From Publishers Weekly
Distinguished civil rights historian and sociologist Sugrue (Sweet Land of Liberty
) follows Barack Obama's intellectual journey and political education from his student years in the late 1970s through his first years as president, offering an insightful and fresh glimpse of Obama through three lenses—as intellectual, politician, and policy maker—and with three essays. While David Remnick's comprehensive The Bridge
bears thematic similarities, Sugrue offers a pithy and readable survey of some of the same terrain—the path that rooted the rootless Hawaiian in the history of the Southern freedom struggle and the formation of his politics that favored reconciliation over confrontation. Sugrue addresses Obama's Chicago years and the evolution of his thinking on class. And the final essay assesses Obama as candidate and president. Particularly noteworthy is Sugrue's attention to Obama's post–Jeremiah Wright controversy speech in 2008 (the most learned disquisition on race from a major political figure ever) and a splendid illumination of the roles played by books (particularly the work of William Julius Wilson), by mentors (political and clerical), and by family (especially Michelle Obama's) in Obama's ascent. (June)
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After a year in office and in the midst of domestic and international crises, the Obama administration is struggling to define its focus and priorities. What appears out of focus is the significance of race to America's first black president. Historian Sugrue offers a three-pronged approach to contextualize the race issue. First, he focuses on Obama's own constructive memory, integrating Obama's personal and intellectual reflections on his racialized self. The second focus is on Obama's response to the truly disadvantaged, which reveals a clear recognition of the significance of race and class and politics today. Sugrue examines Obama's race speech during the presidential campaign that reflected the impulses of a more perfect union and explores major themes of racial divisions, including the moral equivalence of black anger and white backlash. The third point of Sugrue's focus is that referred to as hybridity, suggesting an alternative way for America, and Obama's emphasis on building coalitions. Clearly, Obama is biased toward race neutrality, even suggesting race avoidance, raising the question for America of what may happen when race actually does matter under this black president. --Vernon Ford