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Off Script: An Advance Man’s Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle, and Political Suicide

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Being a public figure is no walk in the park - the world focuses on every move that politicians make and highlights their every mistake. "Image collapse" can befall anyone whose carefully cultivated persona is pitted against intermediaries in the broadcast booths of cable news networks or behind the photo desks of newspapers, magazines, and today's host of digital platform Being a public figure is no walk in the park - the world focuses on every move that politicians make and highlights their every mistake. "Image collapse" can befall anyone whose carefully cultivated persona is pitted against intermediaries in the broadcast booths of cable news networks or behind the photo desks of newspapers, magazines, and today's host of digital platforms. As a world-traveling "advance man," an operative who orchestrates TV- and photo-ready moments involving important political figures, Josh King has unique experience working with the reputations of officeholders, candidates and other public figures. In Off Script, King leads readers through an entertaining and illuminating journey through the Hall of Infamy of some of the most catastrophic examples of political theater of the last quarter century. Readers might remember these cringe worthy moments as simple cases of bad luck. King argues, instead, that they were symptomatic of something larger: our broad appetite for public embarrassment, the media’s business imperatives in satiating that craving, and the propensity of politicians to serve it up on a platter, often by pretending to be someone they’re not while strutting on the public stage. We tour recent history – King calls it “the Age of Optics” – to establish this syndrome, and then turn to the Obama administration and what Josh calls the emergence of the "Vanilla Presidency." King argues that Barack Obama has been more guarded and more protective of the presidential persona than anyone in history, and as we look to the elections of 2016 and beyond, we have to wonder: Will our future president follow Obama's example? If so, how will that influence the relationship between our nation's citizens and their leader?


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Being a public figure is no walk in the park - the world focuses on every move that politicians make and highlights their every mistake. "Image collapse" can befall anyone whose carefully cultivated persona is pitted against intermediaries in the broadcast booths of cable news networks or behind the photo desks of newspapers, magazines, and today's host of digital platform Being a public figure is no walk in the park - the world focuses on every move that politicians make and highlights their every mistake. "Image collapse" can befall anyone whose carefully cultivated persona is pitted against intermediaries in the broadcast booths of cable news networks or behind the photo desks of newspapers, magazines, and today's host of digital platforms. As a world-traveling "advance man," an operative who orchestrates TV- and photo-ready moments involving important political figures, Josh King has unique experience working with the reputations of officeholders, candidates and other public figures. In Off Script, King leads readers through an entertaining and illuminating journey through the Hall of Infamy of some of the most catastrophic examples of political theater of the last quarter century. Readers might remember these cringe worthy moments as simple cases of bad luck. King argues, instead, that they were symptomatic of something larger: our broad appetite for public embarrassment, the media’s business imperatives in satiating that craving, and the propensity of politicians to serve it up on a platter, often by pretending to be someone they’re not while strutting on the public stage. We tour recent history – King calls it “the Age of Optics” – to establish this syndrome, and then turn to the Obama administration and what Josh calls the emergence of the "Vanilla Presidency." King argues that Barack Obama has been more guarded and more protective of the presidential persona than anyone in history, and as we look to the elections of 2016 and beyond, we have to wonder: Will our future president follow Obama's example? If so, how will that influence the relationship between our nation's citizens and their leader?

30 review for Off Script: An Advance Man’s Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle, and Political Suicide

