11 Sep 2023


Lost Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill by Andrew Tully

Andrew Tully

File this under, “I read it so you don’t have to.”

I found this book (Tully, Andrew. Capitol Hill. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962) recently, and you will not be surprised that the title intrigued me. A book from 1962 that was about my neighborhood? Sure!

Except that it took about one-third of the book to even get to the Hill. Up until then, it’s the Pentagon, the White House and Georgetown that the book is set in. And when it comes to the Hill, it is just another anonymous committee room in which another hearing is taking place. In fact, other than this scene, and the fact that one of the minor characters lives on C Street (there is no indication whether this is Northeast or Southeast) there is nothing Capitol Hill about this book. It is about a young and ambitious Deputy Secretary of Defense and his paramour, and his wife and her lover and how their wish for happiness is thwarted by his need to remain, at least outwardly, respectable.

Detail of the dust cover (ABEBooks)

Along the way, he also becomes involved in the upcoming presidential election, though this is in no way affected by his possible divorce (other than pushing back the date that this might occur)

Mainly, the book seems to be doing its best to show that those running Washington have absolutely no interest in any policies, and even politics take a back seat to their love affairs. The closest it gets to policy is the above-mentioned committee meeting, in which questions of civil rights are addressed, whether they should be immediately rectified or whether this would cause a violent reaction from those who had still not gotten over the Civil War.

The author, who made his name as a young reporter when he was one of only a small number of American reporters that entered Berlin along with the Russian army at the end of the Second World War, later moved to D.C. and become a long-time columnist, producing the column Capital Fare from 1961 until 1987. One wishes that he had written this book much later in his career, when (one assumes) he would have had a better handle on how Washington really works.

Instead, there are a large number of disjointed stories, lives that intersect in generally minor ways, but most certainly do not add up to a coherent story. Whether this was supposed to give the readers of that era an unvarnished look behind the scenes in Washington, but really, all it did was to promote that cynical view that politicians were entirely wrapped up in their own lives and their own careers to give much of a thought to those who lived in the country they were nominally in charge of.

Policy takes a back seat to pretty much everything else in this book, and, other than the aforementioned brief look at the civil rights movement, is alluded to in only the vaguest of terms. It is unfortunate that Tully seems to think that this is the picture of government that people across the country want to read about.

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