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Best books … chosen by Thurston Clarke

Thurston Clarke revisits Robert Kennedy&rsquo;s unconventional 1968 presidential bid in his new book, <em>The Last</em> <em>Campaign.</em> Below, the veteran writer lists six favorite works about other political maver

The Nightingale’s Song by Robert Timberg (Free Press, $16). Timberg masterfully weaves together the biographies of five Naval Academy graduates—John McCain, James Webb, Oliver North, Robert McFarlane, and John Poindexter—who have had illustrious, or infamous, careers as public servants. The two biggest mavericks among them, McCain and Webb, could even face each other this fall, should Barack Obama ignore Webb’s disavowal of interest and choose him as a running mate.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
by Edmund Morris (Modern Library, $18). A smashing biography spanning the period from TR’s birth to his assumption of the presidency following McKinley’s assassination. One hopes that John McCain, who claims to have inherited TR’s mantle, has read this portrait of his idol and pondered their differences.

Justice For All
by Jim Newton (Riverhead, $18). A moderate Republican governor is nominated to the Supreme Court by a Republican president and becomes a boogeyman to generations of conservatives. Jim Newton does a fine job of explaining Earl Warren and the nation that the principled chief justice made.

FDR by Jean Edward Smith (Random House, $20). This 2007 work offers no new scandals or revelations. But it is the most judicious and smoothly written one-volume biography of a remarkable man—America’s most notorious “traitor to his class.”

George Orwell by Bernard Crick (out of print). My only novel, Thirteen O’Clock, revolved around the writing of 1984, and I used Crick’s biography as my principal source. Crick does an admirable job of connecting Orwell’s personal experiences with his writings. His book prompts the painful question: Is there anyone in politics or the media today who shares Orwell’s courageous , and reckless, determination to speak uncomfortable truths?

Profiles in Courage
by John F. Kennedy (HarperCollins $22). Not all of the eight U.S. senators profiled by Kennedy in this book were lifelong mavericks, but all faced moments when they had to decide between voting their consciences or bowing to pressures from their parties and constituents. Robert Kennedy, in a forward written shortly after his brother’s assassination, cited Thomas Carlyle’s observation that, “The courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently but to live manfully”—a fitting epitaph for any political maverick.

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