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The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics (Hardcover)

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An intimate and hilarious look inside the spin room of the modern politician: a place where ideals are crushed, English is mangled, people are humiliated, and the opportunity for humor is everywhere.

Everyone knows this kind of politician: a charismatic maverick who goes up against the system and its ways, but thinks he doesn’t have to live by the rules. Through his own experience as the speechwriter for a controversial governor, Barton Swaim tells the story of a band of believers who attach themselves to this sort of ambitious narcissist—and what happens when it all comes crashing down.

The Speechwriter is a funny and candid introduction to the world of politics, where press statements are purposefully nonsensical, grammatical errors are intentional, and better copy means more words. Swaim paints a portrait of a man so principled he’d rather sweat than use state money to pay for air conditioning, so oblivious he’d wear the same stained shirt for two weeks, so egotistical he’d belittle his staffers to make himself feel better, and so self-absorbed he never once apologized to his staff for making his administration the laughing stock of the country. On the surface, this is the story of one politician’s rise and fall. But in the end, it’s a story about us—the very real people who want to believe in our leaders and must learn to survive with broken hearts.

About the Author

Barton Swaim, a native South Carolinian, attended the University of South Carolina and the University of Edinburgh. From 2007 to 2010 he worked for Mark Sanford, South Carolina’s governor, as a communications officer and speechwriter. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina, with his wife, Laura, and three daughters, and writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and The Times Literary Supplement. The Speechwriter is his first book.

Praise For…

"[Swaim's] book is not a tell-all or an effort to settle scores. Instead, it’s a wryly funny, beautifully written, sometimes bewildered, always astute dissection of what it is like to perform a thankless job for an unreasonable person in a dysfunctional office during a period of unusual turmoil. . . . Swaim is so talented a writer, and has such an eye for a telling detail, that you suspect you could put him in any workplace—chicken-processing plant, airport sunglass emporium, stoner skate park—and he would make it come alive in the best possible way. . . . He may have been unsuccessful as a platitudinous speechwriter, but he has produced a marvelously entertaining book."

“Revealing and unusual: a political memoir that traffics in neither score-settling nor self-importance but that shares, in spare, delightful prose, what the author saw and learned. The Speechwriter feels like Veep meets All the King’s Men—an entertaining and engrossing book not just about the absurdities of working in the press shop of a Southern governor but also about the meaning of words in public life. . . . The Speechwriter will become a classic on political communication.”
— Carlos Lozada

"This is the truest book I've read about politics in some time, hilarious and sordid and wonderfully written."
— Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors

“[Swaim] writes . . . in a breezy, elliptical manner, letting his material work for him. . . . Swaim is insightful not only about Sanford but about the nature of modern political communications. . . . Although it left me feeling slightly dubious about democracy, I have no trouble calling The Speechwriter, with its gloomy reflections and wonderfully vivid character sketches, the best American political memoir written in my lifetime.”

"Barton Swaim's little jewel of a memoir reads like the best political fiction. Beyond taking you into the core of an epic political meltdown, Swaim's funny story also illuminates the eroding standards of language, the oddities of office life and the exquisite torture of working for a narcissistic and unappreciative boss."
— Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies

"At last: a political memoir 100-percent free of axe-grinding, score-settling, and self-promotion. What’s left? A beautifully written, hilariously human inside look at a certain governor’s ruinous, um, hike on the Appalachian Trail."
— David Von Drehle, author of Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year

"Politicians don’t always come with warm smiles and narcissistic dispositions, but it was Barton Swaim’s bad luck to work for one, and our good luck that he stayed long enough to tell his very funny tale."
— Jeffrey Frank, author of Ike and Dick

"Swaim's book is an uproariously funny and sometimes just weird story of idealistic belief and politics corrupted by narcissism and ruined by scandal. Unfortunately it's all too true."
— Karl Rove, author of Courage and Consequences

“A wry and eloquent memoir . . . offering an inside look at the life of a political wordsmith and, along the way, a portrait of a politician who was his own worst enemy. Beautifully written . . . The Speechwriter is a cautionary tale and well-timed, appearing as the race for the White House intensifies, with politicians crowding rooms hoping to impress and true believers hanging on every word they say.”

“Darkly humorous. . . . Anyone who’s ever sought to maintain sanity in an absurd workplace knows that it requires a kind of gallows humor, a tone Swaim maintains throughout this terrifically entertaining book.”

“Swaim's Veep-like experience of working for Sanford supplied him with a book's worth of mortifyingly hilarious anecdotes, and he tells them exceptionally well. But the greatest value of The Speechwriter is the deeper truths about political language, and the people who employ it, that Swaim learned during his tour of duty. . . . The best book about politics I've read in years.”

“One of the few good books about speechwriting. . . . [Swaim] has a fine eye, a gift for satire, and a clean, clear style. . . . Highly readable and entertaining.”

