When I saw Mudslingers reviewed by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal I was intrigued. I love politics, and for political junkies like myself nothing beats reading about a nasty campaign. I waited a little for the price tag to go down, but since it was never lowered, I broke down and bought it. I was pretty happy with the book. Mudslingers attempts to rank the top 25 most vicious American political campaigns. The book is a very interesting read, but a lot of its analysis is pretty thin and leaves something to be desired.
Many of the campaigns the book looks at are pretty well known. These include presidential contests: Bush v. Kerry in 2004, Bush v. Dukakis, 1988, and Nixon v. McGovern in 1972. The author does a good job bringing up the salacious details from these campaigns like the Swift Boat and Willy Horton commercials. Reading about them is fun. But the best parts of the book are the campaigns that aren't known by most people either because they weren't national races or they occurred over 100 years ago.
Two particular favorites of mine which I vividly remember despite only being a kid at the time are from New York: the brutal 1998 U.S. Senate race between Chuck Schumer and Al D'Amato and the 1989/1993 mayoral campaigns between David Dinkins and Rudolph Giuliani. While these races were a while ago, they were incredibly memorable. I almost forgot about D'Amato's famous putzhead insult, and I loved the discussion of D'Amato's hard nosed (and often shameless politicking) which including going to synagogues with his own yarmulke stitched with the name Alphonse. The two close races between Dinkins and Rudy were also classics, and the book does well exploring how much they divided the Big Apple, especially in the wake of the Crown Heights riots.
Being a Jersey political guy, I also took a twinge of pride that several New Jersey races made the top 25 (how could the Garden State not be included in a discussion of negative campaigns?). The 1996 Torricelli-Zimmer battle was very bitter, though I was a bit disappointed the 1994 Lautenberg-Haytaian face-off was ignored as that race was legendary for its nastiness. There are some other gems like Harold Washington's groundbreaking run for Chicago mayor in 1983, the Edwin Edwards v. David Duke Louisiana governor's race, and the Robb-Ollie North Senate campaign. All of them are covered in pretty decent detail. Perhaps the best one was the 1990 Senate race between Senator Jesse Helms and Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt. If you don't know about the famous "Hands" commercial that cost Gantt the election, this book is a good read for you. That might be the most devastatingly effective commercial in a non-presidential race ever.
Mudslingers is a good read, though perhaps not worth the $45 price tag. I don't think the chapters are big enough to warrant shelling out that much money. Still, if you love politics and campaigning the book is definitely worth checking out, even if the analyses could have been thicker.