The Last Campaign

In The Last Campaign, Zachary Karabell rescues the 1948 presidential campaign from the annals of political folklore ("Dewey Defeats Truman," the Chicago Tribune memorably and erroneously heralded), to give us a fresh look at perhaps the last time the American people could truly distinguish what the candidates stood for. 

In 1948, Harry Truman, the feisty working-class Democratic incumbent was one of the most unpopular presidents the country had ever known. His Republican rival, the aloof Thomas Dewey, was widely thought to be a shoe-in. These two major party candidates were flanked on the far left by the Progressive Henry Wallace, and on the far right by white supremacist Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. The Last Campaign exposes the fascinating story behind Truman’s legendary victory and turns a probing eye toward a by-gone era of political earnestness, when, for “the last time in this century, an entire spectrum of ideologies was represented,” a time before television fundamentally altered the political landscape.




"Karabell makes much of the fact that 1948 was the last election in which television did not play a significant role. Television, Karabell asserts, homogenizes candidates and pushes them toward the center, robbing the American electorate of political diversity among its leadership. That is why 1948 was, in his words, the 'last campaign:' it was the last time that 'an entire spectrum of ideologies was represented in the presidential election.'"
— Publisher's Weekly | read full review >

"What’s more riveting than an account of two party conventions? How about an account of four? Karabell, who has an accessible style, writes about how Southern delegates that year stormed out of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia and launched the short-lived Dixiecrat party. Left-wing Progressives held their own convention and nominated former vice president Henry Wallace. Democrats — those who remained — tapped President Harry Truman, while Republicans chose New York Gov. Thomas Dewey, the presumed front-runner that fall. Karabell breaks down Truman’s legendary upset."
— The Washington Post | read full review >

"Dewey defeats Truman! claims Karabell in this engaging narrative of the 1948 presidential election. It was the final contest in which voters could choose from four candidates representing quite distinct political ideologies and the final campaign before television 'worked its destructive magic.' The author is strongest discussing the impact of the press, polls, and radio and describing the importance of the convention, which was then 'a mix of high politics, low politics and entertainment.' Truman was the last candidate to verbally savage his opponents, especially Dewey, who instead ran a civil but dull campaign -- the kind future voters would come to expect. Dewey's campaign and not Truman's 'Give-'em-Hell-Harry' strategy became the model for following elections. In this respect, the author concludes, Dewey did indeed defeat Truman. Karabell provides an intriguing overview of this watershed election. Recommended for all libraries."
— Karl Helicher, Library Journal

"All of this is lively fodder for The Last Campaign, a well-told chronicle of America's greatest political upset. Historian Zachary Karabell writes with a graphic pungency and verve that sweeps us along right down to the climactic chapter in this legendary drama."
— Washington Monthly | read full review >

"Zachary Karabell has provided an account that recaptures the mood of the time, and the drama of a campaign the likes of which we are unlikely to see again - and which was, as Karabell rightly puts it, "incomprehensible by today's standards."
— The Boston Globe | read full review >

"In our age of focus groups and instant polls, it is refreshing to be reminded that presidential campaigns can sometimes be unpredictable and electrifying. Historian Zachary Karabell does just that in this entertaining and thoughtful account of the most exciting presidential campaign in modern times."
The Chicago Tribune |read full review >

Also read the review from The Times UK.