Time To Brush Up On Your Maine Political Reading
We may be more toward the end than the beginning of summer in Maine, but there are still plenty of sunny days left. In case you’ve already exhausted your summer reading list, here are some potential, political additions:
O. Murray Carr is a novel by Neil Rolde about Jonathan Jackson, a former state legislator and historian, and his attempt to understand the murder of his former boss, the governor of a small New England state, never named but obviously Maine.
For Rolde, who is also a former state legislator, served as a gubernatorial aide for Governor Ken Curtis and is a well-known Maine historian, the format of a novel and the character of Jackson seem to allow him to put on paper what’s going on in his own head. It’s also a chance for him to use the story to describe details and aspects of local and national politics from an insider’s perspective. The book opens, for instance, with a description of the often-overlooked ceremony that takes place when a state’s representatives to the Electoral College cast their votes for president.
O. Murray Carr is much better than its cover, which features a drawing of Uncle Sam holding a gun superimposed over a black and white photo of an airport bathroom, would suggest. It’s also much better than another recent novel about Maine politics, Stubborn as a Mule, by Harvard Law professor Richard Fallon (this book, too, is graced with terrible cover art, featuring a stock photograph of a mule and excessive use of the Photoshop blur tool). Fallon’s novel is about a run for U.S. Senate by the president of a small Maine liberal arts college. Gerald Weinand seems to have liked it more than I did.
Another new release, this one non-fiction, takes a look at a Maine political figure who doesn’t get much attention these days. The War Lovers by Evan Thomas focuses on a small group of politicians and opinion makers in the lead-up to the Spanish-American war. One of his subjects is Thomas Brackett Reed, Maine's former U.S. Representative and powerful Speaker of the House who waged a lonely campaign against the war hawks, including future president Theodore Roosevelt and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.
Reed was a brilliant parliamentarian with an acerbic wit, and the book describes how he used every inch of his power and his intellect toward preserving peace.
Thomas also briefly mentions another Maine politician, Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine. For the definitive (and sympathetic) look at this controversial figure, however, one has to return to Rolde and his James G. Blaine: Continental Liar from the State of Maine.
A few more books I’d recommend in the category of Maine politics: Alex Ray’s political autobiography Hired Gun (which I wrote about earlier) and The Year of the Longley by Willis Johnson (which Al Diamon plumbed for this great, recent column). In addition, Christian Potholm’s books An Insider’s Guide to Maine Politics and especially This Splendid Game: Maine Campaigns and Elections, 1940-2002 are essential and informative, but should be considered more autobiographies at times than comprehensive surveys.
Most of these books can be found easily through your local Maine library.