The Ultimate Slow Burn Reading List 

Podcasts have come into their own in recent years, and in a post-Serial world, we’re all suffering from choice paralysis when it comes to picking our next engrossing listen-in.

Right now, the podcast that’s proving to be the most addictive of them all is Slate’s Slow Burn, now in its second season. After a season spent teasing out the untold and overlooked stories behind the Richard Nixon/Watergate (and making us obsess over that 18 minutes of missing tape again), the show has moved on to the logical followup, focusing on the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal of the late-1990s, and the president’s subsequent impeachment back in the 1990s.

If you haven’t listened yet, binge away. If you have, we’ve come up with a reading list of books mentioned on the show, used in the research process, or which complement the proceedings.

Season 1: Watergate

All the President’s Men, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
If you’re going to sound smart about Watergate—still the number one “gate” of many in American politics—you have to start with the mother lode, the book famed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein penned about their investigation into the scandal that shook the country and took down a president. In a modern day when the term “fake news” is common parlance, it’s refreshing to be reminded what real journalism looks like. It’s also easy to forget what a sensation the book was when it first published in 1974.

Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes, by Stanley I. Kutler
You can’t beat original sources for getting your facts straight and gaining insight into historic events, and Richard Nixon was kind enough to literally record everything that happened in the Oval Office as he was conspiring to abuse his power, break the law, and cursing a blue streak. Twenty-five years after the existence of the tapes was revealed, Kutler successfully sued to get access to all of them, and it’s quite amazing to see the conspiracy unfold in black-and-white as the events at the Watergate Hotel are directly addressed by an increasingly paranoid, desperate president.

The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate, by James Rosen
John Mitchell was, by all accounts, the most powerful member of Nixon’s cabinet, an attorney general confident in his sense of justice and how to enforce the laws of the land. He was also the highest-ranking member of the government to spend time in jail, convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury—distinctively not law-and-order activities. The question of what Mitchell knew and what he did about it—and whether he was set up as the fall guy for the president—brings a flavor of uncertainty to what is largely settled history. This book paints a sympathetic portrait of Mitchell, which complicates the traditional narrative of Watergate—and makes this deeply-researched work a must read for anyone diving into Slow Burn.

Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, by Conrad Black
To understand Watergate, you have to understand Nixon: a ball of rage, intelligence, insecurity, and resentment mashed within a brilliant politician. No stranger to legal difficulties and falls from grace himself, Conrad Black brings a warm sympathy to Nixon that somehow makes the president’s flaws shine even more brightly. Nixon was a complicated man, not a cartoon villain, and yet he often undermined his own success and seemed incapable of enjoying it. If you think of Slow Burn as a reality-based aural novel, this book will assist in your appreciation of Nixon the character.

Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, by J. Anthony Lukas
Beginning as a work of journalism chronicling the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, this 1973 book is a visceral work of time travel. Where many history books can be a bit bloodless, calmly consider ing events of the distant past, Lukas captures not just the facts but the sense of chaos and decline that afflicted the country as the Watergate scandal spiraled out of Nixon’s control. It’s an incredibly detailed, well-organized account of the scandal, walking the reader through every drip of new information and every move the White House made as it sought to avoid its inevitable fate.

The Great Coverup, by Barry Sussman
While most Watergate accounts focus on the public events and the personalities involved, Sussman’s digs into the skulduggery and secret orders intended to keep the scandal contained—even as it was blown ever wider in congressional hearings and newspaper reports. The laundry list of things Nixon attempted in his efforts to stave off disaster included everything from interfering with the courts, to directing the CIA and FBI to investigate his enemies, to announcing military movements seemingly designed to change the headlines. Sussman captures all of it in fascinating detail.

Season 2: The Clinton Impeachment

The Death of American Virtue: Clinton Vs. Starr, by Ken Gormley
This massive, almost overwhelming book is not just a source of information, but an experience. Packed with endless detail, it follows every thread of the Whitewater investigation that ultimately led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, making it the ideal reference guide to Slow Burn’s new season. No one in this shabby drama comes off well—not the president, nor the special counsel, and certainly not the other politicians involved.

My Life, by Bill Clinton
Clinton’s charm is a physical force, and explains much of his political success. It’s certainly on full display in this autobiography. Going in knowing that he’s trying to charm you is a smart strategy, but there’s still a lot of fascinating stuff here that helps explain how a brilliant man could repeat mistakes over and over again—and how a newly-elected governor could so alienate everyone in his state that he found himself in the political wilderness for years could become a president who then immediately alienated many in the federal government. Knowing how Bill Clinton ticks will inform and shade the rest of this season for you—even if it’s hard to trust what he says here about the Lewinsky affair.

Monica’s Story, by Andrew Morton
There’s a crucial voice missing in season two of Slow Burn—that of Monica Lewinsky herself (she understandably declined to be interviewed for the podcast). We do get a glimpse of the events from her perspective in this 1999 book from Andrew Morton, based on hours of intimate interviews with the young intern who held the fate of a country in her hands. While we will probably never know if Morton’s account is skewed by his own biases (at least until Lewinsky decides to tell her own story—though that looks unlikely), his work remains essential to our understanding of how a private affair became a public scandal, and goes a long way toward challenging the Lewinsky’s image as a lovesick little girl, painting her as a real, complex person with her own sense of agency.

A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal That Nearly Brought Down a President, by Jeffrey Toobin
Toobin’s brilliant bookreads like a thriller detailing a slow-rolling group of scandals that alone would have been merely disastrous, but combined, almost destroyed a president. The author brings a level of even-handed, journalistic objectivity to the flashy sex and money scandals that spurred impeachment proceedings and cast the Clintons as something more than just politicians for millions of conspiracy-minded Americans. It’s a recounting of outrageous events that shows clarity and laudable restraint.

Inside the Clinton White House: An Oral History, by Russell L. Riley
Bill Clinton was president for eight years, and it’s important to look past the Whitewater and Lewinsky scandals and delve into what his administration accomplished during that time, if only for added context. This collection of interviews offers a sharp impression of what life was like in the Clinton White House—how things ran, which personalities dominated, and, of course, how business got done even when the future of the administration hung on a vote in the Senate.

Blood Sport: The Truth Behind the Scandals in the Clinton White House, by James B. Stewart
Stewart focuses on the scandals that underlay the investigations, which swirled together to reinforce each other, bring each other back from obscurity, and create a palpable sense that something must be wrong, in the where-there’s-smoke-there’s-fire sense. Pivoting off the shocking suicide of Vince Foster (an event that still gets plenty of attention from Clinton conspiracy theorists) Stewart separates fact from fiction in each strand of the Clintons’ no good, very bad couple of years, a time when everything they did—and didn’t do—seemed to hurt them.

Contempt: A Memoir, by Ken Starr
If there’s one voice people have been waiting for in the context of the Whitewater investigation and eventual impeachment proceedings, it’s Ken Starr’s. Derided by some as an incompetent who messed up the case, and by others as a stalwart defender of simple justice, Starr finally breaks his silence with this anticipated memoir of the whole dirty affair. No fan of Slow Burn—or just history—should miss their chance to see everything from Mr. Starr and his team’s perspective; he recounts the entire investigation, from the first whispers of scandal to the vote that preserved Clinton’s office.

Did we miss any essential books on Nixon and Clinton?

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