It’s rare that I buy two copies of the same book. Because bookstore books are free to read, it’s rare that I even buy one copy of a book. If I buy it, I must really be impressed.

My latest favorite instructional aid for American history classes will be a book not published since the mid-1960s.

I bought my second copy because it was the edition updated for 1966. It includes a page or two on Thomas Dewey, Adlai Stevenson and Barry Goldwater, but there’s also an unfinished chapter that compares 1960 presidential candidates Richard Nixon and Jack Kennedy.

The book is They Also Ran. It’s by the guy who wrote The Agony and the Ecstasy, if you’ve ever seen that Heston-riffic movie.

They Also Ran piqued my interest, though, mostly for its subtitle.

The story of the men who were defeated for the presidency.


I checked it out of my school library and read it in a weekend. Then, almost on an impulse, I bought an easy-to-photocopy hardcover edition from 1944. That makes it 10 years older than my dad.

What made me so interested? From the introduction:

What kind of people would we be now if the men in this book had been elected to the presidency, instead of defeated? Would we still have a democracy, or would we have slipped into a dictatorship or one of the numerous isms that have arisen since 1800? Would we Americans have become a more intelligent nation, or would we have reverted to a state of barbarism? How might the defeated ones have changed the course of our history?

Really tasty. The 1966 edition of the book wonders aloud whether Nixon had been a better choice than Kennedy in that razor-thin election of 1960.

I think we know the answer to that one.

Don’t forget about Part 2

  1. JT

    I hope your answer is the same as mine.

  2. My answer is based on the national hindsight since Watergate, however superior Nixon’s resume at the time of nomination.

    I lean Kennedy.

  3. JT

    I’m removing your link from my blog. j/k lol

  4. I think Nixon’s election scared the hell out of Irving Stone. To the best of my knowledge, the book was never updated after 1968.

    What a great concept, though, don’t you think? In the years since I bought my first copy (I “loaned” out three, and they never came back) I’ve grown disappointed in the coverage of the 1860 elections, and several other elections of the 1800s where there were several candidates.

    And at Springfield with the Liberty Fund and Bill of Rights Institute a couple of weeks ago, I heard the story of Stephen Douglas’s death for the first time. Lincoln asked Douglas to tour the nation making the case for union, and Douglas accepted. On the last stop, it appears, he contracted typhoid fever, which killed him. I’d always assumed Douglas died of natural causes or something, and would have been dead within months of the inauguration, had he won the 1860 election. Of course, had he won, he’d not have been touring the nation speaking on Lincoln’s behalf.

    Where did we find such people then? Where are they now?

  5. It’s a shame that it was never updated, and that it’s out of print — I would like to read quality coverage of the Goldwater’s campaign, and of Humphrey’s, and of McGovern’s, and of Mondale’s, and of Dukakis’. There’s slim pickings out there on failed presidential candidates.

    Someone should convince Stone’s estate to authorize a new, updated edition containing all previously published errata and the like. At least, once McCain or Obama lose the next election.

  1. 1 Out of Print, and Still the Best, Part 2 « On the Tenure Track

    […] part 2, photocopy, presidential, ran, richard, stevenson, text, they, thomas, u.s., world history The book contains mini-biographies of each never-president — the author calls them Also Rans — […]

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