Whistlestop
My Favorite Stories from Presidential Campaign History

From Face the Nation moderator and contributing editor for The Atlantic John Dickerson come the stories behind the stories of the most memorable moments in American presidential campaign history.

The stakes are high. The characters full of striving and ego. Presidential campaigns are a contest for control of power in the most powerful country on earth. The battle of ideas has a clear end, with winners and losers, and along the way there are sharp turning points-primaries, debates, conventions, and scandals that squeeze candidates into emergency action, frantic grasping, and heroic gambles. As Mike Murphy the political strategist put it, "Campaigns are like war without bullets."

WHISTLESTOP tells the human story of nervous gambits hatched in first-floor hotel rooms, failures of will before the microphone, and the cross-country crack-ups of long-planned stratagems. At the bar at the end of a campaign day, these are the stories reporters rehash for themselves and embellish for newcomers. In addition to the familiar tales, WHISTLESTOP also remembers the forgotten stories about the bruising and reckless campaigns of the nineteenth century when the combatants believed the consequences included the fate of the republic itself. Some of the most modern-feeling elements of the American presidential campaign were born before the roads were paved and electric lights lit the convention halls-or there were convention halls at all.

WHISTLESTOP is a ride through the American campaign history with one of its most enthusiastic conductors guiding you through the landmarks along the way.

Praise for Whistlestop

"Dickerson knows what he is doing...[This book] should be kept on the night stand and dipped into when you crave a good tale. Like Dickerson as an interviewer, it has sturdy charm; it is inquisitive, generous, probing, and thoughtful. You read Whistlestop to put the chaos of today into perspective - or, perhaps, to escape from it."

New York Times Book Review

"Whistlestop is entertaining and informative, but it also is a timely reminder for those tempted right now to believe that, with the growing divisions in this country, all is lost. No matter how big the storm that throws us off course, we have a history of righting the ship and steering into calmer waters."

Connie Schultz, The Washington Post

A gifted chronicler, Dickerson looks back over two centuries of election campaigns and zeros in on flashpoint episodes that somehow reset the collective national narrative."

The National Book Review

"These stories illustrate that although this election is unusual, it's not unprecedented...Dickerson's book is an edifying reminder that human beings don't change. Politicians and voters alike often forget the past, and end up repeating the same mistakes."

The Federalist

On Her Trail
My Mother Nancy Dickerson TV News' First Woman Star

Before Barbara Walters, before Katie Couric, there was Nancy Dickerson. The first female member of the Washington TV news corps, Nancy was the only woman covering many of the most iconic events of the sixties. She was the first reporter to speak to President Kennedy after his inauguration and she was on the Mall with Martin Luther King Jr. during the march on Washington; she had dinner with LBJ the night after Kennedy was assassinated and got late-night calls from President Nixon. Ambitious, beautiful and smart, she dated senators and congressmen and got advice and accolades from Edward R. Murrow. She was one of President Johnson's favorite reporters, and he often greeted her on-camera with a familiar "Hello, Nancy." In the '60s Nancy and her husband Wyatt Dickerson were Washington's golden couple, and the capital's power brokers coveted invitations to swank dinners at their estate on the Potomac.

Growing up in the shadow of Nancy's fame, John Dickerson rarely saw his mother. This frank memoir -- part remembrance, part discovery -- describes a freewheeling childhood in which Nancy Dickerson was rarely around unless John was in trouble or she was throwing a party for the president and John was instructed to check the coats. By the time John was old enough to know what the news was, his mother was no longer in the national spotlight and he didn't see why she should be. He thought she was a liar and a phony. When he was fourteen, his parents divorced, and he moved in with his father.

As an adult, John found himself in Washington, a reporter covering her old beat. A long-delayed connection between mother and son began, only to be cut short by Nancy's death in 1997. In her journals, letters and yellowed newspaper clippings, John discovered the woman he never knew -- an icon in television history whose achievement was the result of her relentless determination to reinvent herself and excel. "On Her Trail" is a fascinating picture of the early days of television and of Washington society at its most high powered, and charts a son's honest and wry search for the mother he came to admire and love.

Praise for On Her Trail

"John Dickerson's biography of Nancy Dickerson is a raw and compelling portrait of his mother, who was, in a way, the Katie Couric of her time, the first woman to break into the all-male fortress of TV news, back in the dark ages of the 1960s. With On Her Trail Dickerson has written more than a biography: it is a history of the time, with rich new stories about John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and a social dissection of elite Washington. It is--and this may be the most captivating part of the book--a personal confession of life with a mother almost obsessively driven in her career. . . . The book is a mix of solid reportorial digging with a son's sometimes heartbreaking insights. It is bold, shocking at times, and brilliant." 

— Lesley Stahl

"Beautifully observed and richly reported, a family tale with a twist—because it's written about the kind of family that normally wouldn't let secrets make their way outside the security fence. A tough and loving book by a gifted journalist."

—Peggy Noonan

 

“A memorable portrait of the woman and her career. . . . A unique and authentic view of Nancy Hanschman Dickerson . . . that will shape future studies of this phenomenal woman.”

The Washington Times

“Riveting. . . . You cannot turn your eyes away.”

—Elsa Walsh, The Washington Post