47 of 51 people found the following review helpful
I've read and heard reviews in various magazines and shows slamming this book for its harsh treatment of Michelle Obama. As a fan of the First Lady's, I think those comments are off of the mark. I found Jodi Kantor's work to be an insightful look at life in the White House. It portrays Michelle as intelligent, formidably talented in her own right, and a very equal partner to her husband. In fact, Kantor's Michelle has emotional intelligence in spades, an important attribute that the author clearly feels that the President lacks. To that end, Kantor posits that the First Lady is critical to the Obama administration...and to Barack Obama. "Yes, We Can" and massive campaign rallies notwithstanding, the President is shown over and over again on these pages to be introverted and increasingly walled-off from public perceptions of his performance. It's FLOTUS, not POTUS, who gets - and continually reinforces - the importance of connection. This is one impressive lady.
If anyone were to be upset about the way they're portrayed on these pages, it should be first friend, Obama confidante and West Wing advisor, Valerie Jarrett. On more than a couple of occasions, she's shown as playing East Wing against West Wing, and representing views as the First Lady's, when - at least on one explosive circumstance (when it was reported that Michelle had told Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that "living in the White House was hell") - Jarrett and Mrs. Obama hadn't spoken. It's worth noting that in reporting the event, Kantor lets former advisor Robert Gibbs have a tremendously cathartic rip at Jarrett.
Kantor's end-of-book summation about the Michelle Obama of the last three years is unmistakably positive: "In the nearly three years in the White House, the Obamas had changed positions with one another. After all Michelle's protests about politics...she was going to emerge from the presidency stronger and more at peace, aides predicted. For the rest of his term, for the rest of his life, the president was going to have to live with what he accomplished and what he did not. She had entered with her own expectations low and then exceeded them; he had entered on top of the world, and had been descending to earth ever since."
61 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2012
Readers experienced with political insider books will recognize in The Obamas many of the dynamics present in other books about past administrations. Like Bob Wodward's books about the Bush Administration, Jodi Kantor obviously received a lot of information from aides working in the White House. Unlike Woodward's books, though, The Obamas comes at its subject more from the personal side than the political side. Rather than focusing on the workings of power in the West Wing, The Obamas describes at length the effect that President Obama's family has on him and his administration. The book also depicts how living in the White House and constantly being in the public eye affected the Obamas and how they responded.
One theme of The Obamas is their growing understanding of perception and images. Michelle Obama in particular is very conscious of the way that she is depicted in the media. She finds looking good by wearing nice clothes with professional makeup to be empowering. She makes conscious efforts to present herself well, do things well, and set a good example. There is a pair of scenes early on when Michelle is photographed wearing casual clothes on casual occasions, one while walking the family dog on White House grounds and another white visiting the Grand Canyon, and the First Lady received some unflattering press as a result. Ironically, when she dressed in expensive clothes, people noticed that as well and remarked accordingly. The book shows how the Obama Administration in general and Michelle in particular developed an improved sense of the value of imagery. Michelle if anything became more acutely conscious of how she dressed. Similarly, merely putting Michelle in a room of children or showing President Obama with his wife and daughters produced images that the public loved to see.
The White House's negative reaction to The Obamas confirms some of the other major themes of the book. The Obamas, for understandable personal and political reasons, want to limit and control the information that the public receives about their life in the White House. The Obama Administration also sometimes exhibits a tin ear about how the public will respond to something. The White House is reacting as if the book is somehow akin to Michelle being photographed in ordinary clothes (i.e., a failure to control the depictions of the First Family) rather than a humanizing portrayal of people who are trying to do their best under highly unusual circumstances. Michelle could have said "I haven't read the book and shouldn't comment." The White House could have said "We are too busy working on the issues facing our country to concern ourselves with the book." Instead, the White House's odd reaction is perhaps the best indication that the book gets its subjects largely right.
