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The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies Hardcover – June 4, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Things were not looking good for President Obama at the time of the 2012 election: the economy was still struggling, no one seemed to really understand how Obamacare would work, and the Republicans’ number-one objective remained obstructing the president’s programs. Even Bill Clinton thought Obama would lose. So what turned it around? In a narrative that is as engaging as it is informative, veteran political writer Alter offers a mix of answers: Republican overreach, too many primaries, demographics, the Obama campaign’s smart use of twenty-first century technology, and the unexpected moments that always seem to shake up elections (Clint Eastwood, meet Hurricane Sandy). Oh, and the ability of the Democrats to paint Romney as a one-dimensional rich kid, a position that was cemented by the famous recording of him denigrating 47 percent of the American people. Because Alter has so much to cover here, some of the issues get shorter shrift than others, but all the important points are hit: the introduction of Tea Party politics; the absence of the president’s “schmooze gene”; campaign trail highs and lows; the debates, especially the first one with Obama MIA; and plenty about both policy and politics, which sets up a solid framework for the dishier parts of the story. (No one seems to like Valerie Jarrett except the Obamas.) Containing analysis as well as reportage and with most of the quotes sourced, this makes for good history as well as a good read. --Ilene Cooper


“An elegant, intelligent, crisply constructed account … It will be required reading for any serious student of the Obama presidency, present or future. … One of America’s most highly respected political journalists, Alter … makes a singular contribution by capturing Obama’s famously inscrutable political persona and demystifying it in the context of his daily work as president. … Alter has gained access to key people within the president’s orbit, enabling him to create a rich portrait of [Obama].” (The Washington Post)

“Highly informed, energetically reported…. Alter gives us a lucid picture of the toxic, highly partisan political environment in which today’s controversies are occurring.” (The New York Times)

“Alter's book abounds in such peeks inside the competing campaigns…excellent reporting.” (Los Angeles Times)

“A calm, virtuoso work of journalism. Alter brings a clear eye to recognizing both the shortcomings and the victories of the 2012 Obama campaign and the administration before and after the election…. one of the best books about our befuddling, original, American version of democracy.” (The New York Daily News)

“Common-sense politics devolve into a season of craziness in this engrossing account of the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign. Journalist Alter follows up his bestselling The Promise: President Obama, Year One with a savvy dissection of the 2010–2012 election cycle and related political dogfights.…Lucid, entertaining, and alive to the reality behind the posturing, Alter’s report reveals the high stakes and far-reaching import of the 2012 decision.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; F First Edition edition (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451646070
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451646078
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jonathan Alter (b. 1957, Chicago, Illinois) is an author, journalist,and television commentator. Since 1983, he has been a correspondent and columnist for Newsweek. He is also an analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, where he appears three or four times a week.

Alter is the author of "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope" (2006), a national bestseller, and "The Promise: President Obama, Year One" (2010), which went to number 4 on the New York Times Bestseller List and was named one of the 100 "Notable Books of the Year" by the Times. He is also the author of "Between the Lines: A View Inside American Politics, Media and Culture" (2008), a collection of his Newsweek columns. He currently serves as the co-executive producer, with Garry Trudeau, of the Amazon original program Alpha House, starring John Goodman, Mark Consuelos. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey with his wife, Emily Lazar, a producer for "The Colbert Report," and their three children, Charlotte, Tommy and Molly.

Customer Reviews

Great book and very well written.
Robert Tolbert
How the Obama campaign changed the way elections are won and then did it again is a fascinating story.
S. H. Jolly
I felt like I was really getting into Barack's head.
Lee Greenhouse

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

184 of 208 people found the following review helpful By Lukester on June 5, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Center Holds begins with the mid-term elections in 2010 and ends shortly after Obama's reelection in November 2012. Although Obama's policy decisions obviously come up, this is largely the story of the chess match between Obama and his allies against the newly emboldened Republicans/Tea Party after the 2010 election and into the 2012 election.

Alter obviously had wonderful sources in putting together this book. Having followed the politics day by day, I think he did a masterful job of capturing the chaotic dealings on the past few years. Although the general strokes of the battles are well known, Alter tells the story based on insider knowledge that didn't always exist at the time these events were playing out.

