Sen. Sherrod Brown wrote Congress from the Inside: Observations from the Majority and the Minority while he was still a Member of the House. Brown describes his book as an instructive book of what my first terms in Congress were like.
Price took umbrage at the idea of tell-all memoirs, casting them more as the work of journalists than Members.
“I don’t know if Members have written those things so much as journalists have sometimes,” he said.
Still, even if Members take the academic approach to writing books, their time spent in the institution can sometimes work against creation of a complete portrait of the legislative body.
Indiana University political science professor Margie Hershey praised Hamilton and other Members who pen books that are informative and explain the functionality of Congress. But she added a caveat, warning that some Members’ partisan allegiance can water down the overall value of the book.
“I think they just have a different perspective on it. Each of us sees our own part of the world,” she said. “Granted, Members of Congress see a very important part of the world and they have a different and more in-depth perspective on it than people outside Congress. But a Member of the Democratic Caucus in the House is not going to have a real clear view of what goes on in the Republican Conference in the Senate.
“[Scholars] have the great blessing of being able to step back a little bit and look at concrete indicators without a lot of personal investment in what we find,” Hershey added.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who joined the professorial class at George Mason University after retiring from Congress in 2009, highlights the lack of “academic thrust” in Members’ books. Though he cites Price and Hamilton as exceptions, Davis reasons that the anecdotal tone of some Members’ books renders them better reads outside the classroom than in it.
“Members will write books about their experiences or something, but it doesn’t quite have the academic edge, in my experience, that would be useful in a classroom,” Davis said. “So much of what politicians do — we function, sometimes, as ward bosses. And we kind of know what’s going on in the street, we have that ward boss’s feel for it, which is an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s hard to define it really in scientific or academic terms.”
For Price, academics and politicians bring their own unique set of qualities when writing about Congress. And in “The Congressional Experience,” he strived to bridge the personal with the academic, with the hope of producing a textbook-suitable volume.
“‘The Congressional Experience’ is kind of a hybrid work in a way,” Price said. “It has some of the characteristics of a memoir, a personal recounting of my experience. But it clearly is written with some political science. It’s informed by some political science studies and concepts. And it aims to be useful in a classroom.”