112 of 150 people found the following review helpful
Four and a half INCISIVE Stars. This is a solidly researched book that is not the unflattering "tell all" that some have expected. Far from it, from the standpoint of the First Lady, it shows her as a strong, talented, loving, caring First Lady. It also succeeds in presenting President Obama, his family, staff and anyone else involved at a 'down to earth' level of assessment, not from a lofty perch of historical adoration. And while New York Times Correspondent/author Jodi Kantor 'pulls no punches' in giving an in-depth assessment of the First Couple and their personal and political environment from many viewpoints based on 'inside information', there is nothing here that can be viewed as embarrassing or unexpected and is actually flattering. Even the infamous Rahm Emanuel staff tirade 'pales' when put into the true chronological perspective of events in the book, and what happened next was a real surprise. The author assesses the give and take between the president and the first lady in both personal and public aspects, and with their staff: in the early years, and before, during, and after the presidential election. This book is also a cornucopia of very revealing facts and an enormous amount of information. Even the kids make a positive appearance ("Malia's Great Escape"). An important point made by the author is that Michelle, from the beginning in Chicago politics, was deeply involved in Barack's work and the staff knew she was taking note of their effectiveness. She went from the role of 'arbiter' in the Illinois elections to 'taskmaster' in the presidential race.
The book also points out how hard the political races and political life was/is on Obama family life, a fact acknowledged by President Obama, but shows how they overcame all of the challenges. We get the origin of Obama's 2004 Democratic convention keynote speech, the unique 'window view' that many first ladies have used to watch over their husband's activities, and the Chicago involvement of familiar names: Valerie Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, Rahm Emanuel, et al.- "their friends had become their staff", stressing their relationships. Then there is the one staff selection that ended one of Obama's oldest friendships. Michelle's parents, Marian and Fraser Robinson, have a back story that is both warm and heart-tugging. And we learn of the complexity of White House operations; the difficulty of deploying to Chicago for visits; the complex role of Valerie Jarrett; how Rahm Emanuel stumbled into the Obama-vacated Illinois Senate seat 'mashup' that landed the governor in hot water; Emanuel's tension-filled relationship with many, and not only one but two First Ladies; the real place where the President does his detailed work; why the East Wing was referred to as "Guam"; and more background on the plan to get Osama bin Laden.
The 'bubble within a bubble' family and friends alliances that help the first family cope with time 'off-duty' shows how much presidents and their families are isolated from the rest of us when it comes to day-to-day living, except when the touring public is unknowingly footsteps away from White House VIPs; even when they want to get out into the public, it becomes a pain for the Secret Service and an accommodation for the public. And there is much more, like Obama actually saying the 'situational' words: "I'm a Blue Dog at heart". This is a valuable book full of facts, general information, and a lot of interesting minutiae, some of which appears to have never been revealed before. This book does NOT deserve the unfavorable pre-publication negative hype over a couple of passing, inconsequential incidents that got blown way out of proportion. The final beautifully-written scene of a happy President and First Lady enjoying themselves at his birthday gala is the perfect ending. Highly Recommended. Four and a half INFORMATIVE Stars! (368 pages, with many photographs) (This review is based on a Kindle download in Mac and text-to-speech modes).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2012
Books hatched inside the White House typically are supposed to be about salacious insider information -- the proverbial "inside scoop." This one fails short of that standard as the author discovered so little dirt inside the White House on the Obama's that she ended up having to stretch every tidbits of trivia she found -- most of which were so anemic that even Kitty Kelly or the National Enquirer would have turned them down. Watching her stretch them to the breaking point does not leave a good taste in the mouth of the reader. Even the fake fight between Michelle and Robert Gibbs over the first lady's comment to the French President's wife about how oppressive life in the White House museum was, just barely rose to the level of a "real insider" story.
Even though there is usually both an inside and an outside narrative about people in the fish bowl. With the Obama's, it seems that the inside story and the outside stories collapse into one and the same: the Obamas are simply boring, not very interesting people, and evidently that is exactly the way they wanted it to be.
In the absence of any game changing revelations, this author put a great deal of stock into stretching trivia to the breaking point, in order to give the puffed up impression that an accumulation of insignificant tidbits would somehow add up to at least a few meaty inside stories? In my view here they did not. For here there are no meaty stories.