I especially enjoyed the chapters dealing with the 2012 election and Obama's campaign machine. Obama set out with a highly analytical campaign that Romney ultimately could not compete with. Alter establishes that Obama was not running the "hopey changey" campaign that he was accused of relying on. Instead, his campaign was data-driven and precisely managed to ensure a victory. I am convinced that no one that reads with book can remained skeptical of Obama's intelligence or his management skills. Against this, the Republicans relied on a strategy that has always worked for them with great results: win by any means necessary, calling on every resource available. As Alter acknowledges, Republicans scored some big victories, although not the biggest.

Alter doesn't present a strong political slant in relaying the facts of the last two years, although you can tell that he believes the right side "won.
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68 of 79 people found the following review helpful By Nuschler on June 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you follow politics closely or just watched a couple of clips about the 2012 presidential campaign this is a MUST book. Alter takes us inside both the campaign headquarters and on the road with Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.

He doesn't make either man a saint. He presents incredible insight to each person and the author was privy to both men including emails they sent him. It's a story how high tech campaigns became THE way to SuperPacs spent tens of millions of dollars on ads that ended up being worthless.

And the author just writes so well! I found myself re-reading lines that just caught a moment perfectly.

Alter has a chapter revealing the man who secretly videotaped Mitt Romney at the $50,000 a person fundraiser in Boca Raton...The 47% speech to his buddies..other multi-milllioniares...comfortable within his peer group he showed a true side.

But even better, the author brings up Romney's great qualities as an analytical, professional but loving man as father and husband who was a bishop in his church. The campaign had produced a beautiful film showing Mitt at his best...BUT THEY DIDN'T SHOW THAT ON PRIME TIME AT THE REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION IN TAMPA! Instead we got an out-of-control 82 year old Clint Eastwood talking to an empty chair. How no one had bothered to get Eastwood's written speech and put it on a teleprompter before he started talking as they were so awed by his celebrity status.

But he doesn't let Obama off the hook either. The author really honed in on the prep for the debates...How Obama simply hated debating and felt it was somehow beneath the president of the United States to have to share a stage "as equals" with an "empty suit."

The chapter "The Clown Car" was superb.
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116 of 143 people found the following review helpful By rctnyc VINE VOICE on June 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As Barney Frank's bumper sticker so aptly put it, "We're not perfect; but they're crazy." Alter describes President Obama's mistakes, but also the organized intransigence of Obama's conservative enemies, who were (and are) determined to bring down him and his policies, regardless of the cost to the nation. Their ideological rigidity and crazy, counter-factual economic theories, as well as the racist sentiments that they exploited through "dog whistles" and other coded messages, have produced the gridlock we are experiencing today. Alter documents all this with interviews, written statements and the public record, showing how the coalition between deficit hawks, war hawks, libertarians, the Christian Right and the conservative media was drawn further to the extreme right by so-called Tea Party activists.

This book is readable, smart and well-documented. The "socialist" blah, blah, blah comments of the one-star reviewers here should tip you off as to whose excesses Alter systematically exposes. Are these the people whom we want running our economy? Our nation? Even conservatives - the ones who are not crazy - would do well to read Alter's book. You deal with the devil, and you become the devil's business partner. The Republican Party, Alter shows his readers, has been overrun by the people whom it thought it was using - and the nation is far the worse for the bargain.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Rule 62 Ken on June 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In the author's note at the beginning of this book, Jonathan Alter concedes his own personal liberal bias, but undertakes to the reader that he will use his best efforts to overcome this and to provide an accurate chronicle and analysis of the 2012 US Presidential Election. Sometimes the historian in him wins out and sometimes it is his partisan half that is victorious. It is clear throughout the book that Alter has a strong admiration for President Barack Obama, while only occasionally tossing in a good word about Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Accordingly, the reader's enjoyment of or contempt for this book will be influenced by the reader's personal political leanings. It is unfortunate that contemporary history seems difficult to report without losing some objectivity in today's polarized political climate, but at least Alter fesses up to his leanings right from the start.

Alter takes as a given many notions that those on the political right will take strong issue with and offense to. For example, he characterizes the Tea Party as a racially biased reaction against an African-American president (as opposed to people who are simply fed up with dysfunctional government). He believes that those on the right are motivated not by any principles, but by something he calls "Obama Derangement Syndrome" in which extremely offensive criticism of the president (e.g. comparison to Hitler) is not restricted to those on the fringes on the right, but is more endemic among Republicans. He presumes that legislation regarding voter eligibility intends to suppress the votes of minorities and those marginalized by society and that it is not intended to prevent voter fraud. Not all readers will concur with him on these and other base assumptions that Alter makes throughout the book.
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