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The Obamas [Hardcover]

Jodi Kantor
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 10 2012
When Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election, he also won a long-running debate with his wife Michelle. Contrary to her fears, politics now seemed like a worthwhile, even noble pursuit. Together they planned a White House life that would be as normal and sane as possible.

Then they moved in.

In the Obamas, Jodi Kantor takes us deep inside the White House as they try to grapple with their new roles, change the country, raise children, maintain friendships, and figure out what it means to be the first black President and First Lady. Filled with riveting detail and insight into their partnership, emotions and personalities, and written with a keen eye for the ironies of public life, THE OBAMAS is an intimate portrait that will surprise even readers who thought they knew the President and First Lady.

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"In lesser hands The Obamas would be an act of astonishing overreach, but Ms. Kantor, who covered the Obamas for The New York Times during the 2008 presidential campaign, and is currently a Washington correspondent for the paper, has earned the voice of authority. A meticulous reporter, Ms. Kantor is attuned to the nuance of small gestures, the import of unspoken truths. She knows that every strong marriage, including the one now in the White House, has its complexities and its disappointments. Ms. Kantor also-and this is a key-has a high regard for women, which is why hers is the first book about the Obama presidency to give Michelle Obama her due. In the process we learn a great deal about the talented and introverted loner who married her, and how his wife has influenced him as a president."—Connie Schultz, New York Times

"Energetically reported...Kantor nails her story....We political gluttons will lick the spoon clean."—David Remnick, New Yorker

"Jodi Kantor offers a glimpse into the tensions of a culture that expects our women to achieve as highly as our men but our first ladies to take a back seat to their presidents. The result is a sympathetic portrait of both Obamas that could help to humanize an administration criticized as being aloof and inaccessible."—Ilyse Hogue, The Nation

"The stories are titillating, and you'll gulp them down like salted peanuts."—Entertainment Weekly

"[Kantor's] writing is insightful and evocative, rich with detail... Her reporting rings true-and considering the administration's insistence on presenting a unified front, it is a considerable achievement."—Kerry Luft, Chicago Tribune

"[Kantor's] thoughtful new book is fluidly written, with a canny sense for the way political marriages can be useful prisms to see into ambition, power, gender and the contradictions of public life...The Obamas is built primarily out of interviews....[and] the legwork pays off in some sophisticated perception into a 'friction-filled marriage that has proved strong nonetheless.'"—Karen R. Long, The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Kantor's book reveals many unknown stories and revelations about the connection between the personal and political in this presidency, and how the first couple's partnership affect us all."—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

About the Author

Jodi Kantor began her journalism career by dropping out of Harvard Law School to join Slate.com in 1998. Four years later, she became the Arts & Leisure editor of the New York Times. She has been covering the Obamas since 2007, and though she is a Washington correspondent for the newspaper, she lives in Brooklyn with her family. She can be followed at twitter.com/jodikantor.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
"You actually pulled this off?"-Michelle Obama humorously murmured to her husband on election night prior to his victory speech.

