Advise and Consent

by Allen Drury

Other authorsArthur Shilstone (Illustrator)
Hardcover, 1959



The President of the United States nominates the controversial Robert A. Leffingwell to be Secretary of State, and as that startling news reverberates throughout Washington a powerful politician commits suicide, a Congressional Committee comes up with a surprise witness, there is a vote of censure by the Senate, and the cynicism and selfishness and altruism and loyalty and ambitions of America's public servants are revealed.


½ (168 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member RoseCityReader
Advise and Consent, Allen Drury’s 1959 Pulitzer winner, thoroughly covers the machinations of the Senate confirmation process as that august body deliberates the nomination of a controversial figure for the post of Secretary of State. Although long and sometimes exhausting, Drury’s landmark
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novel is a rewarding book for the patient reader.

At over 600 dense pages, this is not a quick read. The first 100 pages seem especially slow as the characters are introduced and the stage set. This behind-the-scenes look at the Senate may have been more interesting before 50 years of televised politics in general and C-SPAN in particular leached any tantalizing mystery out of Senate subcommittee hearings.

Once the story builds up steam, however, it powers right along. The candidate under consideration, peacenik Bob Leffingwell, has his avid supporters, including the somewhat Machiavellian President who nominated him. But he faces stiff opposition from those who think he will be unable to protect America on the brink of a nuclearized Cold War with an increasingly belligerent Soviet Union determined to send men to the moon to claim it as Soviet territory. While the details of the controversy seem anachronistic now, the underlying issue of diplomacy versus military might is as pertinent today as it was 50 years ago.

What is most interesting is that Drury keeps party politics out of it. He does not name either party, and the battle over Leffingwell’s nomination is all within the President’s own liberal party that holds the majority in the Senate. The minority, presumably conservative, party is relegated to the sidelines.

In the end, Leffingwell’s confirmation comes down to character issues as much as his political opinions. The heart of Drury’s story is that, when an unsavory part of Leffingwell’s past arises, instead of having the Senate’s decision turn on the underlying facts, the controversy centers on how Leffingwell and his supporters, including the President, deal with the facts, and what their conduct reveals about their essential worthiness as national leaders. Again, the details of the scandals involved seem quaint now, but the principal debate over what weight to give to politicians’ personal lives still rages.

Stylistically, Drury follows formal conventions, with third-party narration, traditional dialog format, discretion in all things sexual, and one particularly distracting gimmick in that many characters share the same first names. For instance, the nominee and the Senate Majority leader are both names Robert and both go by Bob. Context usually makes clear which one is under discussion, but it seems odd that no one ever mentions that they have the same name. There are also two Hals, two Toms, and two Johns (but no Mikes, Marks, or Daves). Maybe it is more like real life to duplicate names, but some literary customs are there for a reason.

The writing is a little stuffy, but the tone suits the subject matter and helps raise it above a run-of-the-mill political thriller. A sample passage demonstrates Drury’s intricate style as well as his purpose of thoroughly presenting the Congressional system:

The system had its problems, and it wasn’t exactly perfect, and there was at times much to be desired, and yet – on balance, admitting all its bad points and assessing all the good, there was a vigor and a vitality and a strength that nothing, he suspected, could ever quite overcome, however evil and crafty it might be. There was in this system the enormous vitality of free men, running their own government in their own way. If they were weak at times, it was because they had the freedom to be weak; if they were strong, upon occasion, it was because they had the freedom to be strong; if they were indomitable, when the chips were down, it was because freedom made them so.

Although it takes some endurance to get through such a thicket of prose, the effort is worthwhile, which is why Advise and Consent remains the most popular, perceptive study of Congressional American politics on the shelves.

Also posted on Rose City Reader.
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LibraryThing member uvula_fr_b4
Without a doubt, the worst book that I read in 2010 was Allen Drury's Advise and Consent (1959); how this thing won a Pulitzer for Best Fiction is beyond me.

Advise and Consent is a door-stopper of a "novel" (760 pages in the mass market paperback edition that I read) that is concerned with the
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U.S. Senate's role to advise the President on and give consent to his cabinet appointments; the main plot involves the tortuous process of confirming a highly divisive figure, Robert A. Leffingwell, as Secretary of State, while the main subplot involves shocking revelations of the past of the young senior senator from Utah, Brigham Anderson.

