The Speechwriter

A Brief Education in Politics

About The Book

Barton Swaim was struggling to find an academic job—he’d recently received a PhD in English—when he sent his resume to Mark Sanford, the conservative and controversial governor of South Carolina. He thought he could improve the governor’s writing and speeches.

On the surface, this is the story of Sanford’s rise and fall. But it’s really an account of what happens when a band of believers attach themselves to an ambitious narcissist. Everyone knows this kind of politician—a charismatic maverick who goes up against the system and its ways, but thinks he doesn’t have to live by the rules. Swaim describes what makes people invest in their leaders, how those leaders do provide moments of inspiration, and then how they let them down.

The Speechwriter is a funny and candid introduction to the world of politics, where press statements are purposefully nonsensical, grammatical errors are intentional, and better copy means more words. Through his three years in the governor’s office, Swaim paints a portrait of a man so principled he’d rather sweat than use state money to pay for air conditioning, so oblivious he’d wear the same stained shirt for two weeks, so egotistical he’d belittle his staffers to make himself feel better, and so self-absorbed he never once apologized for making his administration the laughing stock of the country. In the end, it’s also an account of the very human staffers who risk a life in politics out of conviction and learn to survive a broken heart.

About The Author

Photo by Yevette Shaver

Barton Swaim, a native South Carolinian, attended the University of South Carolina and the University of Edinburgh. From 2007 to 2010 he worked for Mark Sanford, South Carolina’s governor, as a communications officer and speechwriter. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina, with his wife, Laura, and three daughters, and writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and The Times Literary Supplement. The Speechwriter is his first book.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 14, 2015)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476769967

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Raves and Reviews

"[Swaim's] book is not a tell-all or an effort to settle scores. Instead, it’s a wryly funny, beautifully written, sometimes bewildered, always astute dissection of what it is like to perform a thankless job for an unreasonable person in a dysfunctional office during a period of unusual turmoil. . . . Swaim is so talented a writer, and has such an eye for a telling detail, that you suspect you could put him in any workplace—chicken-processing plant, airport sunglass emporium, stoner skate park—and he would make it come alive in the best possible way. . . . He may have been unsuccessful as a platitudinous speechwriter, but he has produced a marvelously entertaining book."

– The New York Times

“The most ‘instant classic’ book I’ve read this year. . . . Revealing and unusual: a political memoir that traffics in neither score-settling nor self-importance but that shares, in spare, delightful prose, what the author saw and learned. The Speechwriter feels like Veep meets All the King’s Men—an entertaining and engrossing book not just about the absurdities of working in the press shop of a Southern governor but also about the meaning of words in public life.”

– Carlos Lozada, Washington Post

"This is the truest book I've read about politics in some time, hilarious and sordid and wonderfully written."

– Joe Klein, author of Primary Colors

“[Swaim] writes . . . in a breezy, elliptical manner, letting his material work for him. . . . Swaim is insightful not only about Sanford but about the nature of modern political communications. . . . Although it left me feeling slightly dubious about democracy, I have no trouble calling The Speechwriter, with its gloomy reflections and wonderfully vivid character sketches, the best American political memoir written in my lifetime.”

– The Spectator (UK)

"A masterpiece."

– The Times (UK)

"Barton Swaim's little jewel of a memoir reads like the best political fiction. Beyond taking you into the core of an epic political meltdown, Swaim's funny story also illuminates the eroding standards of language, the oddities of office life and the exquisite torture of working for a narcissistic and unappreciative boss."

– Jonathan Alter, author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies

"At last: a political memoir 100-percent free of axe-grinding, score-settling, and self-promotion. What’s left? A beautifully written, hilariously human inside look at a certain governor’s ruinous, um, hike on the Appalachian Trail."

– David Von Drehle, author of Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America's Most Perilous Year

"Politicians don’t always come with warm smiles and narcissistic dispositions, but it was Barton Swaim’s bad luck to work for one, and our good luck that he stayed long enough to tell his very funny tale."

– Jeffrey Frank, author of Ike and Dick

"Swaim's book is an uproariously funny and sometimes just weird story of idealistic belief and politics corrupted by narcissism and ruined by scandal. Unfortunately it's all too true."

