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BOOK REVIEW ON FRESHMAN ORIENTATION: HOUSE STYLE AND HOME STYLE

The book “Freshman orientation house style home style” by Edward I. Sidlow, an award winning educator, author and heralded as a political guru, who has also authored other famous books such as, “Challenging the Incumbent” and “America at odds,” as well as written articles in journals like “Policy Studies Review,” “Journal of law and politics,” “Journal of General Education,” “Western Political Quarterly” and “News for Teachers of Political Science” as well as “College Teaching.”

In 2009, Sidlow became an ‘Honors faculty member of the year’ at Eastern Michigan University and also won the award for Excellence by the same university’s Alumni Association. He is currently, an associate professor at Eastern Michigan University as well as the advisor to the Political Science Department of the same university.

The book is a text of one hundred and fifty-seven pages and is short, but that is one of the aspects about it that make it easy to read, digest and then ponder over, because it is read with interest, as one is not taxed to finish off a book that has more than five hundred pages or so.

The book simply and in a safe way, explains the upheavals candidates that have won the elections to become a U.S House representative have to mount and crush, in order to become a responsible, ethical and an organized, well-oriented representative. It follows the story of Michigan Republican, Joe Schwartz; the way he fought and gained an open seat in the 2004 election in the House of Representatives and the two years that followed his success.

The book is well organized and well sequenced, as Sidlow explains everything very plainly and in simple terms, the steps and the list of things that have to be carried out and accomplished by the winning candidates. He details the process of setting up offices in the district and offices in DC, the course of hiring staff that will aid them and heralds them in fulfilling their responsibilities, the difficult process of finding office space and equipment that will be advantageous and beneficial as well as the challenge of establishing a political enterprise. The simplicity of the text and terms used can even be understood by a layperson who is just curious about the process of what happens when a candidate wins the elections, which is also one of the good aspects about this book, that it is easily understood. It is a well descriptive work by the author that lacks details and an academic analysis as the author just relays but does not offer a critical analysis.

The author begins the book by introducing to the reader, Michigan’s 7th Congressional District which creates a setting for the inevitable political battle. From there the book takes the reader on a journey that follows Schwartz’s challenging the Republican primary and then to the general elections. Along the way, the author very carefully introduces all the people that are associated with Schwartz’s journey from struggling to winning the general election to after winning the general election, all the campaign workers and office staffers are introduced and a very interesting story is created by the author. At the end of the journey is when Sidlow presents the fears and the challenges that a ‘freshman’ Congressman must face.

The author provides details of staff meetings that enable the reader to understand the types of primary objectives and goals pursued by the members of the Congress and their staff members. While reading the book, one feels as though they are witnessing and viewing the shenanigans of Schwartz and his team about the importance of the representation to the team, the favorable committee assignments and the preparations of going into battles over public policy, through a camera lens.

The reader literally lives the ups and downs that Schwartz and his team faces and attempts, for example, when the leadership is challenged by a lone, unskilled Republican and at some other times by a skilled Republican, when Schwartz and his team tackles an especially difficult problem. However, the story ends when Schwartz lost his Republican primary election in the year 2006.

The author has very creatively and artistically used a title that is very fitting to the story described in the book. While using ‘Freshman Orientation,’ the author draws upon the fears, challenges, problems and difficulties of what ‘freshman’ that is a term used for Congressman that are new have to tackle and overcome, but the latter part of the title, ‘House style and Home style’ can be taken as a reference to the challenges faced by any representative when setting office at the state and at DC as well as the challenge of first winning the election and then the challenge of doing their job as a representative.

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This work is similar to Sidlow’s previous book, ‘Challenging the Incumbent: An Underdog’s Undertaking’ as it explains how Joe Schwartz, a completely new person to the legislative system of America, becomes a U.S. House representative and the challenges he has to face, the problems he has to tackle and the ethical dilemmas as well as the decisions he has to take in order to fulfill the taxing responsibilities that come with being a part of the government responsible for governing the country, which is not a simple job or one that can be taken lightly. Other similarities in the two books are that the main characters are involved in the political system of America, Lance Press and Joe Schwartz and both the books discuss the challenges, the demur that comes with the challenge, the trials of the challenge and the threats as well as the demands of the challenge. However, this work differs from his previous book as it explains about the legislative process of America rather than the process of electoral politics.