Four and a half INCISIVE Stars. This is a solidly researched book that is not the unflattering "tell all" that some have expected. Far from it, from the standpoint of the First Lady, it shows her as a strong, talented, loving, caring person who is a great First Lady. It also is a successful attempt to present President Obama, his family, staff and anyone else involved at a 'down to earth' level of assessment, not from a lofty perch of historical adoration. And while New York Times Correspondent/author Jodi Kantor 'pulls no punches' in giving an in-depth assessment of the First Couple and their personal and political environment from many viewpoints based on 'inside information', there is nothing here that can be viewed as embarrassing or unexpected and is actually flattering. In the pages of this book, 'life' happens. Even the infamous Rahm Emanuel staff tirade pales when put into the true chronological perspective of events in the book. The author assesses the give and take between the president and the first lady in both personal and public aspects, and with their staff: in the early years, and before, during, and after the presidential election. This book is also a cornucopia of very revealing facts and an enormous amount of information. Even the kids make a positive appearance ("Malia's Great Escape"). An important point made by the author is that Michelle, from the beginning in Chicago politics, was deeply involved in Barack's work, not a stay-at-home wife, and the staff knew she was taking note of their effectiveness. She went from the role of 'arbiter' in the Illinois elections to 'taskmaster' in the presidential race.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fine Balance Between Private and Public May 24 2012
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I like what Jodi Kantor attempts to do in this biography of the current presidential family. Unlike other accounts of the president's life that deal mainly with Obama's overall political agenda and battles with Congress, this book looks at the many social issues confronting the Obamas as America's first family. The reader learns how Barack, Michelle and the children adjust to and contend with the daily strain of living under enormous public scrutiny in the White House. Kantor provides numerous anecdotes of how the four members of this family are learning to be sensitive to each other's needs and wants and still continue to mature individually. In all my studying of presidential families, I have not found one that captures the sense of family learning to cope with life like this one. Many obstacles and impediments lie in the way as the Obamas try to avoid the trap of living in a fishbowl existence. Protocol, media attention, pressures of the job, family ties, spousal relations, and friendships all have to be juggled in order to make this new lifestyle work. The taken-for-granted freedoms of the past have been quickly replaced by so many new onerous expectations of the present that require a steep learning curve and a ton of patience. To counter all these new public demands on her time, the first lady has decided to steer her own course of public initiatives where she lends her support to local and national campaigns that supplement and promote causes near and dear to her husband's presidency. To prevent herself from being assailed by a potentially hostile media, Michelle has developed a team of experts that assist her in her public engagements. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  138 reviews
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Portrays Michelle as intelligent, formidably talented in her own right, and a very equal partner to her husband Jan. 30 2012
By Andy Orrock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've read and heard reviews in various magazines and shows slamming this book for its harsh treatment of Michelle Obama. As a fan of the First Lady's, I think those comments are off of the mark. I found Jodi Kantor's work to be an insightful look at life in the White House. It portrays Michelle as intelligent, formidably talented in her own right, and a very equal partner to her husband. In fact, Kantor's Michelle has emotional intelligence in spades, an important attribute that the author clearly feels that the President lacks. To that end, Kantor posits that the First Lady is critical to the Obama administration...and to Barack Obama. "Yes, We Can" and massive campaign rallies notwithstanding, the President is shown over and over again on these pages to be introverted and increasingly walled-off from public perceptions of his performance. It's FLOTUS, not POTUS, who gets - and continually reinforces - the importance of connection. This is one impressive lady.

If anyone were to be upset about the way they're portrayed on these pages, it should be first friend, Obama confidante and West Wing advisor, Valerie Jarrett. On more than a couple of occasions, she's shown as playing East Wing against West Wing, and representing views as the First Lady's, when - at least on one explosive circumstance (when it was reported that Michelle had told Carla Bruni-Sarkozy that "living in the White House was hell") - Jarrett and Mrs. Obama hadn't spoken. It's worth noting that in reporting the event, Kantor lets former advisor Robert Gibbs have a tremendously cathartic rip at Jarrett.

Kantor's end-of-book summation about the Michelle Obama of the last three years is unmistakably positive: "In the nearly three years in the White House, the Obamas had changed positions with one another. After all Michelle's protests about politics...she was going to emerge from the presidency stronger and more at peace, aides predicted. For the rest of his term, for the rest of his life, the president was going to have to live with what he accomplished and what he did not. She had entered with her own expectations low and then exceeded them; he had entered on top of the world, and had been descending to earth ever since."
58 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read, different from most other political books Jan. 14 2012
By Andy Winchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Readers experienced with political insider books will recognize in The Obamas many of the dynamics present in other books about past administrations. Like Bob Wodward's books about the Bush Administration, Jodi Kantor obviously received a lot of information from aides working in the White House. Unlike Woodward's books, though, The Obamas comes at its subject more from the personal side than the political side. Rather than focusing on the workings of power in the West Wing, The Obamas describes at length the effect that President Obama's family has on him and his administration. The book also depicts how living in the White House and constantly being in the public eye affected the Obamas and how they responded.

