Writing the book on Dean

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(Host) Commentator Tom Slayton looks at all the recent books about Howard Dean and declares one of them a clear winner.

(Slayton) Sometime this month the book: “Howard Dean, a Citizens Guide to the Man Who Would be President,” will have sold 30,000 copies. In the admittedly small world of Vermont book-publishing, that’s a best seller.

It’s a book that is almost as much of a surprise as Howard Dean’s out-of-nowehere emergence as the Democratic Party’s presidential front-runner. Now in its third printing, the book was written in two months last fall by nine Vermont journalists who had covered Howard Dean during his years as governor.

Dirk Van Susteren, project editor for the Rutland Herald and Barre Times-Argus, assembled a team of political reporters and assigned each of them a chapter or two last August, as the Dean campaign began to attain warp speed. By October, he had a completed manuscript on its way to Steerforth
Press in South Royalton.

Publishing it was a gamble because the success of the book clearly hinged on the success of Howard Dean’s campaign for the Presidency: the day Dean tanked, the book would be dead.

But the gamble has paid off: Howard Dean, against all odds, is now the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and the locally written and published “citizens guide” has become the must-have book for those following his campaign, outselling by far two other Dean-campaign related books.

It has succeeded spectacularly because, unlike many quickie campaign books, it offers substance: facts and plenty of details about the former Vermont governor and his bid for the Presidency.

For example there’s the story of Howard Dean’s visit to St. Albans shortly after signing the Civil Unions bill, which granted marital priviledges, and a measure of legal equality to homosexuals. Accosted by an angry woman who vigorously cursed him out on the street, Dean said bluntly: “You should clean up your mouth, Lady; You certainly didn’t learn to talk like that in Franklin County!”

And there’s the earlier story of how Dean got his grounding in Vermont politics — at the home of longtime Burlington Democrat Esther Sorrell, watching Friday night political news analysis programs on public TV.

The book details both Dean’s unassuming style and the shoot-from-the-hip glibness that has gotten him into trouble in his Presidential quest a couple of times already. It notes his quick temper and razor-sharp intelligence.

Sometimes it bogs down in details of past campaigns, education-finance law, or Vermont political history.

Still, because of its objectivity and the depth of its reporting “Howard Dean, a Citizen’s Guide to the Man Who Would be President” is a better book than any of the others just out – including Dean’s own book, “Winning Back America.”

And the composite picture it draws of Dean – bright, complex, opportunistic, and supremely self-confident – is the most complete, nuanced, and accurate you’ll find anywhere.

Tom Slayton lives in Montpelier and is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.

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