Unfortunately for the author, the Obamas marriage is a happy but uninteresting one. They act basically as caretakers of the office of the presidency just as they intended to do. They never intended to get excited about Washington, DC, and vice versa. Both she and the President value their privacy more than they value the glory of the office, and do not enjoy living in the country's national museum. And who could blame them?
The author poses a series of meaningless questions in the early chapters, to which there are mostly trivial answers. Throughout the book she struggles to gin up melodramas, but that dog doesn't hunt either. In the end this book is one of those "gossipy told tos" that misfires. There is so little meat here that after paying $30.00 for this book, I am actually embarrassed for the author. She obviously relied heavily on an accumulation of in-house gossip from multiple inside sources, and as a result, the book reads exactly like a compilation of trivia, tidbits and other irrelevancies that even the likes of Kitty Kelly would have elected to gladly pass up.
Therefore, the reader will not find a smoking gun about the Obama marriage here, no matter what the National Enquirer says about it being in trouble:
Unfortunately for the author, Barack and Michele Obama are "what you see is what you get" kind of people. Neither of them is planning to change their personal habits, personality, or cramp their styles in the least to give a false impression on being the country's chic political power couple. To me that may be the only thing that is refreshing about the Obamas -- which is more than I can say about this book. Two stars
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2012
Ms Kantor said in an interview that she had written the book, The Obamas, in the style of D K Goodwin's Pulitzer prize winning No Ordinary Times. Not true. Ms Kantor's book did not captivate or hold my interest, nor did it offer any new or fresh understanding of this extraordinary couple. I am a supporter of President Obama and while I thought the author offered insight into Michelle Obama's growth in the last 3 years, the general tone of the book just seemed to be other people's he said/she said commentary.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2012
There have been so many books written over the past 6 to 8 years about Barack Obama, his life, his rise to the presidency, and his early years as POTUS that you have to ask yourself what new angle you are going to get out of reading yet another book about him. This book by Jodi Kantor was recently named to the NY Times list of 100 Notable Books of 2012 so I figured that there was at least something noteworthy about it (and the two other books about Obama on the list) so I gave it a try. I can't say I was disappointed. The angle that Kantor takes as a NY Times reporter covering the White House beat is taking as deep a look as possible into the Obamas as a family inhabiting the White House. What was it like for them in the initial days after living in a brownstone in Hyde Park in Chicago? What was the transition to President and First Lady like? We learn a lot about Michelle Obama in this book and her very straightforward, no-nonsense approach to being First Lady. In fact we probably learn more about Michelle than we do the President in this book. We learn what it was like for them to set up as normal a home as possible in the White House for their kids. We also learn about the role Michelle played in some of the President's early big decisions in the White House, her frustration at being in a role that was not as front-facing as perhaps she would have liked, and how she dealt with it. I do recommend this book to anyone who wants a bit of a deeper look into the Obamas and the White House goings-on from a day to day perspective.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
To quote the New Statesman, the concept of the Presidency of United States was that its leader should be a regular citizen. However, 230 years later, European monarchies have mostly faded away; while A US President now has an entourage to rival any 19th Century European Court at its height, add to this overwhelming interest in the President and their family, from the Kennedy era to the present day. Now, augment this fact that there is a Black President and interest goes off the scale. So Ms Kantor, biography was much anticipated by all. The book to me can broke initially into two parts; one part that deals with the days of the President and the days of the first Lady, although second part seems to take on more importance.
At core of the book is, and dare I say the peculiarity, of being black and living in the White House. President Obama was now constantly observed, while the outside world in which he had been so involved seemed to fade away. To quote the British newspaper Telegraph, Barbara Bush had kept 5,000 index cards of new relationships forged during her husband's presidency, but the social life of the Obamas", increasingly restricted to a tight circle of their old friends.
