Geoffrey Dunn has written the best book yet on the controversial phenomenon known as Sarah Palin. What he terms the “pathology of deceit” appears to inform every aspect of Palin’s life. People who have known Palin since early childhood chose to speak to Dunn in great detail, and with genuine concern. Some of them volunteered answers to questions that Dunn had yet to ask (“FACT!” declared one correspondent, about an intimate family detail). Palin has become well known for “throwing under the bus” the co-workers, supporters, and even friends who no longer serve her purposes, a great many of whom spoke to Dunn. Mentors who helped Palin win early elections watched with dismay as Palin embarked upon what Dunn calls a “dysfunctional” stint as mayor of Wasilla, which left the small town deeply in debt.
A slipshod, inadequate vetting process put the then-Alaska governor on the ticket as John McCain’s running mate in 2008, and the cracks in the not-always-vivacious candidate’s sparkly exterior began to yawn in impenetrable chasms almost immediately. (McCain advisor A.B. Culvahouse summed up Palin as “High risk, high reward”: Correct on the former.) “She knows nothing,” snapped McCain advisor Steve Schmidt, a methodical and disciplined man whom Palin clearly drove to distraction with her erratic behavior. Schmidt called Palin’s ghostwritten memoir Going Rogue “one hundred percent fiction.” It is impossible to know who feels more burned about the disastrous arranged “marriage”–McCain? Or Palin?–but Dunn provides myriad examples of just what went wrong on the ticket in the fall of 2008, including a plethora of insider e-mails seen here for the first time. It’s a mesmerizing education on just how daily life functions (or doesn’t) on the biggest campaign trail of all.
After losing the election, “[Palin] just never made it home. She just never came back,” noted Beth Kertulla, Alaska House minority leader. In 2009, one of the coldest winters and worst fish harvests on record further strained then-Governor Palin’s already poor relationship with the Alaska Native population, who were forced to choose between heating their homes or feeding their children. Tribal elder Nicholas Tucker of Emmonak’s pleas for assistance went unheeded by the governor–and rudely cut off in mid-sentence by Palin when the two finally met–until an SOS broadcast widely by Internet brought assistance to those in need. Dunn’s first-hand knowledge of Alaska and first-rate research takes the reader where few of us, in truth, have ventured.
Dunn really shines when it comes to interweaving and acknowledging previously reported segments of the Palin story with the vast body of his own investigative work. For a reader who has not paid much attention to Palin, who quit halfway through her first term as governor in 2009, you’ll find the whole story right here. And if you have followed the divisive and irresponsible trajectory of Palin’s career, there’s a ton of new information that shoots off in every direction, just like the “fireworks” her once-giddy pals in the press described.
Five stars is probably five too few.