Advise and Consent (Review)

Labels: Great Works


Advise and Consent
Allen Drury, 1959
638 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
September, 2013

Written over 50 years ago, Advise and Consent still remains America's best political novel. It is politics in the raw—an unappetizing mix of barter, bribery, even blackmail—all served up as a part of the democratic process.

What makes the story not only palatable but absolutely delicious is the depth of Drury's characters and the fact that he makes us privy to the reasoning and pressures behind their decisions. Drury does the impossible: he makes his politicans sympathetic, even admirable.

The novel takes place back in the day—back when the Senate took pride in its clublike affability, when insults hurled on the floor gave way to banter and backslaps in the cloakroom. But all that is about to change with a full throttle political fight on the way.

The story opens with the President's nomination for Secretary of State. The nominee is a polarizing figure, and no one in the Senate, not even party loyalists, is happy with the choice. Confirmation is hardly certain; in fact, the only certainty is that the battle will be ugly and divisive.

This is a powerfully told but densely textured novel—600 pages of detailed maneuverings on the Senate floor, in committee rooms, offices, private homes, and at lavish parties.* Ideals clash with ambitions, black and white coalesce into murky gray, and a good man is caught, tragically, between implacable forces.

A few quibbles. The dialogue is at times labored, even silly. And while the plot remains fresh even today, not so for the female characters, who are mere appendages to the action. Even worse, the condescension toward Asians and Arabs—non-Anglos—is particularly offensive.

Reading Advise and Consent is an undertaking—a love of politics is helpful. But what a terrific read if you decide to take it on! Great moral issues are at stake...with lively discussions in the offing. You'll also want to watch—after reading the book, right?—the excellent 1962 movie with some of the old Hollywood greats.

See our Reading Guide for Advise and Consent.

*Lavish parties are part of the scenery. In one gala alone, Dolly Harrison's guests consume 157 quarts of hard liquor, 200 cases of soda, and 500 pounds of ice. The food buffet cost $5,000—which is more than $40,000 in today's currency!

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