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Obama: From Promise to Power Paperback

3.9 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

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*Starred Review* Since his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Obama has captured attention as reporters, politicos, and ordinary citizens have wondered if he might be the nation's first black president. Chicago Tribune reporter Mendell argues that although Obama's rise to the national stage might seem unplanned, it is the outcome of a carefully calculated strategy by an ambitious man. Mendell chronicles Obama's personal evolution, from Barry, a biracial adolescent growing up in Hawaii, to Barack, the Harvard law school graduate. Obama's complex background—white midwestern mother and Kenyan father—has been both an asset and a liability to his search for acceptance among African Americans and voters in general as they have had to assess who he is and what he stands for. Mendell tracks Obama's rise through the frustrations of community organizing and the rough-and-tumble world of Chicago politics to the rarefied, if no less brutal, world of the U.S. Senate. Mendell draws on interviews with Obama, his wife, family, friends, aides, and rivals, as well as his own extensive coverage since Obama's days in the Illinois Senate, to offer a nuanced, compelling look at a man of idealism and ambition intent on making history. Bush, Vanessa --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.


The single best source of background information on our new president. (National Review ) --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; Reprint edition
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0064XLLCS
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,724,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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By S. J. Snyder on February 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Mendell is a long-time political reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and has been covering Obama since he first ran for the Illinois State Senate. Before I tell you what I cleaned from the book, I'm going to give a quote from Mendell:

"What the public has yet to see clearly is his hidden side: his imperious, mercurial, self-righteous and sometimes prickly nature, each quality exacerbated by the enormous career pressures he has inflicted upon himself. He can be cold and short with reporters who he believes have given him unfair coverage. He is an extraordinarily ambitious, competitive man with ... a career reach that seems to have no bounds. He is, in fact, a many of raw ambition so powerful that even his is still coming to terms with its full force."

Beyond Mendell's observations about Obama itself, are his observations about Obama's luck, for the most part, in two ways: his political timing (except for challenging Bobby Rush) and his political handlers, above all David Axelrod.

Beyond that, here's some specific takes from Mendell:

First, Obama's sometime lack of specificity on policy issues is nothing new.

Second, Obama's attendance at a Chicago antiwar rally, according to Mendell, while it had a degree of idealism behind it, also had a degree of political calculation involved.

Third, Obama did pass some bills in his last term in the Illinois Senate to bolster his U.S. Senate campaign. Specifically, despite his strong stance on gun controls, he sponsored a bill to let retired cops have concealed carry. Why? To get the endorsement of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, which he did.

Add it all up, and I see a Barack Obama of dichotomy.
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Format: Hardcover
Barack Obama (or "Barry," as David Mendall says he used to be known) is the freshest and most compelling of the new faces contending for the White House. So he's ripe for a good journalistic biography, and this one, the first presumably of many, arrives at a useful time. Mendell's book explores the life of the Senator-candidate-memoirist with greater candor than the man himself can do in his own writing.

It is no criticism of Obama's own accounts of his life to say that they suffer from the limitations that all memoirs do: When the subject of a book is also its author, most matters are written about in a way that is inevitably favorable to the subject-author's own interests. In a memoir, even the admission of mistakes and the confession of failings is inevitably shaped in line with the need for favorable self-portraiture, toward, say, a wish to appear honest and candid.

For the reader, the danger of a memoir written by a sophisticated professional politician like Barack Obama is that you never know when you're being spun and when you aren't. His candidacy is running into the same trap--on the stump he professes to be an outsider, innocent of Washington's games, a position that was taken to task today by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.

Dowd: You may recall her column about Obama that included a memorably cheap shot at his physical appearance. Predictably, this provoked Obama's ire and showed a prickliness that at the time seemed out of place, but which Mendell convincingly portrays in this book as part of his makeup. He really does chafe when someone goes after him, even unfairly. He seems prima-donnaish, thin-skinned. (As two recent reviewers carrying hatchets against Mendel seem not to understand, there are much worse flaws to have.
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Format: Hardcover
This book starts a little slow, with too many early references to what was already written in Obama's bestselling memoir "Dreams from My Father".

Eventually, the book by Mendell picks up with another view on Obama's ups and downs, including Obama's failed bid to oust Bobby Rush from his congressional seat in 2000. (Ironically, Rush is now backing Obama for President in 2008)

The book also has good insights into the specific results that Obama has delivered for African-American constituents in Illinois.

The strategies and tactics of David Axelrod (Obama's consultant) made for compelling reading, and were a big part of Obama's overwhelming victory in the 2004 race for the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate.

Overall, the book is a nice complement to "The Audacity of Hope" by Obama himself. I would just read "The Audacity of Hope" first, then Mendell's book.

Thomas Brooks
Award-Winning Author,
A WEALTH OF FAMILY: An Adopted Son's International Quest for Heritage, Reunion, and Enrichment
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Format: Hardcover
How good was this book? Two nights ago, already one-third the way into it, I hunkered down with this plan: 30 minutes of reading and then get to sleep.

Four hours later, it was 3 a.m., and I'd read more than 200 pages. I finished it up the next day.

In "Obama: From Promise to Power," David Mendell delivers thorough, thoughtful and insightful reporting; detailed, engaging, sometimes-humorous, front-line storytelling; vivid exposition of characters; and a coherent organization that allowed for intermittent interweaving of various individuals and their roles in Obama's life.

Throughout, Mendell effectively captures and conveys the myriad facets of this fascinating public figure.

As a citizen trying to decide whom to support in the coming election, I found this to be illuminating and most helpful in understanding the dynamics of Obama, his supporters and handlers, and the race overall as it progresses.

My high regard for Mendell's work comes largely because I know just how tough his job has been in covering Obama the past five years.

I am a longtime newspaper reporter who has also covered (significantly less notable) public figures, and (much more local) political races. Much of my work has been as a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune, for which Mendell writes and the basis for his interactions with Obama. I should note that I do not personally know Mendell.
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