'The Bridge': 6 revelations from the new Obama bio

The New Yorker's David Remnick uncovers new details about the famously opaque president in his account of Barack Obama's life

"The Bridge," Remnick's hotly anticipated biography of our president.
(Image credit: Book cover)

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, a new biography by The New Yorker's editor David Remnick, will "surely go down as the definitive account of the making of the 44th President," says Newsweek. Tracing Obama's history from his rootless Hawaii youth to the White House, Remnick has gone into Obama's life in greater depth than ever before. (Watch David Remnick discuss his new book.) While The New York Post's Ginger Adams Otis faults the book for failing to unearth "particularly gripping insider info" that would "break apart the carefully assembled image Obama has created of himself," other analysts have noted several revelations in Remnick's account:

1. Obama's mother may be shrewder and more practical than he's implied

While Obama' book Dreams of My Father depicts his mother, Stanley Ann Durham, as a "naive... racial dreamer," notes Joan Walsh in Salon, Remnick's more objective picture makes Obama's account seem like "the product of the adolescent tendency to find parents inadequate and annoying." According to The Bridge, Dunham felt her son's book portrayed her as being more naive about race than she was. In Remnick's take, Dunham "comes alive as a smart, stubborn idealist" and "a devoted but also practical globalist."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

2. Obama's socialist father was apparently violent

The president's "goat herder" Kenyan father "comes off better and worse" here, says Walsh, than in Obama's autobiography. On the one hand, Obama, Sr. is revealed as an "impressive intellect" and an unapologetic socialist thinker admired by Kenyan intellectuals. On the other, it seems he was a "worse husband and father than even his critical son showed him to be." Remnick alleges that Obama, Sr. beat at least one of his wives, and took "no apparent joy" from any of his children. The "drive to escape the fate of his father, professionally and personally" may be a key factor in "molding the future president," says Walsh.

3. As a college student, Obama wanted life to "be more difficult"

Obama transferred from Los Angeles's Occidental College to New York's Columbia University, according to his erstwhile roommate Phil Boerner, who's quoted in the book, because: “we [Boerner and Obama] felt like we were in a groove and we wanted life to be more difficult…Obama used to tell his friends that he wanted to go somewhere where the weather was cold and miserable so that he would be forced to spend his days indoors reading.”

4. He got his wish

At Columbia, Obama lived at 142 W 109th St and Amsterdam, where he paid a paltry monthly rent of $360. "The apartment's charms," writes Remnick, "included spotty heat, irregular hot water, and a railroad-flat layout." During winter, Obama and his roommate would shower at the Columbia gym and warm up in the library.

5. Obama deliberately mastered "bilingualism" to sound less "Ivy League"

Obama's unsuccessful challenge in 2000 for Rep. Bobby Rush's Congress seat taught him much about his "blackness," says Salon's Walsh. Accused of being a "Ivy League puppet" for "moneyed white liberals" by Chicagoan supporters of former Black Panther Rush, Obama was "trounced" in the election. As a result, he dropped what Remnick calls his "twenty-five cent words" and became "bilingual" — able to "sound like a preacher, or at least a brother," as well as an "an impressive Ivy Leaguer."

6. He is a cagey, cautious poker player

Despite the president's high stakes bet on healthcare reform, Remnick reveals that the young Obama was a "cautious" poker player in a weekly dollar ante game with fellow state senators, says Newsweek. He folded "hand after hand, waiting for his moment to bluff or go big on a good hand." One exasperated Republican, Bill Brady, told Obama, "you're a socialist with everybody's money but your own."

To continue reading this article...
Continue reading this article and get limited website access each month.
Get unlimited website access, exclusive newsletters plus much more.
Cancel or pause at any time.
Already a subscriber to The Week?
Not sure which email you used for your subscription? Contact us