Grammarians and word nerds will certainly love it. Political junkies too. . . . But for more than anyone else, The Speechwriter will appeal to other writers.” (Charleston City Paper)
“Highly amusing. . . . A remarkable account of a political education told with humor and insight.” (The Post & Courier)
“A highly readable account of [Swaim’s] three years in the governor’s employ. Part All the King’s Men and part Horrible Bosses, it’s fascinating and almost impossible to put down.” (Bookpage)
“An entertaining inside look at state politics and how the wheels of executive office grind. . . . Demonstrating empathy mixed with appropriate caution . . . [Swaim’s] report on his experiences as a governor’s idea man is a fine, sometimes brilliant foray into the nature of contemporary politics, the charismatic narcissists who seek high elected office, and the enablers who allow them to dance in the spotlight.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The narrative is strongest in its quiet reflection of the end of Swaim's political innocence. As [Swaim] came to realize, democracy—with its promise of liberty and justice for all—is ultimately based on rhetorical manipulation of the masses.” (Kirkus)
“A candid, witty look inside the world of high-stakes politics. . . . A humorous and sobering glimpse inside the modern political crucible.” (Shelf Awareness (starred review))
About the Author
Barton Swaim, a native South Carolinian, attended the University of South Carolina and the University of Edinburgh. From 2007 to 2010 he worked for Mark Sanford, South Carolina’s governor, as a communications officer and speechwriter. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina, with his wife, Laura, and three daughters, and writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and The Times Literary Supplement. The Speechwriter is his first book.
Top customer reviews
In the end, it was all part of the rich tapestry of American political life: a moralizing public figure is betrayed by peccadillos that would not be worthy of comment in many countries. However, the public delights in destroying, if only temporarily, the careers of its leaders. Sanford survives to live out his term, leaving the speechwriter to edit his form letters and remove references to ‘family’, ‘integrity’, ‘honesty’ and, of course, ‘Argentina’.
This speechwriter’s lot was not a happy one. Swaim captures the arc of his career in excruciating detail. From initial enthusiasm and surprise that he was to become the chief wordsmith to a sitting governor where ‘the idea of turning phrases for a living seemed irresistible’, to despair at his lot and envy of the janitorial staff in the government buildings who were happy just checking lightbulbs for a living. He dreaded going into the office and the strain of the job was almost unbearable.
What went wrong?
The Speechwriter After an all-to-brief honeymoon period, Swaim discovered the ‘stark difference’ between the charming public persona of the governor and the realities of dealing with the man in private. His boss has a unique relationship with the English language that deeply offends the writer with the PhD in English. He copes by creating a list of stock phrases that mimic the ‘voice’ of the man he’s writing for. He uses phrases such as ‘in large measure’ and ‘frankly’ to pad speeches, op-eds, letters and other written communications that are endless demand on his time. As is typical, he’s responsible for much more than speeches. He regularly produces four or five options of each speech for the governor to review, and learns to keep one in reserve for the times all his written drafts are thrown back at him.
The governor berates him with requests to re-do speeches ‘again’ and returns drafts with terse demands that they ‘need work’. Despite his best efforts, he’s often the butt of withering scorn.
However, Swaim has the insight that none of this is meant personally. He highlights the sheer volume of communication a politician must generate, and points out that people "…don’t know what it’s like to be expected to make comments, almost every working day, on things of which they have little or no reliable knowledge or about which they just don’t care."
The need for the governor to heap abuse on the speechwriter had nothing to do with being hurtful: "For him to try to hurt you would have required him to acknowledge your significance. If you were on his staff, he had no knowledge of your personhood … he was giving vent to his own anxieties, whatever they were. It was as if you were one of those pieces of cork placed in the mouth of wounded soldiers during an amputation. The soldier didn’t chew the work because he hated it but because it was therapeutic to bite hard. Often I felt like that piece of cork."
My one beef with the book is that it lives up to its subtitle as ‘A Brief Education in Politics’ and is too short. Mark Sanford has since gone on to be re-elected to Congress for South Carolina’s 1st District. Just as much of the intrigue of The Good Wife happens after the initial fall, so I can’t help but wonder what sort of a book the current speechwriter to Congressman Sanford might write. A sequel surely awaits.
Brief and efficient, the book portrays everyone in the most human terms, from the Governor, to the insiders, to the voters. And leaving out or changing everyone's names (even though we all know - wink, wink) allowed these people to not just be from a particular state at a particular time, but from any state at any time. This is Machiavelli's "The Prince" for the 24 hour news cycle era. And as the language here portrays, politics can lift our eyes to what we want to believe, and still be rooted in worst kind of corruption and skulduggery. And most of us already know about both ends of our political animals, and openly admire their ambition, even as we indulge in our own self-satisfaction at their failings. This book allows you to do all of this but with flourish and style instead of bitterness and contempt.