It’s little secret that many Members of Congress like to write. Some begin working on their books while in office, churning out pages in between committee meetings or trips back to their districts. Others don’t even contemplate writing a book until the twilight of their careers or years removed from it.
Regardless of when they start, the process of writing the book can be a therapeutic exercise, as legislators, both past and present, reflect about their time in Congress and how best to portray it in prose.
The tenor of the book can vary depending on how wide the gap is between what publishers and agents might prefer juxtaposed with what Members want to write about.
Former 9/11 commission Co-Chairman and Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) confronted that dilemma when he was writing “How Congress Works and Why You Should Care,” published in 2004.
“I was approached, as I guess other Members are when they’re retired, by various agents and others who wanted me to write a book about the Congress. What they really wanted was a tell-all about the nefarious activities of Members of Congress. And that really kind of turned me off. I was not interested in that at all,” Hamilton told Roll Call.
Eventually, Hamilton partnered with Indiana University Press to produce a book high on the nuts and bolts of Congress and low on personal drama and intrigue.
The 17-term Congressman found a perfect match in the publisher.
“We’re much less interested in political memoirs than in books that have an academic focus. And naturally, political science is a key target market for such books,” said Janet Rabinowitch, IU Press’ director.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) made it explicitly clear in his 2004 book “Congress from the Inside: Observations from the Majority and the Minority,” written while he was still serving in the House, that he wanted to steer clear of the kind of salacious page-turner that might land a Member on the New York Times best-seller list but doesn’t necessarily educate the public.
“This book is about politics, elections, governing and people … powerful people. Not a kiss-and-tell, it’s an instructive book of what my first terms in Congress were like and what has transpired since,” Brown wrote at the time.
Rep. David Price (D-NC.), the one-time Duke University professor turned politician, has written four books revolving around Congress as an institution.
Three were written before he was elected to Congress. His last book, “The Congressional Experience,” was written in 1991, five years after he was first elected.