The Center Holds by Jonathan Alter

Reading Time:

This book collects a bunch of stories that don't seem to be well known and it is also a nice reminder of some of the absurd attributes of the 2012 presidential campaign.

The book is very people-centric, which makes it very engaging, although it will occasionally make the reader wonder about its objectivity (even if the author tries to be fair, the point of view will inevitably reflect the participants' interpretation and memory). Still, there are now countless books about the Obama years that speculate what could have been done, assign blame for mistakes, etc. and compared to those, this book feels like a gripping (documentary) movie. If you liked Heilemann's and Halperin's Game Change, chances are you will love this book.

I suspect that readers who care about public policy in the U.S. will want to take notes while reading this book. It describes, for example, how Sheldon Adelson would have been happy with some kind of socialized medicine due to his wife's experience in Israel, or how George Soros was unhappy that Obama basically never sought his advice. It also claims that Romney did not have a data-driven campaign, reportedly employing barely any data scientists, compared to Obama's 50 fifty geeks or so.

The voter suppression efforts are described and explained in some detail (and Democrats are not portrayed as altruistic defenders of their constitutes - Alter actually says at one point that stubborn Democrats sometimes simply refused to discuss any ID requirements).

I liked the passages that painted how Obama refused to prepare for debates: I thought this was humanizing (although I did not find the assertions about Obama's respect for McCain to be necessarily credible).

There is a memorable chapter that describes how Obama pondered the targeted attack in Pakistan that eventually took place on May 1st 2011, keeping even Axelrod in the dark, and taking the heat from him for not wanting to make a joke about the man he intended to eliminate in response to 9/11... That chapter alone is a good reason to pick up the book.

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