The book traces the 1960 campaign from the primaries (in which John F. Kennedy faced Hubert Humphrey and Senator Stuart Symington) to the conclusion of the general election contest against Richard Nixon. Much of the narrative is written in an almost novelistic style, describing politicians' looks, voices and personalities. But it also contains thought-provoking discussions of various trends in American life and politics.
The Making of the President, 1960 was a huge success, staying on the best-seller list for more than 40 weeks. Critics and journalists hailed it as a new way of looking at its subject. It had a huge impact on political reporting and even on American politics itself. As White noted, it was an up-close look at a leader under the pressure of circumstances. Its literary-journalistic book brought a dramatic point of view on the world of politics and its strategies, victories and defeats. One chapter was devoted to detailing the reasons behind Americans' ways of voting and ways of life.
White's book, and its successor volumes, inspired a trend toward campaign books and toward a more personality-driven approach to political reporting. White in later years would bemoan the changes he had helped create.
David L. Wolper produced a film version of The Making of the President, 1960 which was finished shortly before President Kennedy's November 1963 assassination. It was released without revision.