I must concur with Mrs C. Swarfield Amazon UK review when we are told that this narrative is more about the First Lady than about the Husband and wife. Ms Kantor's revelations describes in detail Michelle's attempts to brighten the interior decoration of their private quarters, the inevitable national uproar at the cost, Michelle's appearance and new found fondness for high-end fashion. There were correspondingly her often difficult relationships, with her husband's aides. I came away feeling as if I were promised one thing, only to find I got something else, hence my 3 star rating.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2012
`The Obamas: A Mission, Marriage.' is a portrait of the first couple during their first few years in the White House. This explores the lead up to his election and the hope that was placed in him. It looks at the settling in period that Michelle toiled with and the struggle she had finding her place in the administration. We see how the Obama girls are looked after and used to enhance Barack's image as a family man. And we see the difficult decisions he had to make and the awkward relationships that clashed amongst his closest advisors.
In an easy to read style and with enough depth to maintain interest, but not so much as to overwhelm, Jodi Kantor offers up an insight into the Obamas life that many may not even be aware of. His isolation and stubborn streak is highlighted and Michelle's forceful personality shine through. The book isn't initially that flattering and you get a good picture of why some of the shine has come off the Obama star since his election. This is quite hard to see in the UK as we are removed from the day to day battles and media information. But, by the second half of the book you see how Obama attempts to change and be more inclusive and open. You see after his success' and small changes how much better things could've initially been and hope that if he gets a second term he can steer things along a calmer, more productive course.
This has two photo plate sections which show the president and his family in both formal and informal scenarios, which adds to the text and also illustrates some of the particular anecdotes.
This book is clear and engaging and regardless of your political leanings or whether you like Obama or not, you will be left with a deeper insight into his character and first few years in power. An interesting book that is worth a look at some point.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2012
I had heard that this new book about the Obamas was "controversial" but having just finished it, I don't know what all the fuss is about. Jodi Kantor's, "The Obamas", presents an in-depth look at America's First Family and does so in a fair, insightful way. It's no surprise that the president is more reflective than the first lady and she is more assertive than he is, but what makes this book exciting are the examples Kantor gives to back up these feelings. And there are some things lots of people don't know...that the Obamas are responsible for paying for their own food, for instance.
Much of the early part of the book centers on the difficulty the Obamas faced in adjusting to the White House and Washington. Kantor notes that they have no other place to call their own, like the Bushes did. I particularly enjoyed reading about how Michelle Obama struggled to find an identity in her new role but finally did so. It's great theater to learn about the battling egos in the West Wing and two members of Obama's staff don't come off very well here...Robert Gibbs and Rahm Emanuel.
The most fascinating chapter, "The Bubble within the Bubble", revolves around two couples who are very close to the Obamas...the Nesbitts and the Whitakers. They discuss race and how it affects them on many levels. I couldn't put the book down during these few pages.
"The Obamas" is a revealing look at the first couple and Jodi Kantor does a fine job in presenting the growth of these two individuals as their days in the White House continue. I highly recommend it, especially if you are interested in learning more about their personal lives, as they gear up for the November election.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2013
This book was an interesting look at the first couple. I was already familiar with most of the events that transpired in the book before I read it so there wasn't a lot of new material. But Jodi Kantor does a good job of letting you look at what the presidential experience is like from the inside out. I live in metro Washington DC and have walked past the White House a zillion times with the general thought that I will never have the opportunity to go inside. But reading the book you realize that the first family lives inside the White House and doesn't have the opportunity to go outside!!! They are really trapped in there. It has to be a bizarre experience.
The book does an interesting job talking about a lot of the infighting that occurs among President Obama's advisors. It is like a reality TV show.
My biggest gripe with the book, and the reason that I give it 4 stars, instead of 5, is that Jodi Kantor does a lot of conjecturing about what people are thinking in regards to very public events. I am as familiar with some of these events as she is and I don't think the 48 minutes she spent interviewing the president is sufficient for her to accurately be able to say what the President must have been thinking. Yet she does this over and over. She says what she thinks the President or First Lady must have been thinking and puts words in their mouths. In some of the instances, I don't think based on my general knowledge of the events that the President or First Lady would be thinking what she is conjecturing that she thinks they are thinking.
I listened to the audio version and didn't have the benefit of seeing where the quotation marks are so maybe this oversight was more glaring in that format. Perhaps in the text version where you can see the quotation marks this would feel less egregious.
Having said all that, I still found the book very interesting, I think Jodi Kantor did a great job, and I would recommend reading it.