– Karl Rove, author of Courage and Consequences

“A wry and eloquent memoir . . . offering an inside look at the life of a political wordsmith and, along the way, a portrait of a politician who was his own worst enemy. Beautifully written . . . The Speechwriter is a cautionary tale and well-timed, appearing as the race for the White House intensifies, with politicians crowding rooms hoping to impress and true believers hanging on every word they say.”

– Wall Street Journal

“Darkly humorous. . . . Anyone who’s ever sought to maintain sanity in an absurd workplace knows that it requires a kind of gallows humor, a tone Swaim maintains throughout this terrifically entertaining book.”

– The Boston Globe

“Swaim's Veep-like experience of working for Sanford supplied him with a book's worth of mortifyingly hilarious anecdotes, and he tells them exceptionally well. But the greatest value of The Speechwriter is the deeper truths about political language, and the people who employ it, that Swaim learned during his tour of duty. . . . The best book about politics I've read in years.”

– GQ

“A deeply humane study. . . . Swaim is plainly a gifted writer. His professional experience shows in a firm, easy command of language; with disciplined consistency, his sentences do what they’ve been ordered to do. There’s a smooth economy to his prose, which rarely staggers or overheats. If it isn’t always lyrical, it still has a lean charm that more writing should. . . . The Speechwriter [is] urgent reading, for both its literary and civic merits.”

– The Millions

"The governor's marital infidelity . . . and other moral shortcomings take a back seat here. And deservedly so, for Swaim's approach is far more entertaining and, if you care about language, far more indicting. He describes an administration in which the mistreatment of language—and staff—was commonplace."

– NPR's Book Concierge (Best Books of 2015)

“It would be hard to find a better book in the year leading up to the 2016 election than Swaim’s memoir. . . . His account is unlike the usual political insider’s story. For one thing, it’s better written, funnier too, blessedly concise, and free of huffing and puffing.”

– Christianity Today

“One of the few good books about speechwriting. . . . [Swaim] has a fine eye, a gift for satire, and a clean, clear style. . . . Highly readable and entertaining.”

– Washington Times

“In an elegiac tone that recalls Robert Penn Warren’s classic novel All the King’s Men . . . [The Speechwriter] is less an account of a politician’s fall than an inquest into mass democracy. . . . His speechwriting days may be over, but Swaim seems to have found his true voice.”

– Foreign Affairs

“A must-read.”

– PoliticalWire.com

“A deftly funny look at life inside the Sanford bubble and a thoughtful, clear-eyed account of what it takes to put words in the mouth of a politician in love with the sound of his own voice.”

– Free Times

"Excellent.”

– Times Literary Supplement (UK)

“[The Speechwriter] is brilliant. It’s not a 'tell-all,' nor is it even really an attack on Sanford. Instead, The Speechwriter is a dead-on depiction of life inside a modern day political spin room--with Swaim demonstrating on every page the supreme talent he brought to the table. Talent which Sanford wasted. . . . As for the politician chronicled by the book? Swaim nails him. The Speechwriter doesn’t just provide us the occasional glimpse into Sanford’s confounding eccentricities and chronic narcissism--it literally exposes the flawed essence of the man.”

– FITSNews.com

The Speechwriter is a funny book. Grammarians and word nerds will certainly love it. Political junkies too. . . . But for more than anyone else, The Speechwriter will appeal to other writers.”

– Charleston City Paper

“Highly amusing. . . . A remarkable account of a political education told with humor and insight.”

– The Post & Courier

“A highly readable account of [Swaim’s] three years in the governor’s employ. Part All the King’s Men and part Horrible Bosses, it’s fascinating and almost impossible to put down.”

– Bookpage

“An entertaining inside look at state politics and how the wheels of executive office grind. . . . Demonstrating empathy mixed with appropriate caution . . . [Swaim’s] report on his experiences as a governor’s idea man is a fine, sometimes brilliant foray into the nature of contemporary politics, the charismatic narcissists who seek high elected office, and the enablers who allow them to dance in the spotlight.”

– Publishers Weekly

“The narrative is strongest in its quiet reflection of the end of Swaim's political innocence. As [Swaim] came to realize, democracy—with its promise of liberty and justice for all—is ultimately based on rhetorical manipulation of the masses.”

– Kirkus

“A candid, witty look inside the world of high-stakes politics. . . . A humorous and sobering glimpse inside the modern political crucible.”

– Shelf Awareness (starred review)

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