White, Theodore H. 1961. The Making of the President: 1960. Harper Collins, Republished 2009.
This is a true classic of political reporting; Theodore White (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) went on to write Making of the President 1964, '68, and '72 as well. It is a neat history - too neat, critics might argue - of the whole election, from before the primaries to the end. It is also an insightful and a sympathetic book, conscious of the uniqueness of the event it covers.
"What results from the fitting together of these secrets [people voting] is, of course, the most awesome transfer of power in the world - the power to marshal and mobilize, the power to send men to kill or be killed, the power to tax and destroy, the power to create and the responsibility to do so,m the power to guide and the responsibility to heal - all committed into the hands of one man. Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make this particular manner of transfer work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans. Yet as this transfer of power takes place, there is nothing to be seen except an occasional line outside a church or school, or a file of people fidgeting in the rain, waiting to enter the booths. No bands play on election day, no troops march, no guns are readied, no conspirators gather in secret headquarters. The noise and blare, the bands and the screaming, the pageantry and oratory of the long fall campaign, fade on election day. All the planning is over, all effort spent. Now the candidates must wait." - page 3-4.
The story is all the more poignant for readers today because we know more about how the story ends than the author did. We know that Kennedy falls to the assassin's bullet. We know his brother does as well and that Teddy's life would also be marked by more tragedy. We know that Nixon arose again and finally triumphed, before his dramatic fall. The portrait of Nixon is incredible. We know about the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam. Small moments are magnified by the future, then-unknown:
"At noon a troop of photographers arrived to photograph him [JFK] ceremonially, and he gave them, as they described it, a taut, tense ten minutes. He emerged minutes later from his cottage, leading Caroline by the hand, and found his younger brothers, Bobby and Teddy, two activits, throwing a football back and forth on the lawn. He bechoned for the football and tossed it back and forth with them for a few minutes, Caroline watching; then he disappeared again into his own house to lunch alone with his wife." -- pp. 7.
It is haunting, really. It's a great book and well worth an evening read.