BY MY COUNT, there are already well over a dozen books about the 2016 presidential campaign. The first to appear was CNN reporter Thomas Lake's Unprecedented: The Election That Changed Everything, published just a week after Election Day. Technically speaking, Unprecedented wasn't even the first: Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins wrapped up his book The Wilderness in late 2015, a full year before Election Day. And though there are many things to be praised about The Wilderness, its prescience is not among them.
The journalist who invented the quick campaign history, Theodore White, couldn't find a publisher in 1959 when he first came up with the idea of writing an entire book on the 1960 election. Friends warned him that such readers as he could scrape up would be jabbing hot needles in their eyes within the first 100 pages.
But the fly-on-the-wall technique White brought to The Making of the President 1960, mixing accounts of rallies and strategy sessions with vivid descriptions of what the candidates wore or had for dinner, was a monster commercial and critical success that won a Pulitzer prize.
White wrote four more making-of books. By 1972 he had a host of imitators, all of them hovering about the candidates like a cloud of flies, duly noting every grunt and sneeze. White surveyed the scene and felt like Dr. Frankenstein amid a crowd of his appalling creations. "I sincerely regret it," he said of what he had wrought. "Who gives a fuck if the guy had milk and Total for breakfast?"
The Class of 2016's election books contain a lot less of that sort of New Journalism-style omniscience, if only because the principal two candidates regarded reporters as lying swine who should be kept far away, if not simply shot.
Donald Trump actually wavered on that last point. NBC reporter Katy Tur's Unbelievable describes a rally where the candidate, musing on Vladimir Putin's reputation for knocking off annoying journalists, weighed the pros and cons. "I hate them, but I would never kill them. I'd never do that," he announces, then pauses in contemplation. "No, I wouldn't," he decides. "But I do hate them." (He soooo wasn't kidding. Tur also describes a night when a reporter colleague got a call from Trump's press office. "Are we off the record?" the Trump staffer inquired. Sure, replied the reporter. "Great," continued the staffer. "Off the record, Mr. Trump wants you to go fuck yourself.")
The only dietary commentary comes from Hillary Clinton's What Happened, in which the Democratic nominee is more than happy to offer an exhaustive list of her favorite repasts--Oreo ice cream bars, sliced jalapeno peppers, Ninja Squirrel Sriracha hot sauce, Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, brownies made with chickpea flour--rather than write anything about why she lost. One demographic that probably sighed with relief after reading What Happened was the White House kitchen staff, which is unlikely to have reacted well to the news that Clinton's preferred method of serving Quest protein bars is to warm them up by sitting on them.
So this time around we won't learn the candidates' comparative baby-kissing numbers. (White thought the presence of babies at rallies a revealing statistic--parents were more inclined to bring them to an event with a likely winner, he figured, so they could be told later: Honey, you saw the president.) But there are still some lessons to be drawn from the post-election library, including a few that don't revolve around pussy grabbing or email deleting.
NOT ALL OF the 2016 books conform to the traditional model of election literature. Tur--as the first TV reporter assigned full-time to the Trump campaign, she was, after Fox News' Megyn Kelly, probably the candidate's least favorite--has produced more of a personal memoir of her time on the road. Breezily written, it's full of useful tips for young reporters (Fox News' Carl Cameron always gets his hair spray past security by telling Secret Service agents, "You taking my hairspray is like me taking your gun"; "Whatever you do, don't sleep with a Secret Service agent").
It also offers the starkest illustration I've ever seen of what's wrong with cable news. When Trump announced, in an email blast, that as president he would ban all Muslim immigrants from entering the United States, the MSNBC desk called Tur within moments, demanding a live phone-in report. I don't really know anything about it yet, replied the harried Tur, but I could--
"Just talk," ordered the imperious editor.