The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

David Remnick

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

Through extensive on-the-record interviews with friends and teachers, mentors and disparagers, family members and Obama himself, David Remnick allow us to see an early life coloured by absence and uncertainty: one that asked demanding questions of a rootless and literate man in search of himself, sending him firstly towards social work and then into law. Setting Obama’s burgeoning political career against the volatile scene in Chicago, Remnick shows us how it was that city’s complex racial legacy that shaped the young politician and made his first forays into politics a source of controversy and bare-knuckle tactics: his clashes with older black politicians in the Illinois State Senate, his disastrous decision to challenge the former Black Panther Bobby Rush for Congress in 2000, the sex scandals that would decimate his more experienced opponents in the 2004 Senate race, and the story – from both sides – of his confrontation with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In exploring the way in which Barack Obama imagined and fashioned an identity for himself against the backdrop of race in America, Remnick illuminates an American life without precedent, and reminds us that, electrifying though Obama’s victory may have been, there was nothing fated about it. Interrogating both the personal and political elements of the story – and, most crucially, the points at which they intersect – he gives shape to a decisive period of American history, and in turn, to the way it crucially influenced, animated and motivated a gifted and complex man. 4.3 out of 5 based on 11 reviews
The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Society, Politics & Philosophy
Format Hardback
Pages 672
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication May 2010
ISBN 978-0330509947
Publisher Picador
 

Through extensive on-the-record interviews with friends and teachers, mentors and disparagers, family members and Obama himself, David Remnick allow us to see an early life coloured by absence and uncertainty: one that asked demanding questions of a rootless and literate man in search of himself, sending him firstly towards social work and then into law. Setting Obama’s burgeoning political career against the volatile scene in Chicago, Remnick shows us how it was that city’s complex racial legacy that shaped the young politician and made his first forays into politics a source of controversy and bare-knuckle tactics: his clashes with older black politicians in the Illinois State Senate, his disastrous decision to challenge the former Black Panther Bobby Rush for Congress in 2000, the sex scandals that would decimate his more experienced opponents in the 2004 Senate race, and the story – from both sides – of his confrontation with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. In exploring the way in which Barack Obama imagined and fashioned an identity for himself against the backdrop of race in America, Remnick illuminates an American life without precedent, and reminds us that, electrifying though Obama’s victory may have been, there was nothing fated about it. Interrogating both the personal and political elements of the story – and, most crucially, the points at which they intersect – he gives shape to a decisive period of American history, and in turn, to the way it crucially influenced, animated and motivated a gifted and complex man.

Reviews

The Economist

The Economist

Superb—beautifully written and artfully constructed. It is also nearly 700 pages long, which means that it contains a lot of padding. But this is “padding” of the highest quality. The tale of Mr Obama’s precocious ascent to the presidency is already very well known, so many readers will find that the most rewarding parts of this book are David Remnick’s detailed descriptions of the contexts and settings—the Hawaii childhood, the Indonesian interlude, black politics in Chicago, Harvard Law School—in which the now familiar drama unfolded.

08/04/2010

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The Financial Times

Edward Luce

[A] very impressive book… Remnick is clearly sympathetic to his subject. But he is also clear-eyed.

08/05/2010

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The Observer

Patricia Williams

The structure of the book resembles nothing less than an epic, like The Aeneid, or a morality tale, like Pilgrim's Progress. This is not to say that The Bridge is a romantic or necessarily lyric rendering of Obama's life. Remnick's prose is studious and encyclopedic, the dedicated, somewhat removed voice of the tireless investigative journalist. But he doesn't need to infuse the tale with writerly flourishes: his subject's trajectory is extraordinary enough; and Obama's greatly appealing public persona renders the reader hungry for the kind of detail that Remnick provides.

02/05/2010

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The New York Times

Michiko Kakutani

Incisive… if the outlines of the story told in “The Bridge” are highly familiar, Mr. Remnick has filled in those broad outlines with insight and nuance… Writing with emotional precision and a sure knowledge of politics, Mr. Remnick situates Mr. Obama’s career firmly within a historical context.

05/04/2010

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The New York Times

Garry Wills

Exhaustively researched… Obama is such a good storyteller that his biographer might well be intimidated by the thought of competing with his own version of his life. But Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, has many important additions and corrections to make to our reading of “Dreams From My Father.” Obama makes his mother sound naïve and rather simple in his book. Remnick shows that she was a smart and sophisticated scholar

07/04/2010

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The Sunday Times

Robert Harris

...time and again reading David Remnick’s lucid, judicious account of Obama’s ascent, I was reminded, incongruously, of Adolf Hitler... Remnick’s book is not impartial. The editor of The New Yorker, he is overwhelmingly sympathetic to his subject. But then, in the context of the wider story of the black struggle for equality in America, how could he not be?

02/05/2010

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The Washington Post

Gwen Ifill

It takes an arms-length biographer to really fill in Obama's gaps, and Remnick is not quite that. He still appears mildly baffled at the backlash his magazine endured in 2008 when it published a satirical cartoon on its cover portraying an Afro'ed, gun-toting Michelle Obama bumping fists with her husband, who was dressed in Muslim garb. This is a rare blind spot in an author who otherwise seems to get the politics of race. Remnick deserves credit for telling Obama's story more completely than others, for lending a reporter's zeal to the task, for not ducking the discussion of race and for peeling back several layers of the onion that is Barack Obama.

04/04/2010

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The Guardian

Christopher Hitchens

I prefer [Obama's] autobiography to Remnick's account, purely and simply because of its self-deprecating charm... This is a thick book about a still rather slim curriculum vitae. Remnick makes it worthwhile by building in some enlightening passages about the history of Kenya, Hawaii and the long battle for black emancipation. He doesn't say enough about a question that fascinates me and enrages the American right: the possibility that the president of the United States is not a Muslim but, worse, an unbeliever.

01/05/2010

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The New Statesman

Alex MacGillis

"Obama could change styles without relinquishing his genuineness," Remnick writes... As much as Remnick wants us to focus on this adaptability, his account may be more useful for explaining what has been one of the mysteries of Obama's biography: his emergence, in his mid-twenties, as an earnest and ambitious young man whose temperament and political philosophy would, for all his shape-shifting, be strikingly consistent during the career that followed. This was one of several gaps in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father... But the account loses steam when it reaches the oft-told story of the 2008 presidential campaign.

12/05/2010

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The New York Review of Books

Joseph Lelyveld

While it’s notable that Michelle Obama isn’t included on the long list of those he was able to interview, Remnick makes effective use of interviews he did have with members of the President’s oft-interviewed inner circle. He offers shrewd insights — theirs and, sometimes, his own... but Remnick’s diligent efforts harvest little news of a kind that might cause a political beat reporter to leap from his seat. What he sometimes seems to be presenting instead is historical tapestry, embedding Obama, his parents, and his parents’ parents in a series of well-conceived period tableaux and vignettes.

13/05/2010

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The Spectator

John R. MacArthur

Idolatrous... there are reasons to distrust Remnick’s version of ‘the Life and Rise of Barack Obama’. For one thing, the book has all the tell-tale signs of an authorised biography, crammed as it is with knowing inferences based on insider sources, both named and anonymous... In Chicago, Remnick’s mythmaking turns from the merely annoying to the decidedly implausible.

05/05/2010

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