Choose Your Side

The first thought that occurred to me upon receiving a review copy of David Garrow’s hefty biography of our former president was, besides its weight (four pounds), how the jacket photograph perfectly expresses what is revealed in 1,084 pages of text.  It was taken in 1990 while Obama was at Harvard Law School, three years after he had decided it was his “destiny” to be president of the United States.  It features Barack, smug and smirking, holding up his chin with one hand while looking down his nose upon the person he is sizing up and simultaneously laughing at.  It is the photograph of an ambitious and confident man.  It is not the face of someone who has suffered because of the color of his skin, the texture of his hair, or the foreign sound of his name.

It is the chief merit of Garrow’s biography that the author himself is scarcely to be found here. There are no moralizing asides, no pronouncements.  What we have is more like a dossier, assembled with meticulous care and presented with an almost clinical detachment.  That makes the book readable.  What makes it important is what it presages about our future.  The book’s dominant theme is also its subject’s: It’s all about race.

So what was the making of Barack Obama?  It involved, first, Obama himself, whose calculating ambition drove...

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