Join acclaimed novelist and journalist Boris Fishman for a different kind of class on politics and policy. Have you ever wondered why we continue to read certain American political books decades after the campaigns, elections, presidencies, and wars they describe? Of course, certain documents, like the Pentagon Papers, reveal such critical information that it doesn’t matter how well they’re written. Otherwise, the reason a political book lasts is both simple and incredibly complex: the originality of the writing.

In this course, we will engage with excerpts from political books and documents that epitomize this distinction, and learn how to do what the authors do. Among the texts we will consider are Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President, which pioneered the literary-journalistic style that brought novelistic technique and imagination to political reporting; Hunter S. Thompson’s classic of alienated campaign reporting, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972; Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes: The Way to the White House, which has been described as “an American Iliad in the guise of contemporary political reportage”; and excerpts from Robert Caro’s renowned The Power Broker and LBJ series. The course will conclude with study of two government reports, parts of which escaped the limitations of the genre: the introduction to the US Senate’s Hurricane Katrina report (written by Boris Fishman), and the opening chapters of the 9/11 Report.

Each week, several students will be asked to submit a short writing assignment that engages with the politics of the day (or the past) in an original writing style inspired by the books we discuss. Class discussion will be evenly divided between a Socratic discussion of the reading assigned for that day and an informal workshop of the submitted exercises. For a final project, students will have to submit a longer piece of writing (minimum 10 double-spaced pages) that engages with a political or policy issue from an original writing-craft perspective.

Watch a course trailer


Boris Fishman

Boris Fishman is the author of the novels A Replacement Life and Don’t Let My Baby Do Rodeo, both New York Times Notable Books of the Year, and Savage Feast, a family memoir told through recipes.

Preview the Syllabus by Week/Session


  • Excerpts from Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1960
  • Excerpts from Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes: The Way to the White House


  • Excerpts from Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 1972
  • Excerpts from Theodore H. White, The Making of the President 1972
  • Excerpts from Timothy Crouse, The Boys on the Bus


Writing Workshop: Exercise 1, Group A


  • Excerpts from Robert Caro, The Power Broker
  • Excerpts from Robert Caro, The Years of Lyndon Johnson Series
  • Excerpts from Robert Caro, Working


Writing Workshop: Exercise 1, Group B


  • Excerpts from David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest
  • Excerpts from Edmund Morris, Dutch


Writing Workshop: Exercise 2, Group A


  • Excerpts from Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men
  • Excerpts from Hurricane Katrina: A Nation Still Unprepared
  • Excerpts from The 9/11 Commission Report


Writing Workshop: Exercise 2, Group B

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