OBAMA: From Promise to Power

January 19, 2009 7:07:40 AM PST
While it appears that Barack Obama exploded onto the national political landscape overnight, as if by accident, political reporter David Mendell of the Chicago Tribune argues that the meteoric rise of Obama from local law school lecturer, community organizer and politician to viable candidate for the 2008 presidential election, has been a carefully orchestrated plan devised by the ambitious senator, almost from the beginning. It's not that there were not major bumps and obstacles along the way, but it seemed that a hugely successful career in politics was just, as we say, in the cards for Obama. And he didn't do it alone, rather there has been a team of loyal soldiers who remain committed to seeing Obama do what no other black man has ever done - become President of the United States.

OBAMA: From Promise to Power by David Mendell (Amistad/HarperCollins; Trade Paperback; On-sale: April 15, 2008; $14.95) is a revealing, intimate biography about not only Barack Obama but also the people closest to him - his family (including the amazingly strong Michelle Obama), his friends, his aides, and even his rivals - and due to the sheer variety of people that it profiles, OBAMA carries with it a certain oral history-style wholeness. Because David Mendell has been chronicling Obama's political trail for the past several years, he has both an insider's perspective and a journalist's shrewd critical eye, and the portrait that he paints of Obama is more comprehensive than any previous treatment of this remarkable man.

The subtitle, "from promise to power," says it all: OBAMA is about the evolution of a politician - and not just any politician but one of the biggest stars that the Democratic Party has ever seen. It covers all stages of his life: Barry - a Hawaiian high schooler with hardworking parents who went through his period of mild rebellion; Barack - who shaped up and earned top marks at an Ivy League college and then the best law school in the country; and Obama, the political "demigod" known for the intelligence, eloquence, dashing good looks, and, above all, enduring sense of hope epitomized in his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

What it takes for Obama to evolve is the juicy material of this book. In-depth interviews with Obama's relatives show us how, as a student, he took inspiration from his humble beginnings to hone his work ethic. But even his grandmother expresses some doubt about his chosen career path of politics. Obama's half-sister refers to him as "Obama" now instead of "Barry" - further evidence of the change that has come over him throughout the years. When we hear of the marital troubles that plague Obama and Michelle as the result of his grueling campaign schedule, it comes across as eye-opening, but not altogether surprising, due to the other calibrations that he has made to his persona on the public and private levels. Though genuine in his altruism, Obama must conform to the painstaking regimen of a polished candidate.

Also key to this book are the handlers that Obama employs to keep his image fresh, hip, and racially sound. Chief among these people is David Axelrod, Obama's right-hand political strategist, whose savvy, marketing-style techniques show readers the true inner workings of a candidate's life - the photo ops, the speeches, the grooming, the quick meals in moving campaign buses, the tired asides that Obama can eject when frustrated with his schedule. One of the more shocking, and entertaining, bits centers on how Obama must use a number of personnel to hide his cigarette breaks so that he is not caught smoking in public.

This book also features a firsthand look at Obama's high-profile journey to Africa in late 2006. It is perhaps the most enthralling section of the book because it shows just how big a superstar Obama is abroad: hordes of people plague him wherever he goes, and not even a family safari is private. On levels political, social, racial, cultural, and familial, this section shows Obama at his strongest and yet at his most vulnerable - a man plagued by campaigns and the responsibilities of his personal life.

OBAMA: From Promise to Power leaves no stone unturned in its examination of this hard-working, hopeful, but very political - and sometimes contradictory - man, and it is a one-of-a-kind piece of investigative journalism that readers will be anxious to read.

About the Author: David Mendell, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, began writing about urban issues and politics for the Chicago Tribune in 1998. Over his eight-year tenure at the Tribune, Mendell has also covered breaking national news, including the Columbine High School shootings and the Seattle riots spurred by meetings of the World Trade Organization.