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    I NEARLY quit reading this book in the first section. It was sooo detail-dense, an entire huge section just on the Mike Dukakis tank-and-helmet episode. I almost didn't make it out, but that would have been a tragedy, because this book is a gem. If you want to understand politics today, how what we see of candidates and officials is "produced", you need to read this book. A lot of it is in the details that can go wrong (which means parts are pretty funny!) but, although I knew a lot of what we s I NEARLY quit reading this book in the first section. It was sooo detail-dense, an entire huge section just on the Mike Dukakis tank-and-helmet episode. I almost didn't make it out, but that would have been a tragedy, because this book is a gem. If you want to understand politics today, how what we see of candidates and officials is "produced", you need to read this book. A lot of it is in the details that can go wrong (which means parts are pretty funny!) but, although I knew a lot of what we see is staged, I had no idea how far and deep this went. Fascinating, kind of depressing and scary at the same time, but real and detailed, this begins with the year of the Dukakis event and runs up to today, with some time spent on Hillary and Trump. (Although that final, added-on chapter has some typos--someone fell down on the editing there). Kind of dense but a very worthwhile read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    First off, you really do have to love reading about politics to enjoy this book. But of course you do if you're even considering it. Josh King has worked for several campaigns over the years and in the Bill Clinton White House. He's a partisan, but you won't notice until the end when he talks about the upcoming elections. The bulk of the book is about political ancient history starting with Michael Dukakis's ride in a tank, moving on to George H. W. Bush's astonishment at bar code scanners, all First off, you really do have to love reading about politics to enjoy this book. But of course you do if you're even considering it. Josh King has worked for several campaigns over the years and in the Bill Clinton White House. He's a partisan, but you won't notice until the end when he talks about the upcoming elections. The bulk of the book is about political ancient history starting with Michael Dukakis's ride in a tank, moving on to George H. W. Bush's astonishment at bar code scanners, all the way up to Obama's appearances on online interview shows. King doesn't seem to consider setting the stage as deceptive, rather as ensuring the candidate is shown in the best light, and that the desired message is communicated. It's really fascinating, inside politics, behind the scenes, especially in this election year. Good stuff.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Julian Dunn

    Off Script is an entertaining look behind the scenes of "advance work", which can be uncharitably (but accurately) described as the visual spin doctoring of a politician's public appearances in order to buttress, or advance, some agenda. As much as political "authenticity" is valued by the electorate, the true character of a politician is seldom seen, much of it hidden behind layers of stagecraft and manipulation for the nightly news (or, now, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube). Perception trumps re Off Script is an entertaining look behind the scenes of "advance work", which can be uncharitably (but accurately) described as the visual spin doctoring of a politician's public appearances in order to buttress, or advance, some agenda. As much as political "authenticity" is valued by the electorate, the true character of a politician is seldom seen, much of it hidden behind layers of stagecraft and manipulation for the nightly news (or, now, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube). Perception trumps reality, but unfortunately that's what consumers demand, and advance teams are only too happy to serve it up to them. And candidates like Trump who "break the mold" of careful advance work really are just masters of stagecraft themselves, with the instincts to know what will play well on television, in print, and on social media. Trump himself may be an incompetent buffoon, a dangerous demagogue, and many other things, but what he is is also a remarkable advance man in his own right. He's successful because he gives us exactly what we want. Overall, King's book is an easy read from a master of these dark arts -- I would have been shocked if it were otherwise. Going back to look at some of the source material, though, like the attack ads against Dukakis that utilized the tank footage, it's incredible to see how far we've come in the last few decades. The attack ads against him, and against John Kerry, seem remarkably tame now. It's an indication of how we've normalized the take-no-prisoners, winner-take-all style of politics, without really realizing what's happened. The question that's unaddressed is how, in an era where time-to-market for visuals is measured in nanoseconds instead of hours or days -- and everyone has the ability to generate them -- that we can lower the temperature of the political dialogue. It seems impossible to depolarize politics when that polarization is inextricably tied to the production of either flattering or damaging images. I was hoping for King to address this in his epilogue, coming as it did after the election of Trump, yet he doesn't at all. Perhaps it will have to be left to the next generation of advance person, or media commentator, to shed some more light on political stagecraft in the era of Trump.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Blom