Freshman orientation: house style home style expulses the idea and the notion that people normally have about new people who have been elected as representatives, that they are ignorant, uninformed, unaware, bewildered, confused and disoriented, that they are not sure of what to do and where to begin when they are handed over their responsibilities. They might not be aware of the things that other more experienced candidates are aware of because they have already gone through the process, but they are certainly not ignorant or uninformed about basic things. However, in the twist at the end of the book, the author does highlight the sort of challenges and fears that a ‘freshman’ candidate has to face.

Surprisingly, it also highlights how the process of adjusting to becoming a representative is similar to adjusting to a new position at a new company, where you’re the new person hired to carry out the job, the book does not highlight it per say in words but by reading the book, one can relate that the representative goes through the same challenges, problems, and emotions that any person at a new job, at a new place has to go through. They have to learn the ropes of the job and how things work by themselves because not everything is laid out in black and white, indefinite terms and sometimes the best sort of learning is done through experience, only.

An interesting aspect about the book is that it not very alarmingly, but discreetly mentions the politics within setting up an office, choosing the right staff and acquiring the right office space and equipment. Even after being elected, the candidate and representative is not free from politics but has to be more tactful as the success of carrying out one’s responsibilities and goals/ objectives depends not wholly, but partly on the candidate befriending the right sort of people, making alliances with people with similar objectives and finding support within the group of people that form the U.S. House of Representatives. The book talks about one of the non-official duties of the representative i.e. to be able to lobby for congressional committee memberships and to forming alliances with other representatives based on similar issues or geographical interests.

This book is one of the first books to ever discuss about the details of what a candidate that has won a seat to the U.S. House of Representatives goes through, in order to officially carry out his/ her responsibilities; no other book or journal article highlights the points that are available in this book, it’s quite informative and unique in this facet and this is what Sidlow is known for, his simplicity in writing, highlighting new aspects in the political system of America and explaining things that have not been previously highlighted or were neglected before, all this is featured and accentuated in this book, more so by the usage of the example of a ‘Freshman Congressman.’ However, the book is very safe; it is not critical of anything and is not opinionated, only providing information in a creative way. It does not attract any criticism as it does not have content that is biased or that favors/ disfavors the system in any way. It is simply an account, not even a view of the author. If the author’s main objective was to only inform people, then the author has achieved this purpose effectively, but if a person is looking for a criticism of the system or a more detailed, logical, critical account of the system, then this is not the book to be used for reference.

Joe Schwartz is the ideal person chosen by the author to shed light on what one thinks is going to happen once a candidate wins an election and takes the office and what actually does happen when one takes the position in the office, because he is highly patriotic, amiable and hugely committed to the noble cause of serving one’s country. Schwartz was a complete novice, he was not a politician and neither was he in a career that required him to use critical thinking skills, team management skills, showing leadership qualities and other similar skills associated with successfully carrying out responsibilities as a representative. Therefore, the things relayed in the book have more of an impact because a layperson who is not a politician can easily associate oneself with Joe Schwartz.

The author has a simple style of writing and provides a good account of Joe Schwartz’s political life; his first term at the U.S. House of Representatives; his struggles and mishaps have been written with an academic eye and with a journalistic ear, providing a good story with a twist in the end. The twist presented at the end of the book is nicely placed and has an effect on the whole book, as it not only makes the book more effective and more poignant but also makes it more impressive. It is a good technique to use and the author has used it well.

The book is widely used in undergrad studies when introducing congressional courses and carrying out Congress simulations as it touches upon areas of congressional elections, congressional organization and the life of a politician and the staff of the politician’s team. It makes it effective in introducing the student to the real world of politics, both national and local. The author’s personal touch to the story draws the reader in and makes the book interesting to read.

The book is fascinating, that is a given, but there are a number of things that could have been improved about the book. First, the author has offered a generalized account of the fears, challenges, and evils faced by ‘freshman Congressman’ solely on the basis of Schwartz’s remarks which does not represent a solid basis for the information provided; views and remarks of other new ‘freshman Congressman’ should also have been taken into account as well. Second, it does not provide a link to political science as Schwartz’s story is not clearly linked with the understanding of the behavior and elections of Congress.

To put it simply and in a summarized way, the book is effective and an interesting read to gain basic knowledge of what happens before and after congressional elections.

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