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David Axelrod has always been a believer. Whether as a young journalist investigating city corruption, a campaign consultant guiding underdog candidates against entrenched orthodoxy, or as senior adviser to the president during one of the worst crises in American history, Axelrod held fast to his faith in the power of stories to unite diverse communities and ignite transformative political change. Now this legendary strategist, the mastermind behind Barack Obama’s historic election campaigns, shares a wealth of stories from his forty-year journey through the inner workings of American democracy. Believer is the tale of a political life well lived, of a man who never gave up on the deepest promises our country has to offer.
Believer reveals the roots of Axelrod’s devotion to politics and his faith in democratic change. As a child of the 60s in New York City, Axelrod worked his first campaigns during a tumultuous decade that began with soaring optimism and ended in violence and chaos. As a young newspaperman in Chicago during the 1970s and ’80s, Axelrod witnessed another world transformed when he reported on the dissolution of the last of the big city political machines—Richard Daley, Dan Rostenkowski, and Harold Washington—along with the emergence of a dynamic black independent movement that ultimately made Obama’s ascent possible. After cutting his teeth in the rollicking world of Chicago journalism, Axelrod switched careers to become a political strategist. His unorthodox tactics during his first campaign helped him get Paul Simon unexpectedly elected to the Senate, and soon Axelrod’s counsel was sought by the greatest lights of the Democratic Party. Working for path breakers like Hillary Clinton, Deval Patrick, and Rahm Emanuel—and morally conflicted characters like Rod Blagojevich and John Edwards—Axelrod, for better and worse, redefined the techniques by which modern political campaigns are run.
The heart of Believer is Axelrod’s twenty-year friendship with Barack Obama, a warm partnership that inspired both men even as it propelled each to great heights. Taking a chance on an unlikely candidate for the U.S. Senate, Axelrod ultimately collaborated closelywith Obama on his political campaigns, and served as the invaluable strategist who contributed to the tremendous victories of 2008 and 2012. Switching careers again, Axelrod served as senior adviser to the president during one of the most challenging periods in national history: working at Obama’s side as he battled an economic disaster; navigated America through two wars; and fought to reform health care, the financial sector, and our gridlocked political institutions. In Believer, Axelrod offers a deeper and richer profile of this extraordinary figure—who in just six years vaulted from the Illinois State Senate to the Oval Office—from the perspective of one who was at his side every step of the way.
Spanning forty years that include corruption and transformation, turmoil and progress, Believer takes readers behind the closed doors of politics even as it offers a thrilling call to democratic action. Axelrod’s Believer is a powerful and inspiring memoir enlivened by the charm and candor of one of the greatest political strategists in recent American history.
François Furstenberg is the author of In the Name of the Father and When the United States Spoke French. Full Bio
STRANGE REUNIONS: AN INTRODUCTION
For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble sprout from the ground, Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward. Job 5:6–7
Revolutionary sparks, set off by the great explosion in France, fly upward. Most fall in Europe. Some, carried west by the trade winds, fall in the Caribbean and set off dry kindling. Others land deep in the North American forests. A few, following the gentle breezes drifting along the American coast, float up the Delaware Bay to Philadelphia. More…
In the summer of 1945 atom bombs were the ultimate secret weapon. Developed and tested in conditions of maximum security in a New Mexico desert camp, they destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki that August and ended World War II. In the summer of 1946 a new set of atom bomb tests was designed to make them the ultimate public weapon. Three bombs would be detonated in front of movie cameras, journalists, members of Congress, and selected international VIPs at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands. Code-named Operation Crossroads, the display would show the world just how much destructive power America now possessed. The spectacle would intimidate and deter potential aggressors, especially the Soviet Union. The islands’ 167 inhabitants were evacuated and given a promise that they could return home later.1
But Operation Crossroads did not go according to plan. The two blasts, “Able” (aboveground) and “Baker” (underwater), were less destructive than some scientists and generals had hoped, damaging but not sinking many of the captured German and Japanese warships anchored nearby. On the other hand, the irreversible radioactive contamination of these ships, and the deaths of the trial animals caged on board, demonstrated the bombs’ sinister aftereffects. Right after Baker, sailors were sent aboard the damaged ships to clean up, wearing no protective gear. “Out of the four hours we spent on her [the USS Hughes], two were spent vomiting and retching as we all became violently ill,” wrote one. A medical official on the scene, aware of the danger and dismayed by military negligence, reported that senior navy officers took “a blind, hairy-chested approach to matters of radiological safety.” The third bomb test was postponed.2 More…