Among innumerable hair-raising stories in David Runciman’s book about the individuals who have dominated Anglo-American politics since the 1960s, perhaps the most memorable concerns a man who never held high office at all. At the beginning of 2008, North Carolina’s Democratic senator John Edwards looked like a decent bet to become the next American president. Handsome, folksy and passionate, a rich lawyer who had cornered the market in blue-collar populism, Edwards had a clear game plan. First he would see off the newcomer Barack Obama; then he would knock out the overpriced favourite, Hillary Clinton. But Edwards had a problem. While his wife, Elizabeth, was having treatment for cancer, he had embarked on an affair with a flaky film producer, Rielle Hunter, whose original name was Lisa Jo Druck. Not only had the National Enquirer got hold of the story, it had also discovered that Hunter had just given birth to a child.