    The first part of the book dragged on forever and almost made me quit, but the second part was way more interesting. The first part digs deep into the story of Michael Dukakis and the tank, so deep that you drown at times in the many names and details. That's also because we keep switching between the Dukakis story and general info and background on being an advance guy. I get that that epic bunder was a watershed moment for advance people, but a little less detail would have worked better. The The first part of the book dragged on forever and almost made me quit, but the second part was way more interesting. The first part digs deep into the story of Michael Dukakis and the tank, so deep that you drown at times in the many names and details. That's also because we keep switching between the Dukakis story and general info and background on being an advance guy. I get that that epic bunder was a watershed moment for advance people, but a little less detail would have worked better. The second part of the book was way more interesting, where we learn the real story behind some other visual blunders in politics. It set the record straight on several accounts, including Bush sr.'s infamous moment with the supermarket scanner. I recommend the book for political junkies, but brace yourself for the first part.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Fascinating look at a part of political life I hadn't give much thought to before. Especially interesting reading during a presidential campaign. Fascinating look at a part of political life I hadn't give much thought to before. Especially interesting reading during a presidential campaign.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Connie Curtis

    Proof positive that politicians are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, staged speeches and photo ops, and arrogant folks who assume we the people fall for their tricks. Unfortunately, most people do fall for it. Mr. King is clearly a Democrat, but he wasn't offensive in his description of Republicans like so many on opposite sides can be. I think he treated all rather fairly. It was an interesting but WAY too detailed trip down campaign lane with many politicians of the past, including Michael Du Proof positive that politicians are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, staged speeches and photo ops, and arrogant folks who assume we the people fall for their tricks. Unfortunately, most people do fall for it. Mr. King is clearly a Democrat, but he wasn't offensive in his description of Republicans like so many on opposite sides can be. I think he treated all rather fairly. It was an interesting but WAY too detailed trip down campaign lane with many politicians of the past, including Michael Dukakis, Reagan, Clinton, Obama, Bush, Romney, and more. I like hearing what goes on behind the scenes, and this book was very eye-opening as to the spectacle politics has become. I've always noticed the staging of events and photos; to me it's quite obvious; but perhaps people are more swayed by visuals than not. The book was interesting to me but it could have been cut by at least 25% and still made the point.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Secka

    I’ve had this book since it came out It took me a year and a half to finish this book, and I had it in hardcover, e-book, and Audible. I felt I was reading in circles because he found a way to bring it back to Dukakis to use for every example, a man who I have never heard of and ran before I was even born. I finally finished it because I started it and it never got better.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rick Parker

    An interesting look behind the curtain at the advance work that precedes a candidate's or incumbent's public appearance. So much has to go right and it only takes a second for something to go woefully wrong. An interesting look behind the curtain at the advance work that precedes a candidate's or incumbent's public appearance. So much has to go right and it only takes a second for something to go woefully wrong.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Interesting content, but it would have helped to have an editor sift through it to make it half its length. It felt repetitive and, at times, jumped back and forth among topics.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mac

    Having seen Josh King on TV, I assumed his book would provide rich insights into how an advance man creates presidential campaign appearances, and my assumption was correct. Off Script, focusing primarily on campaign stops during election cycles, describes the objectives, tactics, techniques, and pitfalls of presenting a president to the public. King covers what he calls the Age of Optics beginning with Michael Dukakis's 1988 misguided tank ride all the way through Trump's current carefully stag Having seen Josh King on TV, I assumed his book would provide rich insights into how an advance man creates presidential campaign appearances, and my assumption was correct. Off Script, focusing primarily on campaign stops during election cycles, describes the objectives, tactics, techniques, and pitfalls of presenting a president to the public. King covers what he calls the Age of Optics beginning with Michael Dukakis's 1988 misguided tank ride all the way through Trump's current carefully staged rallies. The book has anecdotes galore covering all the prominent candidates of this almost 30-year period so there are lots of behind the scenes tidbits to savor. Additionally, in describing the advance man's work, the book captures the complexity of the role, scope of the task, multiplicity of coordinating efforts, and scrupulous attention to detail as well as the joys of success and the mind numbing fear of failure. With Off Script, there's lots to enjoy and lots to learn. Having seen the Contents page, I assumed King's book would have its share of confusion, and my assumption was correct again. A book that begins with a Preface, a Prologue, an Introduction (not to mention an Advance Praise section, a Dedication, and a lengthy Quotation) is probably going to have its clarity problems, and Off Script has its share. The book's overall structure is well organized with three main sections clearly defined and the chapters arranged chronologically. That said, within each chapter, King shifts back and forth in time to insert anecdotes and relevant personal career moments into the presidential campaign event he is analyzing. As a result, I was continually unsure where I was chronologically, and I was frequently seeing again the same analysis or idea. So the book is held together by its overall structure, but at a more granular level, the hopscotching around the author's career experiences is distracting and ultimately annoying. With a little reorganization and some light editing, King's presentation would match his interesting content, and that would make Off Script an even more satisfying read. One other note. Though informative, Off Script lacks drama. That's in part because the book is built on fairly famous events--Dukakis and the tank ride (discussed in interminable detail), Bush and the supermarket scanner, Dean's scream, and Kerry's windsurfing, to name a few. But the lack of drama is also due to King's writing. He has a way of circling a topic so there's plenty of interesting information, but an absence of energy and suspense. A former advance man like King should know the importance of drama when telling a story.

