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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Changing Times: The Life of Barack Obama by Glen Jeansonne & David Luhrssen

Book Review

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Since 2001, political books penned by American liberals have flourished, but most have been critiques of the Bush-Cheney administration, the attacks on 9/11 and the Iraq War, interrupted briefly by the 2004 Kerry campaign. The 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama, however, gave hopeful writers a new topic on which to tread: the extraordinary success of Obama’s campaign and the intriguing experiences of his formative years that shaped him into the leader he is today.

With Changing Times: The Life of Barack Obama, journalist David Luhrssen and award-winning historian and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor Glen Jeansonne emerge above the deluge of Obama books with a perceptive, smoothly written and fair-minded biographical portrait of Barack Obama that not only tells the man’s unique and fascinating life story, but how it fits in the context of social, cultural and political history.

The 158-page biography is compiled from books, including Obama’s own, as well as the reporting of the political writers of newspapers and magazines. As the authors describe in their “Essay on Sources,” they patched together, synthesized, and interpreted reams of material to write an unconventional academic book designed for readers at all levels.

Luhrssen and Jeansonne follow Obama from his birth to a mixed race couple in Honolulu in1961, to his brief sojourn in Indonesia, and back to Hawaii for high school. As Obama attends college, then becomes the first black president of the Harvard Law Review, the black experience forms just one backdrop to the story. Readers journey with Obama from Chicago’s South Side where he was a community organizer and civil rights attorney, to the classrooms of the University of Chicago Law School where he taught constitutional law; to the Illinois legislature where he served four consecutive two-year terms as a state senator; to the United States Senate, on the grueling campaign trail and, ultimately, to the White House.

One of the many virtues of Changing Times is its justice, an uncompromising yet tolerant account of hope and fruition, charm and aloofness, scholastic achievement and political inexperience. This is no small achievement for Luhrssen and Jeansonne: Barack Obama has become an American Idol, a bareback rider on a cyclone of change.

Dave Luhrssen and Glen Jeansonne will be speaking at Boswell Books on Thursday, March 18 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.