Washington, DC

6 Novels Set in the Political World of Washington, DC

Claire Handscombe

I'll be the first to admit that DC is more than just a backdrop to politics. After all, people live here, go about their days, bring up kids, go to college, work in, say, bookstores, eat at restaurants. But what DC is best known for is the political shenanigans, and if you like to think about those -- if, say, you are forever chasing the high of The West Wing -- I wanted to recommend some books you might enjoy. (An asterisk denotes the one I particularly enjoyed.) All of these are set in what seems now like a somewhat gentler, kinder time: pre-2016.

Dog Days, by Ana Marie Cox

political columnist and culture critic

I read this to prepare for moving to DC, and it definitely captured something of the spirit of the city -- unsurprisingly, as it's written by a political columnist and culture critic who rose to prominence as the editor of the gossipy Wonkette blog in the mid-2000s. It was fun!

Domestic Affairs, by Bridget Siegel

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This is a grittily realistic inside look into a campaign. Here's what Terry McAuliffe -- former chair of the DCCC and Virginia Governor -- has to say about it: "a fun, provocative read and offers a rare glimpse into what really goes on behind the scenes of political campaigns -- the good, the bad and everything in between."

*The Hopefuls, by Jennifer Close

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Jennifer Close gets so many things about DC and its culture so very right – she lived here for a long time and it shows. She also knows political campaigns inside out – the bad and the ugly as well as the good. She writes honestly and convincingly about those aspects of marriage and friendship, too.

*The List, by Karin Tanabe

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Written by a former Politico journalist who openly admits to having been inspired by her workplace, this is a fun read with a serious point or two to make, and genuinely witty. It also does that rare and praiseworthy thing of showing the world is not black and white and making you wonder for a second or two whose side you should be on. (It would make a good book club read for that reason.)

*Party Lines, by Emma Barry

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“We’re not the Montagues and Capulets,” Michael says to Lydia at one point during this book. But the thing is, they kind of are, and that’s a large part of their attraction to each other: he is a Democrat, she a (pre-Trump) Republican. It’s also an election year – an election which they are both being paid to win for their respective parties. Forbidden lust is the best lust – but will it ever more than lust? This one is a bit of a steamy romance, with all the trappings, details, and vocabulary of a very believable presidential campaign. And while a lot of it is not technically set in the District, the DC vibe is all over this one.

*Sammy's Hill, by Kristin Gore

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If you think the author’s name sounds familiar, you’d be right: Kristin is the daughter of former VP Al Gore. I love reading about a world which I can trust the author to know intimately and deliver accurately. She has also written for SNL, and her humour pervades this book. Sammy is endearing, quirky, and fun; it’s an election year and the Senator she works for has White House ambitions. Meanwhile, sexy Aaron Driver from an opposing campaign is taking up way too much of her time and attention. It’s been described as Bridget Jones meets The West Wing: what’s not to love about that?

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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