“A deeply humane study. . . . Swaim is plainly a gifted writer. His professional experience shows in a firm, easy command of language; with disciplined consistency, his sentences do what they’ve been ordered to do. There’s a smooth economy to his prose, which rarely staggers or overheats. If it isn’t always lyrical, it still has a lean charm that more writing should. . . . The Speechwriter [is] urgent reading, for both its literary and civic merits.”

“It would be hard to find a better book in the year leading up to the 2016 election than Swaim’s memoir. . . . His account is unlike the usual political insider’s story. For one thing, it’s better written, funnier too, blessedly concise, and free of huffing and puffing.”

“Very funny . . . original and interesting.”

“In an elegiac tone that recalls Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel All the King’s Men . . . [The Speechwriter] is less an account of a politician’s fall than an inquest into mass democracy. . . . His speechwriting days may be over, but Swaim seems to have found his true voice.”

“A must-read.”

“[The Speechwriter] is brilliant. It’s not a 'tell-all,' nor is it even really an attack on Sanford. Instead, The Speechwriter is a dead-on depiction of life inside a modern day political spin room--with Swaim demonstrating on every page the supreme talent he brought to the table. Talent which Sanford wasted. . . . As for the politician chronicled by the book? Swaim nails him. The Speechwriter doesn’t just provide us the occasional glimpse into Sanford’s confounding eccentricities and chronic narcissism--it literally exposes the flawed essence of the man.”

The Speechwriter is a funny book. Grammarians and word nerds will certainly love it. Political junkies too. . . . But for more than anyone else, The Speechwriter will appeal to other writers.”

“Highly amusing. . . . A remarkable account of a political education told with humor and insight.”

“A deftly funny look at life inside the Sanford bubble and a thoughtful, clear-eyed account of what it takes to put words in the mouth of a politician in love with the sound of his own voice.”


“A highly readable account of [Swaim’s] three years in the governor’s employ. Part All the King’s Men and part Horrible Bosses, it’s fascinating and almost impossible to put down.”

“The narrative is strongest in its quiet reflection of the end of Swaim's political innocence. As [Swaim] came to realize, democracy—with its promise of liberty and justice for all—is ultimately based on rhetorical manipulation of the masses.”

“An entertaining inside look at state politics and how the wheels of executive office grind. . . . Demonstrating empathy mixed with appropriate caution . . . [Swaim’s] report on his experiences as a governor’s idea man is a fine, sometimes brilliant foray into the nature of contemporary politics, the charismatic narcissists who seek high elected office, and the enablers who allow them to dance in the spotlight.”

“A candid, witty look inside the world of high-stakes politics. . . . A humorous and sobering glimpse inside the modern political crucible.”

“For political junkies looking for more than the routine gotcha memoir, or another insider tale of revenge, Barton Swaim’s deliciously wicked The Speechwriter is this summer’s must read. With unsparing precision, Swaim dissects the inner workings and galactic stupidities of political life—the wall of spin, the thirst for glory, and above all the insatiable quest for acclaim and attention. The hypocrisy and duplicity revealed in the 200-page book read like a chapter from Kafka or an absurdist play.”

“A sober, lucid, funny story about language and its fraught relation to statesmanship. … Unlike nearly every book of its kind, The Speechwriter at its core is sensitive and apolitical: Swain just wants to understand why we so often insist on mangling the language.”

“Revealing, insightful, [and] hilarious. . . . Unlike other my-time-in-politics memoirs, Swaim does not go out of his way to trash his former boss or make everyone around look like idiots. If you are at all interested in politics, the crafting of words, and the absurdities of human nature, you’ll enjoy this book.”

“An enjoyable, well-written volume. As he chronicles key events during his time in the governor’s office, Swaim demonstrates that he has an ear for dialogue, an eye for detail and a gift for pithy statements (as you’d expect from a speechwriter). Whether he’s describing the governor’s opponents in the legislature, or recreating conversations between himself, the governor and other staff members, Swaim displays an inspired literary hand.”

“Swaim undertakes his rueful memoir without malice or anger, so that what we read is the sad and sometimes hilarious story of politics as usual in America. And what did Swaim learn as the governor’s speechwriter? That you can admire a man, agree with his ideas, even like him, but you can never, never, ever trust a politician.”

The Speechwriter is alternately hilarious and just plain sad. And it is well-written.”


“A rollicking jaunt through Mark Sanford's last term as governor.”

"The governor's marital infidelity . . . and other moral shortcomings take a back seat here. And deservedly so, for Swaim's approach is far more entertaining and, if you care about language, far more indicting. He describes an administration in which the mistreatment of language—and staff—was commonplace."

Product Details
ISBN: 9781476769929
ISBN-10: 1476769923
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: July 14th, 2015
Pages: 224
Language: English

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