While I mostly enjoyed the 1962 Otto Preminger movie (in which Henry Fonda played Leffingwell and Don Murray played Anderson; it also starred Walter Pidgeon, Charles Laughton, Franchot Tone, Lew Ayres and Gene Tierney), which was based on the play that was based on the book, despite some reservations that mostly arise from the time in which it was made, the book -- the book! -- is a windy, prolix, flat, dull, singularly unconvincing bloviation on the glories of the U.S.Senate that is occasionally enlivened by scenes of interest (chiefly some of the political skulduggery, but also how the President is so abrasive, manipulative and double-dealing that he manages to alienate a substantial number of the senators from his own party). No one's political party is ever identified, and the President is never named -- he remains simply "The President" throughout the entire book -- but one can make educated guesses as to the major characters' party affiliation. (Given the time in which it was written and set, the party in majority is doubtless the Republican Party, while the opposition party, led by a wily Southern cliché named Seab [pronounced "Seb"; it's short for "Seabright"] Cooley, played by Charles Laughton in the film, is the Democratic Party, still strong in the South.)

Drury was a former journalist, and one can see how he must've felt as though he was on a busman's holiday, albeit free of the strict limitations to his word count, with Advise and Consent; for the novel to remain readable, however, an editor should've taken him firmly in hand and slashed his manuscript by at least a couple hundred pages. The character development is notable by its absence, the female characters are nearly non-existent and offensive to a modern reader when present, the ethnic stereotypes are so close to racist tropes that there's not a hair's difference between them, and Drury's abuse of the adverb nearly converted me to Graham Greene's abhorrence for same. That the conclusion is so obviously meant to be uplifting is farcical, utterly risible. In short, The West Wing it ain't.

Wikipedia's entry for Advise and Consent reports: "The story is loosely based on the Hiss-Chambers and David Lilienthal controversies, and, according to comments by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher, on the Leland Olds nomination battle;" Drury also threw in a minor, though significant, character to stand in for Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, although, in the best Red-baiting fashion (Drury was a rabid anti-Communist who favored military confrontation of the Soviet Union), he makes this character's weltanschauung the polar opposite of McCarthy's. (SPOILER ALERT: don't jump to Wikipedia's article if you want the story elements of Advise and Consent to remain a surprise, as it starts making with the spoilers in the very next paragraph.)

Drury published five, count 'em, five sequels to Advise and Consent (two of which -- Come Nineveh, Come Tyre [1973] and The Promise of Joy [1975] -- are alternate endings: two different outcomes spun off from the ambiguous cliffhanger of 1968's Preserve and Protect); I'm happy to report that, contrary to my usual book hoarding practice, I own none of them, and I plan to read none of them. (I do, however, own a copy of Drury's novel about Akhenaten, A God Against the Gods (1976), which I bought before I bought Advise and Consent; it's gonna be a looooong while before I pick that one up, I'm afraid.)
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LibraryThing member heidilove
great introduction into politics and its struture and how it works and how, more often, it doesn't. I read this in my senior year of high school. If you like government suspense novels, this is a definite read.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
Each year since 1944 I have picked a book of the year--the book deemed by me at the end of the year as the best book I read that year. This book was the best book I read in 1960, a year in which I read 33 books--5 fiction and 28 non-fiction. This book was fiction, but I really ate it up because it
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was about political matters and politics has been a prime interest of mine since I was 8 years old.
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LibraryThing member mcenroeucsb
Interesting subject, but the cast of characters is too large and it moves rather slowly.

