Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: "The Means" by Douglas Brunt

Full disclosure: I received an advance readers copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Having lived in the Washington, DC area for more than 25 years, I'm still simultaneously fascinated and reviled by politics. While I've had more than my share of politicians and their rhetoric and mudslinging, I have always been a sucker for the drama of presidential campaigns, watching a herd of candidates enter and only the luckiest one survives. That certainly explains part of the appeal of Douglas Brunt's tremendously compelling new novel, The Means.

The Means follows three characters over a four-year period. Mitchell Mason, former governor of New York, was raised as the scion of a political dynasty, and has been training to be president since he was young. He has finally ascended to the highest office in the land, and although his know-it-all, sometimes-condescending style is difficult for some of his staff to handle, his ideas for governing the country often demonstrate that he is worthy of the job.

Tom Pauley is a defense attorney in North Carolina, whose pro bono work on a controversial trial thrusts him into the spotlight. His folksy, congenial style, coupled with his good looks, catches the attention of state GOP leaders, who quickly tap him to run for governor, and then set their sights even higher.

Samantha Davis is a beautiful, intelligent, driven child actress-turned-lawyer, who leaves the law to pursue a journalism career. Her beauty and smarts, as well as her on-camera skills, quickly set her star on the rise. She gets her hands on an old, unreported story that has the potential to be a gigantic bombshell in the political world, and does everything she can to pursue it, regardless of the consequences.

I found this book utterly fascinating. While those quite familiar with the political process and life on the campaign trail may find that some of the plot isn't 100 percent accurate, for someone who watches these things from a far, I felt as if I had a behind-the-scenes look at campaigning, governing, the life of an incumbent president fighting to be re-elected, the art of damage control, and the toll campaigning takes on a candidate's family. It's also a commentary on just how pervasive the media can be, and its power to shake up the political landscape.

Brunt is an excellent storyteller, and I was hooked on this book from start to finish. His three main characters were tremendously complex—your impressions of them change throughout the book, and I thought it was interesting that he demonstrated that no one person is completely good or bad. There are even a few twists that surprised me, and that doesn't happen.

If you're as fascinated by the political process, the media, and political campaigns as much as I am, definitely read The Means. And even if you're utterly disinterested in the political system, you may still find this tremendously interesting. It's a great book and I think it could make an even better movie—perhaps a less somber Ides of March.

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