O’Donnell masterfully documents the election’s subsequent events, such as Bobby Kennedy’s belated decision to run, his assassination after the California primary, the violence that marred the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and Vice President and former Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey’s last-minute entry as the Democrats’ establishment candidate ... Political junkies may already know much of the material here. But Playing With Fire is nonetheless a beautifully written account of an election that established strategies that, for better and worse, are still in use today.
O'Donnell isn't interested in pat, received narratives or easy answers to complex questions. This makes him an ideal narrator for the events of 1968, which run together to form a kind of nightmare scenario for the American psyche ... O'Donnell draws moving portraits of all the major figures ... O'Donnell shines a sharp light on the year that may well have been the key fracture point, the moment when the path diverged. Even if our present political world didn't feel so apocalyptic, the book would still be essential reading.
The election of 1968 decided one thing: that Richard M. Nixon and not Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey would become president. It left nearly everything else unresolved ... Lawrence O’Donnell, the host of a political talk show on MSNBC, tells that story with zeal in Playing With Fire ... knows how to pace a story, and could not have dreamed up a more compelling cast of characters ...moves briskly and ably through these candidacies, their collisions and a dark bacchanal of events that still defies belief... O’Donnell’s own observations frequently recall the tossed-off hyperboles of cable news ... This is the voice of the pundit, and in a work of history it sounds jarring — all the more so when it’s discussing Donald Trump, as O’Donnell does repeatedly.
He breaks little new ground and steps on his narrative to take shots at Donald Trump. But he does capture the twists and turns in the primary races and the general election contest among Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and third-party candidate George Wallace, with consummate skill in selecting and presenting incidents and comments that reveal character in the important players ... The what-ifs listed at the end of Playing with Fire underscore O'Donnell's emphasis on the role of individuals (for good and ill) in changing the course of history. Although he claims the peace movement 'won' in 1968, however, O'Donnell does not spend all that much time on the impact of collective action and domestic and international social and economic forces. This issue, it seems to me, is well worth our attention. For 2017 as well as 1968.
...O'Donnell understands politics and its impact. He writes with an assurance and steady sense of pace that makes much of this seem new. He is especially strong on Nixon's interference in the 1968 Paris peace talks, an episode long rumored but which is now finally understood as fact ... The one quibble with Playing with Fire is that you know you're reading a book by a liberal TV icon; O'Donnell makes no effort to hide his devotion to Robert Kennedy, whom he calls Bobby throughout the book. Such coziness is unseemly and slightly dims the luster of an otherwise illuminating work.
O’Donnell, a former Senate staffer and writer on The West Wing, has written a breathless account of 1968 that, like that TV show, recalls endless backroom soap operas ... Though a few moments are written with suspense, like Robert Kennedy’s assassination, O’Donnell rarely strays into the pulp of books by other cable pundits ...style ranges from conversational to dry to staccato bursts...appeal to fans of other political play-by-plays, like Game Change, and readers with progressive politics, though O’Donnell tempers his admiration for McCarthy and RFK with a charting of their flaws ... O’Donnell runs into most trouble when his pop history slips into cable hyperbole.
An excellent account of the 1968 presidential race, a political season of spoilers, outsiders, and broken machines eerily like our own time ... A careful, circumstantial study that compares favorably to Theodore H. White’s presidents series and that politics junkies will find irresistible.
...an in-depth examination of the tumultuous 1968 election year. Supporting his work with credible sources, O’Donnell argues that 1968 forever changed the direction of American politics ... Offering a unique thesis on what drove the year’s events, O’Donnell advances the idea that Eugene McCarthy’s decision to run against Johnson led to Johnson’s decision not to run... O’Donnell untangles the many forces that made 1968’s election a watershed event.