Recommended for Hill staffers and fans of the West Wing/House of Cards.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Actually a pretty decent read. The tale of a controversial nominee for Secretary of State is quite timeless, as are the political infighting and behind the scenes machinations.
LibraryThing member gmicksmith
This is one of the most memorable books on politics I have ever read. I read it as a kid sometime in the 1960s and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Advise and Consent is a 1959 political novel by Allen Drury that explores the United States Senate confirmation of controversial Secretary of State nominee Robert
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Leffingwell, who is a former member of the Communist Party. The novel spent 102 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1960 and was adapted into a successful 1962 film starring Henry Fonda. It was followed by Drury's A Shade of Difference in 1962, and four additional sequels.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
The inside flap to Advise and Consent states it is "...a story so sweeping and complex in its conception that each segment alone would make an enthralling book." Right. I'm sure that's why the entire story is over 600 pages long. Drury has crafted five segments: Bob Munson's book, Seab Cooley's
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book, Brigham Anderson's book, Orrin Knox's book and Advise and Consent.
Advise and Consent opens with the announcement of the President of the United State's controversial appointment of Bob Leffingwell as Secretary of State. Right away Drury's language is witty and mischievous as if there is a twinkle in the eye of the storyteller. If you have ever watched "House of Cards" then you know how deviously politics can be played out. Advise and Consent is no different.
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LibraryThing member nx74defiant
I had a hard time getting into this. I'm just not that interested in politics. Some parts are dated. But I don't think politics has changed much.
LibraryThing member Kristelh
This is the 1960 Pulitzer award winning book and I read this while in Florida because it was available here in the library. This book is over 600 pages and it took be a long time to engage with the story but then I did and the last couple sections went by much faster. The fact that this book was
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published in 1959 during the cold war following WWII made the book even more significant to me. The story is about the process of approving a presidential recommendation for Secretary of State by the Senate. The president's candidate is smooth and avoids responding to any question with anything at all that can inform anyone of what he represents or how he will conduct himself. In the course, something is found, and what is found is significant in that it shows that the man has not been honest, that he has willfully lied during his hearings. The knowledge leads to a crisis for one man who is unable to survive the process and other senators who also played a part of in the destruction of their own colleague. The president is unhealthy and there is suspicions of his health, the vice president is painted as weak. The president is also culpable in the event that occurs because he put his desires before treating people decently and respectfully. The Russians are antagonistic and in this book, they are the first country to land on the moon. Interesting in that no one has yet landed on the moon when this book was written. The final chapters of the book had me nearly in tears, it was such a good, good ending. I come away from the book with a better understanding of political process and a renewed desire to know more in spite of the dirty, horrible political climate that is currently apart of normal operations. I do feel that the book was too long, that the author could have shortened it up a bit without losing any of the important parts of the story but I am so glad that I read it.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Re-reading Advise and Consent(and watching the 1962 Otto Preminger movie by the same name), after a span of several years, I am reminded of my original reading and seeing the film version in the late 1960s. Drury followed up this first novel with a handful of sequels and over a dozen other books,
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but none of them came close to the popularity of the 1959 hit — ninety-three weeks on the best-seller list, a play, a movie and a Pulitzer (the Pulitzer Board overriding their committee’s recommendation of Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King). In many ways, Advise and Consent would be a fine reading in Cold War history courses or in courses that seek to explain the nature of Cold War politics. As an insight, though, into the nature of the appointments process as currently practiced, it remains locked in its time.
The novel tells the story of the nomination of peace-loving diplomat Robert A. Leffingwell to be Secretary of State. Unfolding in “books” from four senators, the story proceeds quickly and in rich, complex detail, aided no doubt by Drury’s intimate knowledge of how the Senate worked based on his experiences as a Washington political reporter. The first edition of Advise and Consent numbered 616 pages and the level of exegesis and dialogue is deep and broad. All layers of the advice and consent process are covered—from gripping hearing testimony to vitriolic floor debates, from the machinations of the White House to the cloakroom deals in the Senate.
Not only does Advise and Consent access the political dynamics of the Senate’s advice and consent to presidential nominations, the novel also delves deeply into the personal stories of the characters who must manage and judge this process. One widowed senator, the majority leader, is intimately involved with a Washington socialite and there is the past of the nominee, who flirted with communism while teaching in Chicago and is forced to confront this aspect of his personal history to secure confirmation. Another senator, a married Mormon from Utah, is blackmailed by a colleague who has discovered the senator’s intimate, sexual relationship with another man while in the army during World War II.

The narrative depth and the richness of the story’s details make it a fascinating read. It provides a panoramic view of Cold War Washington. It is a story that brings together strands of different actual events and real characters to create a composite vision of the U.S. Senate and its workings in the area of advice and consent. The novel was followed by Drury's A Shade of Difference in 1962 and four additional sequels. While Drury's Advise and Consent is arguably the best of its kind (and may have defined the genre) I have enjoyed others like O'Connor's The Last Hurrah and, more recently, Primary Colors.
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LibraryThing member mykl-s
Here I was reading about politics, forming a schema of what government, the senate process, and I don't know what all else. My worldview is probably still affected by what I read here.


Doubleday & Co Inc (1959), Edition: No Edition Stated

Original publication date



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