  11. 5 out of 5

    A. S.

    “Off Script: An Advance Man's Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle, and Political Suicide” by Josh King follows the art of political campaigning—or rather the disasters that past presidential campaigns have faced. Stories recounted include presidential nominee Michael Dukakis and the tank (with the tank dwarfing the 5’8 governor), George H. W. Bush and the supermarket scanner (with his seeming amazement at it making him look out of touch with daily life), Bob Dole falling (emphasi “Off Script: An Advance Man's Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle, and Political Suicide” by Josh King follows the art of political campaigning—or rather the disasters that past presidential campaigns have faced. Stories recounted include presidential nominee Michael Dukakis and the tank (with the tank dwarfing the 5’8 governor), George H. W. Bush and the supermarket scanner (with his seeming amazement at it making him look out of touch with daily life), Bob Dole falling (emphasizing his status as a senior citizen running for the world’s most powerful position), Al Gore canoeing (with extra water being released especially so that the canoe could drift, being caught on camera and leaving Gore’s environmentalist image in question), Howard Dean screaming in the middle of a post-primary speech (although it was really just one word, thirty-seconds into his speech, but that was enough to question his mental state), John Kerry windsurfing while the Republican Convention was going on, etc. During the current election year cycle, I think this book is especially timely. A big theme running throughout the book was the discrepancy between image and actions. At times, presidential campaigns are almost like producing a movie—there’s always a big emphasis on the male lead (the nominee), the staging, the sound bites, the orchestration of seemingly spontaneous scenes meant to be captured on camera (which also tend to go wrong--hence the "Off Script" title) and then purveyed through the media, etc. As someone who enjoys politics, I was looking to find out more about the behind the scenes atmospheres of presidential campaigns, and this book provided that. Overall, an interesting read.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rob S

    I would call myself a "political junkie" of the highest order. I'll find myself refreshing Politico throughout the day, checking 538 for the latest updates, and boring friends incessantly when discussing national politics by bringing up Senators from states they don't care about. All of that being said, Off Script was ultimately a disappointing read for me. Maybe its because it didn't read as advertised. Maybe its too "inside baseball" among the "inside baseball" crowd. Or maybe I just don't get I would call myself a "political junkie" of the highest order. I'll find myself refreshing Politico throughout the day, checking 538 for the latest updates, and boring friends incessantly when discussing national politics by bringing up Senators from states they don't care about. All of that being said, Off Script was ultimately a disappointing read for me. Maybe its because it didn't read as advertised. Maybe its too "inside baseball" among the "inside baseball" crowd. Or maybe I just don't get it. Either way, I found myself bored throughout the entire time reading it. There's nothing particular wrong with the author's topic or word usage, but rather over-emphasis on the events being discussed in the book. If you polled people about Dukakis at the time in '88, the "Willie Horton" stuff had far bigger impact and play than the tank incident that gets 135 pages of time in this book. Furthermore, most of these events cited really didn't end up playing the impact it seemed to make as the book weight gives it. The only event most people can probably recall in the modern time is the "Dean Scream" and that's largely because of Youtube alongside analysts constantly referring back to it every time someone makes a gaffe. In other words, it lives on in memory like the 1919 White Sox because the people telling the story keep bringing it up. This book might end up being found more interesting to other people, but unfortunately I'm just not one of them.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Elle

