Edwin O'Connor's epic novel following the last campaign of Frank Skeffington--an old scoundrel of a politician in the age where machine politics slowly died. His life is lightly based on that of real-life Boston mayor James Michael Curley.
Skeffington is a rascal and a fiend. He is corrupt. He is egotistical. He is shameless. He is determined. He is influenced. He is relentless. He is a man that is hated and despised by many with a passion. But most of all, he is human.
No, Skeffington was not the perfect man that people today expect of their politicians. Politics have always changed with time--and for most of it, Skeffington kept right along. He analyzed the climate and made the appropriate changes. However, even in 1956 (the setting for the novel), O’Connor shrewdly saw that the direction of politics was turning to photogenics and perfection. With the introduction of radio and television, politics became "nice and easy and streamlined" to the point of machinery.
O'Connor portrays Skeffington as a real person. While the novel is not a glowing nostalgic look of a good era gone, it doesn't openly attack its characters either. What Skeffington does is detestable (such as blackmailing a bank officer for a loan), but it's understandable. O'Connor wanted a politician with depth and substance in his novel, and he succeeded.
The greatest thing to get out of the novel is how politics has changed. Today, Americans are happy with bland, flawless machines for leaders. Witness the election of 2000: By Election Day, the only real concerns many Americans had was would they rather put up with a dull, robotic president (Gore) or an inarticulate son of another one (Bush). Today's politicians are puppets--either for their parties or for lobbyists. And few people care. That's the tragedy of politics today--satisfaction as a substitute for passion.
The book is highly readable and enjoyable. Drawing comparisons between the old systems of governing and the new is enlightening. By the end of the novel, it's obvious how politics overwhelmingly fail us now and how politicians now manipulate the constituency instead of working for it.