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A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win Hardcover – December 4, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Why we are excited: Obama is a talented, charismatic politician and living proof that whites have welcomed blacks into the mainstream. Why he can't win: He's still mired in an ideology of racial victimhood and separatism that Steele (White Guilt), a Hoover Institution fellow and, like Obama, the son of a black father and white mother, deplores in this stimulating, conservative critique. Obama's conflict over his mixed parentage and abandonment by his father, the author argues, engenders a need to prove his racial authenticity by accommodating a black identity politics that, while it energizes his African-American base, risks alienating white voters. Worse, as president Obama might reflexively support affirmative action and government initiatives to help African-Americans, instead of emphasizing the self-reliance, individual responsibility and avid assimilation that Steele contends are the only remedies for the black community's problems. The author's tendency to psychologize Obama's policy agenda sometimes overreaches. Still, the book is full of fresh insights into the cultural politics of race; Steele's analysis of Louis Armstrong and Oprah Winfrey as iconic Negroes granting moral absolution to whites, for example, is a tour de force. (Jan. 8)
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"Full of fresh insights into the cultural politics of race" ---Publishers Weekly --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 143 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (December 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416559175
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416559177
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,586,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

168 of 193 people found the following review helpful By Ronald on December 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Shelby Steele has travelled a path similar to that trod by Senator Obama. He, too, was the son of a interracial marraiage. He, too, was loved and well-educated by his parents. He, too, has become a prominent spokesperson on racial matters in the United States. And he is uniquely suited to write this book.

As opposed to an earlier reviewer who described the book as a "hit piece" against Obama's candidacy, the book is much more than that. It is an examination of the state of racial thought in this country and why - sadly - it is still perceived as necessary for both whites and blacks to assume "masks" to shield public perception of their true character. It examines the masquarade that we all attend in daily lives with our costumes and facades because we are too fearful and timid to expose the true nature of our beliefs - right or wrong, PC or not - for fear of repercussions.

He is correct in categorizing Oprah Winfrey (and Michael Jordan and, to some degree, Tiger Woods) as "bargainers" just as he is correct in calling Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Spike Lee as "challengers." It is clear to anyone who takes the time to examine the behaviors and the successes involved. The tragedy is not that Steele categorizes people of color with these artificial terms; the tragedy is that one behaves in these ways in order to achieve recognition and success. The abandonment of self and one's ideals is an immense price to pay for the chance at success.

The author turns a beautiful phrase when he writes:

"[Obama's candidacy]...asks the American democracy to complete itself, to achieve that almost perfect transparency in which color is, indeed, no veil over character - where a black, like a white, can put himself forward as the individual he truly is."

When we can reach this cultural chimera, we will be truly a nation of one people.
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36 of 44 people found the following review helpful By chronic insomniac on January 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Shelby Steele's book The Bound Man does a convincing job of detailing the bind that Barack Obama finds himself in as he runs for president. Steele views Obama as the most promising black candidate to ever run for president in U.S. history, certainly someone with more winning potential than prior black candidates such as Jessie Jackson in 1984 and Al Sharpton in 2004. Indeed, Steele argues Obama is distinguished from other black candidates because he chooses not to capitalize on race but instead he runs as an everyman who represents the fervent hope of the greater American public that blacks and whites can finally come together.

Obama's biracial heritage also brands him as unique compared to prior black candidates running for president. His mother who raised him is a white woman from Kansas so Obama is intimately familiar and comfortable in the world of whites. Raised by his Midwestern mother, grandmother and grandfather - all white - he was essentially raised exclusively in a white family first in Hawaii and later in Indonesia. On the other hand, his black Kenyan father who separated from his mother when Obama was two (they later divorced) left Barack Obama with a feeling of disconnection that has motivated a life-long quest to come to terms with his black roots. Steele insists that Obama's choice to work in community agencies in East St. Louis out of college as well as his decision to do civil rights law on the south side of Chicago after graduating from Harvard Law School are both examples of his efforts to come to terms with his black past and black identity.

Steele also makes the point that Obama is not someone who has gotten where he is through Affirmative Action and other entitlement programs.
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55 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Greg Cleary on April 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I admit that when I first saw this book at a bookstore, I was hooked by the title. Being an Obama supporter, I was curious to know why the author thought Obama "can't win" the presidency. I didn't buy the book, but I found it at a library and checked it out. It is interesting, well-written, and only takes a few hours to read. But I'm glad I didn't buy it.

The problem with this book is that the author never judges Obama on any grounds other than how he plays the racial game--unless you count a few offhand references to Obama being intelligent, talented, etc. So ironically, the "bound man" of the title turns out to be--as one reviewer here has already asserted--the author himself.

Steele does make a strong case for why Obama is walking such a fine line politically, as a black man who is trying to win over both blacks and whites in large enough numbers to win the presidency. He also provides some insight into why Obama chose Reverend Wright as his pastor, which is impressive considering that this book was written months before Reverend Wright was front page news. Steele's categorization of prominent black Americans as either "bargainers" or "challengers" also makes sense, and he is credible in spelling out the advantages and potential pitfalls of each of these approaches.

But unfortunately, the book is so limited in scope that it distorts Obama as well as those who support him. Has Steele even considered that some people may support Obama because he appears to be the most intelligent and the most level-headed of all the candidates?
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