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Mark Halperin
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Mark Halperin

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Mark Halperin’s Game Change Lesson 

The Exclusion Principle

Why you should care

Because we only have time for the good stuff, baby. 

This editor’s pick first appeared on September 16, 2013.

I started riding a stationary bike a decade ago after gaining 40 pounds while building my first company. I hated — and still hate — riding the bike. It is painfully boring, but that hour a day has been my salvation.

A few things have helped me with that bike ride each day: tense sports contests, episodes of Entourage and occasional conversations with my closest friend. (I know, I know, no cell phones in the gym.) Without question, however, the best thing that happened to me on that bike was John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s best-selling book about the 2008 presidential election.

It is rare that you can read anything of substance while pedaling a bike and still go fast. But even before the movie of the same name came out, Game Change was so good that it actually made me go faster. It’s a work of nonfiction, but it read like a delicious novel, filled with behind-the-scenes tales of Sarah Palin’s selection, the real-life relationship between Elizabeth and John Edwards, and what Barack Obama really thinks of Joe Biden.

I am definitely going to pick up the duo’s sequel — Double Down: Game Change 2012, about last year’s Romney-Obama election — when it arrives in bookstores on Election Day.

Creating a masterpiece, whatever the genre, means taking all of the brilliant insights you have accumulated — and leaving 95 percent on the cutting-room floor.

A year after reading Game Change, I bumped into Halperin, whom I’d known from my days in television. I asked him how he’d managed to write something so tasty, so irresistible — especially for a political junkie like me, who had followed the election closely. He said it started with a simple pledge between the co-authors: Mark and John agreed that instead of being comprehensive merely for the sake of being comprehensive, they would put in only the juiciest, least known and most insightful reporting they uncovered. Only the best stuff would go in, no filler.

As simple as that sounds, few of us do it. For any of a number of reasons, we tend to pile on everything we’ve got, and as a result, we obscure our money shots. Halperin and Heilemann’s masterpiece was a major moment for me, a clarion call to serve up only the best, especially when you are faced with an abundance of material and you feel obliged by custom or convenience to include most if not all of it.

So, ignore that voice of convention and follow Game ChangeThat’s how you get The Wire, Busboys and Poets, Hill Country barbecue and most of the best things on Earth.

Go deep

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