    This book desperately needed an editor. First of all, redundancies should be removed first. (I can't even count how many times that sentence structure cropped up.) The first ~40% of the book is dedicated to introducing the book, Dukakis' helmet, and then reintroducing what the book is going to talk about. I honestly thought my audiobook app had accidentally reverted to the opening chapter, but, nope, the author was just telling us what he was going to tell us about halfway through the book. The This book desperately needed an editor. First of all, redundancies should be removed first. (I can't even count how many times that sentence structure cropped up.) The first ~40% of the book is dedicated to introducing the book, Dukakis' helmet, and then reintroducing what the book is going to talk about. I honestly thought my audiobook app had accidentally reverted to the opening chapter, but, nope, the author was just telling us what he was going to tell us about halfway through the book. The other topics (outside of Dukakis and that damn tank) felt brief, rushed, and much less dramatic than the title would lead you to believe. Also, I know it's unfair to criticise his thoughts on the 2016 election AFTER the election has occurred, but the summary of/musings on Clinton and Trump felt extremely pithy and off the mark for someone who claimed to have lived and breathed this stuff for nearly their entire life. I guess I'm still too bitter for this stuff.

  14. 5 out of 5

    John

    Before reading this book I was unaware of just how meticulously presidential appearances were prepared. They're highly detailed and use all the tricks of the "presentation" trade: chisel your symbolism to high floss, use visual stunts to the max, measure all camera angles precisely. Yet sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes a slight mishap (or off script) turns into fodder for late night comic TV ridicule. Examples: The 1988 effort to portray candidate Mike Dukakis as General Patton in an army ta Before reading this book I was unaware of just how meticulously presidential appearances were prepared. They're highly detailed and use all the tricks of the "presentation" trade: chisel your symbolism to high floss, use visual stunts to the max, measure all camera angles precisely. Yet sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes a slight mishap (or off script) turns into fodder for late night comic TV ridicule. Examples: The 1988 effort to portray candidate Mike Dukakis as General Patton in an army tank, GW Bush and the "Mission Accomplished" banner. Much of this narrative is based on the author's personal experiences and enhanced from interviews with similar workers, both Democrat and Republican. It's full of lingo of the presentation craft ("game day," "big board," "tight shot"). Overall, an engaging read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    The book is touted as a “pull back the curtain” type book to show what it’s like developing and staging political but it’s mostly a deconstruction of the biggest political blunders of the last three decades with a little bit of his own stories sprinkled in. I’m a bit of a political junky and I didn’t find it terribly fascinating, and would only really recommend it if you work in (or are thinking of working in) politics. Overall its well written but only tells you what you already know, that poli The book is touted as a “pull back the curtain” type book to show what it’s like developing and staging political but it’s mostly a deconstruction of the biggest political blunders of the last three decades with a little bit of his own stories sprinkled in. I’m a bit of a political junky and I didn’t find it terribly fascinating, and would only really recommend it if you work in (or are thinking of working in) politics. Overall its well written but only tells you what you already know, that politics are more about optics and substance and that if you do something stupid (or not even that stupid) it can and will be magnified and end badly for you.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    I decided to read this book based on a "Book of the Times" article I saw in the NYT (that, for some reason, I cannot find anymore.) Incredibly detailed account of the responsibilities of advance teams and the increasingly theatrical aspects of our political scene. The book shines in the middle section when King recounts various political gaffes of the last 30 years and near the end when discussing the ongoing Clinton and Trump campaigns. Though it is interesting, feel free to skip the first sect I decided to read this book based on a "Book of the Times" article I saw in the NYT (that, for some reason, I cannot find anymore.) Incredibly detailed account of the responsibilities of advance teams and the increasingly theatrical aspects of our political scene. The book shines in the middle section when King recounts various political gaffes of the last 30 years and near the end when discussing the ongoing Clinton and Trump campaigns. Though it is interesting, feel free to skip the first section on the Dukakis tank fiasco in favor of the aforementioned middle section.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mark Simon

