I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, working on a Ph.D. and living in Hyde Park when the events in this book took place. As someone who lived through them as one of Obama's constituents, I picked up this book out of curiosity. Four hours later, I had finished it. It's a truly excellent account of Obama's time in Chicago: engagingly written, knowledgeable, and never ponderous despite the author's obvious expertise. Anyone interested in learning more about Obama's career in Chicago, or just looking for a great example of how to cover politics, should read this book.
The book covers Obama's career in Chicago as a community organizer on the far south side to his election as senator (his time at Harvard is not discussed). McClelland's basic argument is that Chicago's demographics gave the black community real political power, a power exemplified by the election of Harold Washington as mayor of the city. At the same time, this power was based on a history of identity politics which limited the ability of black politicians to reach state- and nation-wide audiences. Obama, he argues, was black enough to galvanize Chicago's local political scene, but white enough to engage a broader white audience. It was this unique mix, in Chicago's unique location, that allowed Obama to rise to national audience.
McClelland's book is written in wiry prose full of tough-guy verse. Candidates do not lose races, they are unhorsed. Staff writers from the New Yorker are not prominent journalists, they are bigfoot pencils. Lavish homes in Kenwood are Edwardian piles professors blow their Nobel Prize loot on. The pacing is equally bracing: McClelland does a superb job filling you in on the history of Chicago politics (and, incidentally, provides a wonderful miniature sketch of the butternut portions of southern Illinois) but never drowns you in unnecessary detail. As a result the story -- which is good in and of itself -- is briskly told.
It also seems fairly told. McClelland is a Chicago-based journalist and the book is an expanded version of his past political coverage. It is judicious and restrained in its judgment of Chicago's politicos, but never pulls its punches or pretends at objectivity. McClelland candidly describes how off-putting Obama could be at times, and also how beguiling he could be as he matured as a politician. McClelland's portrait of Obama as a young man fits closely with that story told by other authors such as Richard Wolffe: a genuine idealist who is also (somehow) a shrewd pragmatist willing to seize opportunities and cultivate (and discard) alliances as needed. The presentation is both balanced and intimate, and those are two hard things to combine.
Reading this book helped me better understand the political events I lived through, and gave me a great deal more respect for the job reporters do. Young Mr. Obama is a terrific blow-by-blow account of political contestation, and the fact that it's central figure eventually became president is just icing on the cake. Strongly recommended.
I bought this book after my recent move to Chicago, largely because of the jacket copy's contention that Obama could not have become president had he not come to Chicago as a young man. It was a bold claim, but Ted McClelland backs it up with a compelling narrative that melds Chicago's unique political history with Obama's unique personal history. As much as Mike Royko's "Boss" and Nelson Algren's "The Man With The Golden Arm," this book helped me gain some bearings in this sprawling and endlessly fascinating town.
I have not finished reading YOUNG MR. OBAMA... but I did want to make some comments from what I have read. I have learned about politics & how things work. This book shows how hard work, informed decisions and training of personnel can yield positive results. I believe we, as Mexican American activists, can learn much from reading this book. It has given me hope in my quest to empower and improve our lives.
Young Mr. Obama is more than the early political years of our current president (44th), it's how politics in Chicago (and in other places as well). You see Barack Obama the ambitious young politician. Excelent Read... and pretty quick too.
An extremely interesting story about the President and Chicago (my old home town) politics. I read the Kindle edition and really enjoyed it. I recommend this book to all interested in current history. js
I learned so much about Black Chicago politics. This book is like the history book that's missing from regular classrooms. I liked hearing about what Barack Obama was like before he was in the national spotlight. Very interesting book.
This book explains a lot about how and why Obama came to run his campaign. I liked that it wasn't merely a book making him seem like God, but it outlined his struggles and challenges and how he changed course.