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The Bridge

Cover of The Bridge

The Bridge

The Life and Rise of Barack Obama
Borrow

No story has been more central to America's history this century than the rise of Barack Obama, and until now, no journalist or historian has written a book that fully investigates the circumstances and experiences of Obama's life or explores the ambition behind his rise. Those familiar with Obama's own best-selling memoir or his campaign speeches know the touchstones and details that he chooses to emphasize, but now--from a writer whose gift for illuminating the historical significance of unfolding events is without peer--we have a portrait, at once masterly and fresh, nuanced and unexpected, of a young man in search of himself, and of a rising politician determined to become the first African-American president.

The Bridge offers the most complete account yet of Obama's tragic father, a brilliant economist who abandoned his family and ended his life as a beaten man; of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who had a child as a teenager and then built her career as an anthropologist living and studying in Indonesia; and of the succession of elite institutions that first exposed Obama to the social tensions and intellectual currents that would force him to imagine and fashion an identity for himself. Through extensive on-the-record interviews with friends and teachers, mentors and disparagers, family members and Obama himself, David Remnick allows us to see how a rootless, unaccomplished, and confused young man created himself first as a community organizer in Chicago, an experience that would not only shape his urge to work in politics but give him a home and a community, and that would propel him to Harvard Law School, where his sense of a greater mission emerged.

Deftly setting Obama's political career against the galvanizing intersection of race and politics in Chicago's history, Remnick shows us how that city's complex racial legacy would make Obama's 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. By looking at Obama's political rise through the prism of our racial history, Remnick gives us the conflicting agendas of black politicians: the dilemmas of men like Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, and Joseph Lowery, heroes of the civil rights movement, who are forced to reassess old loyalties and understand the priorities of a new generation of African-American leaders.

The Bridge revisits the American drama of race, from slavery to civil rights, and makes clear how Obama's quest is not just his own but is emblematic of a nation where destiny is defined by individuals keen to imagine a future that is different from the reality of their current lives.


From the Hardcover edition.

No story has been more central to America's history this century than the rise of Barack Obama, and until now, no journalist or historian has written a book that fully investigates the circumstances and experiences of Obama's life or explores the ambition behind his rise. Those familiar with Obama's own best-selling memoir or his campaign speeches know the touchstones and details that he chooses to emphasize, but now--from a writer whose gift for illuminating the historical significance of unfolding events is without peer--we have a portrait, at once masterly and fresh, nuanced and unexpected, of a young man in search of himself, and of a rising politician determined to become the first African-American president.

The Bridge offers the most complete account yet of Obama's tragic father, a brilliant economist who abandoned his family and ended his life as a beaten man; of his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, who had a child as a teenager and then built her career as an anthropologist living and studying in Indonesia; and of the succession of elite institutions that first exposed Obama to the social tensions and intellectual currents that would force him to imagine and fashion an identity for himself. Through extensive on-the-record interviews with friends and teachers, mentors and disparagers, family members and Obama himself, David Remnick allows us to see how a rootless, unaccomplished, and confused young man created himself first as a community organizer in Chicago, an experience that would not only shape his urge to work in politics but give him a home and a community, and that would propel him to Harvard Law School, where his sense of a greater mission emerged.

Deftly setting Obama's political career against the galvanizing intersection of race and politics in Chicago's history, Remnick shows us how that city's complex racial legacy would make Obama's 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. By looking at Obama's political rise through the prism of our racial history, Remnick gives us the conflicting agendas of black politicians: the dilemmas of men like Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, and Joseph Lowery, heroes of the civil rights movement, who are forced to reassess old loyalties and understand the priorities of a new generation of African-American leaders.

The Bridge revisits the American drama of race, from slavery to civil rights, and makes clear how Obama's quest is not just his own but is emblematic of a nation where destiny is defined by individuals keen to imagine a future that is different from the reality of their current lives.


From the Hardcover edition.

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  • From the book

    Prologue

    The Joshua Generation


    Brown Chapel
    Selma, Alabama



    This is how it began, the telling of a story that changed America.

    At midday on March 4, 2007, Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, was scheduled to speak at Brown Chapel, in Selma, Alabama. His campaign for President was barely a month old, and he had come South prepared to confront, for the first time, the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. He planned to discuss in public what so many believed would ultimately be his undoing--his race, his youth, his "exotic" background. "Who is Barack Obama?" Barack Hussein Obama? From now until Election Day, his opponents, Democratic and Republican, would ask the question on public platforms, in television and radio commercials, often insinuating a disqualifying otherness about the man: his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia; his Kenyan father; his Kansas- born, yet cosmopolitan, mother.

    Obama's answer to that question helped form the language and distinctiveness of his campaign. Two years out of the Illinois State Senate and barely free of his college loans, Obama entered the Presidential race with a serious, yet unexceptional, set of center- left policy positions. They were not radically different from Clinton's, save on the crucial question of the Iraq war. Nor did he possess an impressive résumé of executive experience or legislative accomplishment. But who Obama was, where he came from, how he came to understand himself, and, ultimately, how he managed to project his own temperament and personality as a reflection of American ambitions and hopes would be at the center of his rhetoric and appeal. In addition to his political views, what Obama proposed as the core of his candidacy was a self--a complex, cautious, intelligent, shrewd, young African-American man. He was not a great man yet by any means, but he was the promise of greatness. There, in large measure, was the wellspring of his candidacy, its historical dimension and conceit, and there was no escaping its gall. Obama himself used words like "presumptuous" and "audacious."

