Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

A brilliant and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor mixes calculation and sincerity in his not-so-above-board campaign for the presidency.


  • Hardcover: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (January 16, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679448594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679448594
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
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  1. This is easily one of the finest pieces of literature I have ever read. Whether or not it is an account of Bill Clinton’s road to the White House is irrelevant, the story is amazing. I read this book twice because, to this day, I wonder what the main character, “Henry Burton” thought of “the Candidate.”
    “The Candidate,” Jack Stanton, was the enigmatic southern governor, “of a state no one has heard of,” who happened to be running for the presidency. He was a brilliant but flawed man, who truly loved people. He really cared about “folks,” as he needed them to survive both politically and just plain physically. He fed off the energy of the people with a charisma that was infectious to all those around him. It had its advantages and disadvantages. The fact that he was wonderful people helped, the fact that he was promiscuous did not.
    The characters were so vivid and well told. Richard, the campaign manager, Daisy, the media person, and subsequently Henry’s girlfriend, and Libby. . .Who could ever forget Ms. Olivia Holden? She was amazing. The Stantons were amazing too. Susan, the Governor’s wife, was so strong and intelligent.
    Now, this book could be taken from one of two perspectives. The first is conviction. This book suggests terrible things about the governor and if you are looking for an open attack on “The Candidate,” you have got it. The second perspective is to look at it as a book by a staffer who really loved his employer, even though some of his traits were less than admirable. Henry said early on in the book, that he looked too favorably the Governor, and felt he could not do his job as best he could.
    Whoever this book is about, whatever it is about, it doesn’t matter. It is a great story about a man who, though not perfect, feels the people, and truly wants to help them in an effort to give them a better life.

  2. After starting the 1990s by publishing “Bonfire Of The Vanities,” Tom Wolfe wrote an essay decrying the state of fiction, how too many authors wrote convoluted, esoteric novels designed to win elitist approval and be ignored by the masses: Why oh why can’t some journalist swoop in and write a novel that’s really about life and people we know, like the great Frenchman Zola had?

    Joe Klein seemed to notice this, if “Primary Colors,” the book he had published under the moniker “Anonymous,” is any indication. This was a book taken so directly from life that it became a parlor game figuring out who was who. Sure, Jack Stanton was really our then-president, and his wife Susan was Hillary Clinton, but who was that crazy Libby woman supposed to be? Or the shadowy narrator, Henry Burton?

    The buzz gave “Primary Colors” most of its popularity, but one wonders just how interested people are in the book now that Bill Clinton is retired. Probably not much, which is a shame, because “Primary Colors” deserves better than being a ’90s time capsule.

    If you haven’t read “Primary Colors,” one thing you need to know about it is it’s not a note-by-note recitation of the Clinton road to power. It takes some similar turns, and some prescient ones (Monica was not news when this came out in 1996), and in general Jack and Susan Stanton are recognizably Clintonesque, but there are some liberties taken that make the real First Couple seem like the saintly Carters by comparison. The plot takes some jaw-dropping turns, in a sort of shameless “Desperate Housewives”-way that makes for fun reading.Read more ›

  3. What is politics in the modern age besides the pursuit of a momentary rush? “Primary Colors” works because it depicts a lot of folks in a big hurry, and the mess they make of their own morality and vision because of it. If it takes a lifetime of experience to build an ideal, it’s inconceivable that it can be executed in the course of a presidential campaign, and Klein’s book is about the shedding those ideals, and the residual effects of what remains. Gov. Jack Stanton has won his primary by book’s end, but it is unclear by that point what he’s won for.
    It’s important to remember that Henry, the narrator, joins the campaign because he’s worked/lived inside two so called “revolutionary” political machines and been disillusioned by both: That of his civil rights activist grandfather, whose lessons from the 1960s are more held as artifacts than used as themes to live by; and his first boss, a black senator, whose concept of victory in Congress had becoming forcing presidential vetos. Henry finds a man in Stanton with the mainstream charisma and skin tone to forge a Kennedy’s touch on political history. Henry then discovers the perils of having mainstream charisma, both in his own man, and the late challenger who nearly steals the crown, Freddy Picker.
    The book has its weaknesses. The sexual liasons are a bit too evened out when Henry sleeps with Stanton’s wife. There is little time for introspection. In choosing a nearly insane women as the book’s eventual conscience, Primary Colors edges too close to “only the mad are truly sane” paradigm. That this woman, a close friend of the Stanton’s and a campaign advisor, commits suicide at the end is a ripoff, considering so little time was devoted to her troubles in the book.Read more ›

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