“Obama: From Promise to Power” by David Mendell

c.2007, Amistad    $14.95 paperback  

406 pages, includes notes

Enjoying 2008?

obamabook.jpgFor some of us, it’s been a year of new beginnings, new possibilities, and new adventures. For others, it’s been one of comforting predictability and a happy dearth of change.

For all of us, it’s a year campaign ads and – ultimately – a moving van at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Have you made up your mind to which candidate you’ll throw support?  If your opinion isn’t set in concrete, read “Obama: From Promise to Power” by David Mendell. It might not change your thinking, but it might make you take a second look.

Born to a white woman who was originally from Kansas, and a father born and raised in Kenya, Barack Obama is a self-admitted child of many cultures. When Barack (who was born in Hawaii and named for his father) was two years old, Obama Sr. left the family to attend Harvard, then returned to his native country.  Despite the abandonment, Obama’s mother painted her ex-husband in a very favorable light and taught her son positive history about African American culture. 

Obama’s childhood was rather idyllic.  As a youngster, he lived in Hawaii, which was “heaven for a kid”. Later, when he was six years old and because his new stepfather was Indonesian, the family moved to Jakarta. There, Obama said years later, he noticed poverty and learned to pay attention to kids who were less advantaged than he. Soon after Obama’s half-sister was born, though, Ann Dunham Obama Soetoro sent her only son back to Hawaii to be raised by his maternal grandparents.

Reared by his elders and educated in a mostly-white school, Mendell says that nothing in particular could’ve indicated Obama’s future.  Obama struggled with his “blackness” amidst a white student body and he was “slacking off” by his teenage years.  Still, teachers and coaches remember him as a leader.  His years working on the south side of Chicago with the Developing Communities Project and other community-based initiatives underscored that. After graduating from Harvard, Obama returned to Chicago and set his sights on a political career.

Does all this sound familiar?  That’s probably because you know it if you’ve read either of the books by Barack Obama, any magazine articles about him, or any quick-print bios on his life.

But never mind that.  Yes, “Obama: From Promise to Power” is a lot of the same, but thanks to author David Mendell’s digging, it’s more.  Mendell traveled with and interviewed Obama and his family, campaign workers, friends, and others who knew the candidate well.  In contrast with the other things you’ve read about Obama, this book is more first-hand and much deeper in-depth not only about the man, but about his politics and how they were shaped.  Lest you believe it’s all rosy, however, know that Mendell talks repeatedly about Obama’s ego and how it’s “handled”, and he allows for some frailties.

For what seems like forever, we’ve endured campaign ads.  This is the year we act on them.  Start by reading “Obama: From Promise to Power” and choose wisely.

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