Hats in the Ring: An Illustrated History of American Presidential Campaigns

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9780679457305: Hats in the Ring: An Illustrated History of American Presidential Campaigns

"America suffers from a sort of intermittent fever. . . . Every fourth year there come terrible shakings, passing into the hot fit of the presidential election; then follows what physicians call 'the interval'; then the fit again."
                        --James Bryce,
The American Commonwealth, 1888
Once every four years, Americans enter into a months-long national spectacle, one with bitter battles, high drama, often hilarious blunders, and, ultimately, a victor to whom we entrust the leadership of our country. It is a process integral to the American ideals of freedom and democracy, and each election reveals a tremendous amount about where and who we are as a nation. In Hats in the Ring, Evan Cornog and Richard Whelan have created a hugely entertaining, splendidly illustrated history of every election from Washington's to Clinton's. For the first time, all the vibrancy, fanfare, and zaniness of American presidential campaigns come to life in one dazzling volume.
        Award-winning author Evan Cornog provides a lively narrative of the people, parties, and politics of more than two hundred years of history. Every engaging, pithy chapter is packed with fascinating information about the candidates and their campaigns. From the Wide Awakes to the Know-Nothings, fervent supporters and their candidates, including some of the greatest figures in American history--Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR--progress vividly through these pages.
        The visual richness of the campaigns is brought to life with more than two hundred color and black-and-white illustrations, including portraits, leaflets, cartoons, photographs, posters, campaign buttons, and other memorabilia, all selected by the eminent cultural historian Richard Whelan. He has delved deep into public and private collections to find the defining images, both classic and unfamiliar, of each election. There are portraits of heroic men beside those of also-rans, moments of triumph and shame captured by the camera, hilarious cartoons and works of art created by many of the greatest American artists, from Gilbert Stuart to Ben Shahn, Thomas Nast to Herblock.
        The chapter for each election provides a wonderful snapshot of United States history and culture.
Short sidebars on important aspects of the development of American politics (including constitutional changes, third parties, and suffrage for blacks and women) complement the narrative throughout. There are also clear, concise charts that offer at-a-glance information on every election, including major-party candidates and electoral tallies.
        Presidential campaigns have provided some of the most stirring moments, poignant images, and idiosyncratic characters in our nation's annals. No matter what your political leanings are, Hats in the Ring delivers a sparkling and invaluable tour though some of the greatest episodes in American history.

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Review:

One of the most significant achievements of American democracy is that it has held a presidential election every four years, without a single interruption, since the nation's inception. Hats in the Ring chronicles each one of these elections in separate chapters, featuring prose by Evan Cornog and illustrations selected by Richard Whelan. The text is concise (eight or nine pages for each campaign) and generally provides a good summary of why the voters chose as they did. But the best parts of this book are the images. As the authors write in a short introduction, these have been selected "to embody the remarkable amalgam of serious purpose and carnival spirits that has characterized the process of choosing a President." Among the highlights are a poster from 1804 revealing that negative ads aren't recent inventions: it compares Thomas Jefferson unfavorably to Washington. A political cartoon from 1880 portrays James Garfield and Chester Arthur, both future presidents, as ballerinas. And there's a hilarious photo of Calvin Coolidge campaigning in 1924, wearing the massive feathered headdress of a Sioux Indian--and looking terrifically uncomfortable.

There are plenty of serious illustrations, too: many of the 19th-century figures are shown in handsome portraits, and the 20th-century pols are the subject of photographs (there are especially good pictures of William Jennings Bryan and Theodore Roosevelt). There are a few odd choices: there's only one picture of Dwight Eisenhower in the two chapters devoted to his elections, and it isn't very good. (Adlai Stevenson, the man Ike beat both times, gets a pair of photos.) And it must be said that Cornog's discussion of the 1988 election is partisan in a way many Republicans would find objectionable. Yet Hats in the Ring, by and large, is a capable volume--worth reading and even more worth looking at. --John J. Miller

From the Back Cover:

Praise for
The Birth of Empire: DeWitt Clinton and the American Experience, 1769-1828
by Evan Cornog

"In Cornog's telling, the life and times of DeWitt Clinton make a fascinating guide to the complex interaction of personality, popularity, and policy in our infant republic."
--The New Yorker

"[Cornog] creates a forceful and colorful portrait of his vital and powerful subject. . . .
"Historians of the State, and of American party politics, will welcome this work, for it subjects Clinton to the most up-to-date scrutiny, and for that reason is of great value."
--The Times Literary Supplement
Praise for
Robert Capa: A Biography by Richard Whelan

"The biography is first-rate in every way. In Mr. Whelan, who writes on art and photography,
Mr. Capa has a wise and accurate chronicler."
--Herbert Mitgang, The New York Times

"It is not the least of the virtues of Richard Whelan's evocative biography
that he has done heroic detective work."
--Ward Just, The Boston Globe
Praise for
Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography by Richard Whelan

"Whelan does a superb job of bringing the mercurial, creative, indefatigable, maddening, and
lovable genius, and his awesome achievements, into gratifyingly sharp focus."
--Booklist, Editors' Choice, 1995

"The first full-scale biography of this twentieth-century American giant.
And author Richard Whelan proves equal to his task. . . . Whelan succeeds beautifully
in providing details that humanize the legend."
--Los Angeles Times Book Review

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