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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.

17 of 19 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.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • 12-26-17

A must read !!!

I don’t think any one review can do this book the justice it deserves . I have never come across a text that has done a better job of filling in the blanks of what happened historically and politically during the 60s and 70s that led to Vietnam and the exit there of. The author does an amazing job of chronologically setting up the events, including major key players in the political field that would shape and change the democracy in the US forever.

I was born in the late 70s and my father had served in Vietnam and I had more questions than answers and the more I got into this book I could not put it down and stop listening. I have read many books on Vietnam on the political side of things but I have not come across one that pulls on as many different major candidates for President than this book to tell the story that hasn’t been told with this much clarity and finally an homage that has been long overdue to Eugene McCarthy.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Love it

Well it’s almost January and this is the best book I have read or listened to this year. Really terrific and I would recommend to those who lived through this era and those who did not.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent

Lawerence O'Donnell should become a mystery writer and narrator. This book reads like fiction, but we know its true. A really great book. I highly reccommend it.

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.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Excellent read! I highly recommend it!

I loved listening to this book. Mr. O'Dell does a fantastic job, both with writing the book and reading it.

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relevant and thoroughly entertaining

interesting from start to finish, very listenable performance by the author, didn't want it to end.