George W. versus Al on the bookshelf You can always tell it's a presidential election year when bookshelves are filled with books by and about individuals who just happen to be running for higher office. As the campaign enters its final frantic weeks, follow the paper trail to your favorite candidate.

The Prince of Tennessee: The Rise of Al Gore by David Maraniss and Ellen Nakashima is a straightforward biography that rises above the baser peculiarities of presidential politics. The balanced portrait it paints of Gore is flecked with colorful anecdotes and revealing insights into his character.

In a book published several months before anyone knew he would be chosen by Gore to be his vice presidential running mate, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman offers a defense of his chosen profession in the autobiographical In Praise of Public Life, co-written with author Michael D'Orso. The most striking things about this book are the honesty with which Lieberman writes about his first marriage, which ended in divorce, and the obvious passion he feels for the political process, however imperfect it may appear to the outside observer.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has been the subject of several biographies over the past 12 months. One of the most balanced is First Son: George W. Bush and the Bush Family Dynasty. Written by Texas newsman Bill Minutaglio, it offers an in-depth look at the Texas political process that nurtured and challenged the candidate along his rapid journey into national prominence.

Not to be outdone is Bush's vice presidential running mate, Richard Cheney, whose previously published book, Kings of the Hill: How Nine Powerful Men Changed the Course of American History has been reissued in paperback. Co-written with his wife, Lynne Cheney, the book is less a glimpse into Cheney's personal politics than it is an examination of nine personalities who had a major impact on American history.

Another good choice for election night reading is editor James M. McPherson's To the Best of My Ability: The American Presidents, a brilliant collection of fascinating photographs and essays written by the Society of American Historians about the 41 men who have held the nation's highest office.

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