Five Books That Tell More About Washington Than an Unsuspecting Reader Might Think
Rather than grouse about how Washington has never produced a classic tome that truly nails the city the way Tom Wolfe did New York or Dashiell Hammett did San Francisco, I set my mind on making up a list of books that reveal corners of Washington we otherwise might never stumble into. I don't mean books simply set in the District. Anyone can come up with those: George Pelecanos's excellent white-knuckle thrillers; Edward P. Jones's superb human stories; the minx-lit of Jessica Cutler or Ana Marie Cox. What I'm proposing here is a little trickier: a book that shines light on a D.C. you didn't imagine was there.
I started by thinking of those tobacco and firearm lobbyists who show up in Christopher Buckley's Thank You For Smoking. And then . . . I got lazy and decided to call Buckley himself. In true K-Street fashion, I promised I'd make him Numero Uno on my list if he would do the bulk of my work for me (i.e., come up with the other four). Here's the dirty little result. Feel free to pile on the pork!
1. Thank You For Smoking, by Christopher Buckley.
Have you ever -- I mean have you ever -- read anything more dead-on about what the business in this capital of the free world really is?
2. Advise and Consent, by Allen Drury.
Look out for the brand-name residential hotels where the key senators live!
3. Seven Days in May, by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II.
Note how easy it was to get around Washington in those days and how little Secret Service protection the president had. Not to mention how easy it was to mount a military coup against the U.S. goverment!
4. The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam.
Track JFK as he all but walks around Georgetown during his transition, banging on doors of the Establishmentarians, inviting them to serve in his cabinet. (Not that it took a lot of arm-twisting.)
5. Any White House memoir.
They all have two themes: 1.) It wasn't my fault! and 2.) It would have been so much worse if I hadn't been there. Now that really tells you something about this town.
-- Marie Arana
By Christian Pelusi |
May 15, 2008; 6:37 AM ET
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