    Josh does play-by-play for the famous "Michael Dukakis in a tank" photo op from the 1988 election and does it well. It's funny ... I've read a bunch of reviews that said this part was too long and that the rest of the book was the good stuff. I actually liked the Dukakis stuff best because the level of detail was so great. The rest of the book looks at other instances in which the optics of notable moments played an important role in an election or primary. A good read for this time of year if y Josh does play-by-play for the famous "Michael Dukakis in a tank" photo op from the 1988 election and does it well. It's funny ... I've read a bunch of reviews that said this part was too long and that the rest of the book was the good stuff. I actually liked the Dukakis stuff best because the level of detail was so great. The rest of the book looks at other instances in which the optics of notable moments played an important role in an election or primary. A good read for this time of year if you like behind the scenes political stories.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sharron

    I wish I could give it 0 stars. First, it had the unfortunate timing of coming out during an election cycle that disproved the entire premise of the book. However, it may have still been an interesting read, but it was not. The book was so repetitive, it seemed as if it had no editor. SPOILER******Also disappointing - The author's favorite of all gaffes was the Dukakis' helmet, but it turns out there was already an understanding before that to never put something on a candidate's head!! I wish I could give it 0 stars. First, it had the unfortunate timing of coming out during an election cycle that disproved the entire premise of the book. However, it may have still been an interesting read, but it was not. The book was so repetitive, it seemed as if it had no editor. SPOILER******Also disappointing - The author's favorite of all gaffes was the Dukakis' helmet, but it turns out there was already an understanding before that to never put something on a candidate's head!!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Du

    Fun election year fodder, but nothing staggering or life changing. There are some interesting bits about how to stage an event and how to screw one up, but much of the book is relateable if you have followed the news or politics for the past 30 years. I did find the over 120 pages on the Dukakis riding a tank episode to be a lot more than necessary, if it is has some other stories thrown in for good measure here and there.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I won this in a Goodreads giveaway. Very interesting insider story of Presidential campaigns. A bit to much focus on Dukakis and the tank. I got that this was a big flub after the first paragraph and was ready to move on. Still very informative and reinforces my understanding that the media picks the next POTUS.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Anita

    The last two chapters are worthless, a total bore. I was more interested in reading about the blunders, and not how some photographer takes pictures of the current president. I listened to the audiobook and Josh drones about this photographer for what feels like hours. The rest of the book is enjoyable if you enjoy reading about mistakes.

  22. 5 out of 5

    John O'reilly

    Entertaining and insightful review of the last quarter century of presidential campaigns and their screw ups. Well written and personal, and shows useful insight immediately applicable to the current presidential race. Read the book!

  23. 5 out of 5

    auntie

    WHAT A DELICIOUS ! READ ! for any political junky. Not only all the backstage dirt from Josh King, illustrious political Advance Man as he tells the tales of campaigning in “the Age of Optics” and you'll recognize all the ways we're being manipulated with every single shot. What a treat. WHAT A DELICIOUS ! READ ! for any political junky. Not only all the backstage dirt from Josh King, illustrious political Advance Man as he tells the tales of campaigning in “the Age of Optics” and you'll recognize all the ways we're being manipulated with every single shot. What a treat.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Stevenson

    As we watch the campaign events unfold on our TVs, we rarely consider all the things that have to be done to make them happen. Josh King's book reveals what goes on behind the curtain as well as the myriad things that can go wrong. As we watch the campaign events unfold on our TVs, we rarely consider all the things that have to be done to make them happen. Josh King's book reveals what goes on behind the curtain as well as the myriad things that can go wrong.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lillian Small

    If you are a political junkie like me, you will like this book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Reverenddave

    Material is at times very interesting but hes a lousy writer and seems to have an inflated sense of himself.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elias

    This book is over 9000 incredible, my friend toby king is the son of senior josh king, toby is a national turtle conservationist,

  28. 5 out of 5

    Blaine Morrow

    King's most useful information/advice comes about half-way through the book, when he finally stops beating the dead horse of Dukakis's infamous tank ride. King's most useful information/advice comes about half-way through the book, when he finally stops beating the dead horse of Dukakis's infamous tank ride.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pavan Sapra

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