    In Selma, Obama prepared to nominate himself as the inheritor of the most painful of all American struggles, the struggle of race: not race as invoked by his predecessors in electoral politics or in the civil- rights movement, not race as an insistence on ethnicity or redress; rather, Obama would make his biracial ancestry a metaphor for his ambition to create a broad coalition of support, to rally Americans behind a narrative of moral and political progress. He was not necessarily the hero of that narrative, but he just might be its culmination. In the months to come, Obama borrowed brazenly from the language and imagery of an epochal American movement and applied it to a campaign for the Presidency.

    The city of Selma clusters around the murky waters of the Alabama River. Selma had been a prosperous manufacturing center and an arsenal for the Confederate Army. Now it is a forlorn place of twenty thousand souls. Broad Street ordinarily lacks all but the most listless human traffic. African Americans live mostly in modest houses, shotgun shacks, and projects on the east side of town; whites tend to live, more prosperously, on the west side.

    Selma's economy experiences a burst of vitality during the annual flowerings of historical memory. The surviving antebellum plantation houses are, for the most part, kept up for the few tourists who still come. In mid- April, Civil War buffs arrive in town to commemorate the Confederate dead in a re- enactment of the Battle of Selma, where, in 1865, a Confederate general, a particularly sadistic...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine David Remnick thoroughly details the life of the 44th president of the United States, including his upbringing in Hawaii to his formative years in Indonesia and college years in California. Remnick carried out his research through a multitude of interviews, and he covers blemishes as well as achievements. Mark Deakins sounds adept, consistent, and interested in the material. He chooses not to imitate the many people quoted--from Obama's college classmates to his close advisers. That smart choice frees the listener to focus on how Obama matured in his late teens, going on to Columbia University, Harvard Law School, community organizing in Chicago, and political runs for office. Deakins provides a steady and unbiased delivery of this definitive biography. M.B. (c) AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine
  • Salon

    "If you care about American politics, you have to read The Bridge."

  • Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times "Writing with emotional precision and a sure knowledge of politics, Mr. Remnick situates Mr. Obama's career firmly within a historical context."
  • Douglas Brinkley, The Los Angeles Times "A brilliantly constructed, flawlessly written biography."
  • Garry Wills, The New York Times Book Review "Exhaustively researched...Remnick has many important additions and corrections to make to our reading of "Dreams From My Father"...The book's insights into Obama's character will be very useful for understanding the man's performance as president."
  • Time "An expansive work...Recounting a pivotal March 2007 speech in Selma, Remnick writes that Obama's words were 'at once personal, tribal, national and universal.' The same can be said of The Bridge."
  • The Washington Post "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."
  • Bloomberg.com "What Remnick brings to a complex story are the tools of an exceptional reporter: persistence, curiosity, insight. He weaves in hours of on-the-record interviews with schoolmates, teachers, mentors, advisers and scholars...rich in reflections and refractions."
  • The Economist "Superb. Beautifully written and artfully constructed."
  • The Boston Globe "Eminently readable...the great achievement of the book is that Remnick manages to say something different...Remnick himself is a bridge--to seeing fresh a man we think we know but only now, in his hard days in the White House, are beginning to understand."
  • Chicago Tribune "An insightful, nuanced look at the making of the 44ths president, placing his career in the context of history."
  • Jonathan Meacham, Newsweek "There are a few people of such skill that envy gives way to admiration, and one is left feeling not hostility but respect. Remnick is one of those exceptional practitioners...Remnick's biography depends not on nuggets but on his characteristically dispassionate, richly observed assessment of his subject. Without sermonizing or sentimentalizing, Remnick sheds light on the complicated role of race in Obama's rise and victory and, perhaps most relevantly, in the conduct of his presidency."
  • Time Out New York "Ambitious and well executed...It's fair and high-minded, sensitive but dispassionate, admiring but never fawning...It's this mix of intellect, fact, and feeling that distinguish Remnick's assessment of Obama's victory."
  • Entertainment Weekly "His work will serve as a building block for all future works on Obama...lovely and assured."
  • Bloomberg.com "What Remnick brings to a complex story are the tools of an exceptional reporter: persistence, curiosity, insight. He weaves in hours of on-the-record interviews with schoolmates, teachers, mentors, advisers and scholars...rich in reflections and refractions."
  • The Economist "Superb. Beautifully written and artfully constructed."
  • The Boston Globe "Eminently readable...the great achievement of the book is that Remnick manages to say something different...Remnick himself is a bridge--to seeing fresh a man we think we know but only now, in his hard days in the White House, are beginning to understand."
  • Chicago Tribune "An insightful, nuanced look at the making of the 44ths president, placing his career in the context of history."
  • Library Journal "No other book to date is better at revealing the roots and personality of Barack Obama. Remnick has set a lofty bar for future biographers."
  • Kirkus "A world-ranging, eye-opening, comprehensive life to date of the 44th President."
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