Feature

Book of the week: The Obamas by Jodi Kantor

Kantor’s new book recounts Barack and Michelle Obama’s first 1,000 days in the White House.

(Little, Brown, $30)

“Hope is easier to embrace than reality,” said Kerry Luft in the Chicago Tribune. That might be the main conclusion readers arrive at after studying Jodi Kantor’s new book about Barack and Michelle Obama’s first 1,000 days in the White House. Kantor uses the first couple’s marriage to explore why the president has seemed a less assured chief executive than he was a 2008 campaigner, but Kantor’s reporting is most revealing about Michelle. The First Lady, who arrived in Washington with little appetite for politicking, is said to have become a force behind closed doors. The book’s juiciest gossip centers around her—her $515 sneakers, her distrust of former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, her eliciting an expletive-laced tirade from the press secretary. As Kantor sees it, life in D.C. has been suffocating for both Obamas, and they’ve adopted an “us-against-the-world” mentality that only adds to their isolation.

“A book about the Obamas’ marriage starts out with a problem,” said David Remnick in The New Yorker. An unhappy marriage can be “interesting in countless ways.” The Obamas’ relationship is instead a loving one, by all accounts, which forces Kantor to gin up the ostensible threats to the couple’s stable union. But the Obamas can be self-pitying at times, and that becomes a significant theme. The president, we’re informed, often tells friends that he can hardly wait to begin the life that awaits him after the White House. It’s “a little unseemly,” of course, for a couple as blessed as the Obamas to be heard griping about how they miss the normalcy of their old lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park. “We prefer our warriors happy.” But Kantor offers one piece of evidence that the Obamas aren’t simply spent. Michelle apparently reminds the president most every night that the big goals matter more than the noise.

Kantor also says Michelle signals that the 2012 campaign could be rejuvenating, since roles are clarified by battle, said Jeffrey Burke in Bloomberg.com. Still, the lasting impression Kantor’s book leaves is that the Obamas are unlikely to ever surrender their hope of being able to hold themselves—or at least their marriage—apart from politics. That hope “springs eternal” in these pages, “stoking frustration” for the first couple, and “playing a large part in the president’s uneven record.” Though there’s always the possibility that they wake to their myopia before they’re back in Hyde Park for good, “there’s little in The Obamas to make one expect a second act.”

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