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Publisher's Summary

From the host of MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, an important and enthralling new account of the presidential election that changed everything, the race that created American politics as we know it today.

The 1968 US presidential election was the young Lawrence O'Donnell's political awakening, and in the decades since it has remained one of his abiding fascinations. For years he has deployed one of America's shrewdest political minds to understanding its dynamics, not just because it is fascinating in itself but because in it is contained the essence of what makes America different and how we got to where we are now. Playing with Fire represents O'Donnell's master class in American electioneering, embedded in the epic human drama of a system and a country coming apart at the seams in real time.

Nothing went according to the script. LBJ was confident he'd dispatch with Nixon, the GOP frontrunner; Johnson's greatest fear and real nemesis was RFK. But Kennedy and his team, despite their loathing of the president, weren't prepared to challenge their own party's incumbent. Then, out of nowhere, Eugene McCarthy shocked everyone with his disloyalty and threw his hat in the ring to run against the president and the Vietnam War. A revolution seemed to be taking place, and LBJ, humiliated and bitter, began to look mortal. Then RFK leapt in, LBJ dropped out, and all hell broke loose. Two assassinations and a week of bloody riots in Chicago around the Democratic Convention later, and the old Democratic Party was a smoldering ruin, and, in the last triumph of old machine politics, Hubert Humphrey stood alone in the wreckage.

Suddenly Nixon was the frontrunner, having masterfully maintained a smooth façade behind which he feverishly held his party's right and left wings in the fold, through a succession of ruthless maneuvers to see off George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, and the great outside threat to his new Southern Strategy, the arch-segregationist George Wallace. But then, amazingly, Humphrey began to close, and so, in late October, Nixon pulled off one of the greatest dirty tricks in American political history, an act that may well meet the statutory definition of treason. The tone was set for Watergate and all else that was to follow, all the way through to today.

©2017 Lawrence O'Donnell (P)2017 Penguin Audio

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Brilliant synthesis of history past and present

Lawrence O’Donnell combines an impressive command of facts with exceptional skill in the art of storytelling. His account of the radical transformation of the political convictions of so many Americans in that single, fateful, traumatic election year touches me deeply, as one who experienced that transformation personally. The rich portraits of that diverse cast of characters from my parents’ generation, almost all gone now, offer so much crucial insight into the counterpart cast of characters of my own generation, up to and including the most deplorable contemporaries, now mirroring Nixon in ways unimaginable until the fateful year just past. The narrative of losing Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, so familiar, brings painful tears one more time for what might have been. O’Donnells mastery rises to Shakespearean, quite fitting for a historical arc encompassing material for perhaps half a dozen Shakespearean tragedies.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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I learned so much.

I lived through the 60’s and thought I was aware. Listening to Playing with Fire brought a lot back but more importantly helped me to understand what was really going on. The story of that era was well written and difficult to put down. I would advise you to have a listen, you won’t regret it.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Lawrence O'Donnell delivers a powerhouse book

Being old enough to remember some of the 1968 election, I certainly didn't know the details behind the headlines. Lawrence O'Donnell made them come alive in this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent!

As someone who came of age during the sixties, I found this book mesmerizing. Even those of us who had little interest in politics during that time were forced to question our country’s direction as our friends and classmates died in a far off land. Those who returned suffered and continue to suffer physical and mental disabilities. Thank you, Mr. O’Donnell.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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TO UNDERSTAND 2016 ELECTION YOU MUST READ THIS!

Lawrence O'Donnell excellently narrates his book Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics. One will better understand the insanity, racism & treason in 2016 better by seeing the playbook for these behaviors. I urge you to buy it.

6 of 9 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating!

As a 35 year old I had only cursory knowledge of this period of modern American history. This book lays out extraordinary events that I had little knowledge of. It has provided me perspective on my parent's and grandparent's generations and I can see now reasons for some of their opinions. Great book!

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Riveting!

Great book! Loved Lawrence O’Donnell’s narration. He brought the events of the 60s to life!

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  • Linda
  • Millville, MA, United States
  • 12-11-17

So important that you read this book

I loved this book. This is mission critical information. if you don't realize how much Trumps presidency matches Nixon's, and what A few students and professors did to end the Vietnam War, then you will miss what's going to happen.

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Didn't Expect Much

I like Lawrence, but when I heard him say he wrote this book, I didn't think it would be worth reading. When Rachel said she that it gave context to our current issues, I decided to read it. Now it is among my favorite books. Well done.

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Wonder what happened in 2016? Look back to 1968..

What other book might you compare Playing with Fire to and why?

This should be part of a "WTF Happened in 2016?" box set that includes "Hillbilly Elegy" and "Shattered". The first describes a cultural subgroup of the US that we need to understand, and the second describes the mis-steps and managerial problems in the 2016 Clinton campaign. "Playing with Fire" not only describes the political process and how it changed radically in 1968, it ties some of the people from that era to 2016.