Sunday, November 06, 2011


Advise and Consent, Allen Drury, Doubleday and Company, 1959, 760 pp

One of the burdens of My Big Fat Reading Project is slogging my way through long tomes like Advise and Consent. It was the #4 bestseller in 1959 and went on to be the #1 bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner in 1960. The New York Times Book Review stated, "Advise and Consent will stand as one of the finest and most gripping political novels of our era..." The book stayed on that paper's bestseller list for over 100 weeks!

It is the story of a fictional American President's attempt to put a new Secretary of State into his cabinet, an action which requires confirmation by the Senate. Robert Leffingwell, the nominee, is seen as an appeaser of Communist Russia by the more conservative senators but is a darling of the liberals. The fight to get Leffingwell confirmed is down and dirty, ruining lives and causing great upheaval in the Senate.

Interestingly, though I was being taught the forms of United States government in high school during the same time the book was popular, not much of it stayed with me. I had to do a quick review of Congressional terminology and positions, but once I got a grip on ranks such as Majority Leader, President of the Senate, Senior Senator, etc, the characters and their battles came alive. Reading the book then became an education in how the Senate works; its relationship to the Presidency, the media, and the voters back home; as well as the daily life of a Senator. (You could not pay me enough to be a Senator and I was confirmed in my belief that democracy in practice differs widely from it high flown ideals.)

Advise and Consent is not the pageturner its fans claim it to be, but it is a dramatic story still read today and is considered to have started a genre: political novels set in Washington, DC. Allen Drury, who started his professional life as a US Senate correspondent for United Press International, became a ponderous fiction author. His attention to detail drove me to distraction, his characterizations are complex but artless, and he repeats himself. Compared to a civics textbook however, the book is wildly exciting and humanized the Congressional men and women we hear about in the news.

I am glad I read it. The novel did more to explain the 1950s and 1960s American views on communism that almost anything else I have read so far.

(Advise and Consent is out of print and only available in libraries and from used booksellers.)

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