One theme of The Obamas is their growing understanding of perception and images. Michelle Obama in particular is very conscious of the way that she is depicted in the media. She finds looking good by wearing nice clothes with professional makeup to be empowering. She makes conscious efforts to present herself well, do things well, and set a good example. There is a pair of scenes early on when Michelle is photographed wearing casual clothes on casual occasions, one while walking the family dog on White House grounds and another white visiting the Grand Canyon, and the First Lady received some unflattering press as a result. Ironically, when she dressed in expensive clothes, people noticed that as well and remarked accordingly. The book shows how the Obama Administration in general and Michelle in particular developed an improved sense of the value of imagery. Michelle if anything became more acutely conscious of how she dressed. Similarly, merely putting Michelle in a room of children or showing President Obama with his wife and daughters produced images that the public loved to see.

The White House's negative reaction to The Obamas confirms some of the other major themes of the book. The Obamas, for understandable personal and political reasons, want to limit and control the information that the public receives about their life in the White House. The Obama Administration also sometimes exhibits a tin ear about how the public will respond to something. The White House is reacting as if the book is somehow akin to Michelle being photographed in ordinary clothes (i.e., a failure to control the depictions of the First Family) rather than a humanizing portrayal of people who are trying to do their best under highly unusual circumstances. Michelle could have said "I haven't read the book and shouldn't comment." The White House could have said "We are too busy working on the issues facing our country to concern ourselves with the book." Instead, the White House's odd reaction is perhaps the best indication that the book gets its subjects largely right.
108 of 144 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN IN-DEPTH ASSESSMENT OF THE OBAMAS, WHITE HOUSE OPERATIONS, & WASHINGTON/NATIONAL POLITICS Jan. 11 2012
By RBSProds - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Four and a half INCISIVE Stars. This is a solidly researched book that is not the unflattering "tell all" that some have expected. Far from it, from the standpoint of the First Lady, it shows her as a strong, talented, loving, caring First Lady. It also succeeds in presenting President Obama, his family, staff and anyone else involved at a 'down to earth' level of assessment, not from a lofty perch of historical adoration. And while New York Times Correspondent/author Jodi Kantor 'pulls no punches' in giving an in-depth assessment of the First Couple and their personal and political environment from many viewpoints based on 'inside information', there is nothing here that can be viewed as embarrassing or unexpected and is actually flattering. Even the infamous Rahm Emanuel staff tirade 'pales' when put into the true chronological perspective of events in the book, and what happened next was a real surprise. The author assesses the give and take between the president and the first lady in both personal and public aspects, and with their staff: in the early years, and before, during, and after the presidential election. This book is also a cornucopia of very revealing facts and an enormous amount of information. Even the kids make a positive appearance ("Malia's Great Escape"). An important point made by the author is that Michelle, from the beginning in Chicago politics, was deeply involved in Barack's work and the staff knew she was taking note of their effectiveness. She went from the role of 'arbiter' in the Illinois elections to 'taskmaster' in the presidential race. The book also points out how hard the political races and political life was/is on Obama family life, a fact acknowledged by President Obama, but shows how they overcame all of the challenges. We get the origin of Obama's 2004 Democratic convention keynote speech, the unique 'window view' that many first ladies have used to watch over their husband's activities, and the Chicago involvement of familiar names: Valerie Jarrett, Robert Gibbs, Rahm Emanuel, et al.- "their friends had become their staff", stressing their relationships. Then there is the one staff selection that ended one of Obama's oldest friendships. Michelle's parents, Marian and Fraser Robinson, have a back story that is both warm and heart-tugging. And we learn of the complexity of White House operations; the difficulty of deploying to Chicago for visits; the complex role of Valerie Jarrett; how Rahm Emanuel stumbled into the Obama-vacated Illinois Senate seat 'mashup' that landed the governor in hot water; Emanuel's tension-filled relationship with many, and not only one but two First Ladies; the real place where the President does his detailed work; why the East Wing was referred to as "Guam"; and more background on the plan to get Osama bin Laden. The 'bubble within a bubble' family and friends alliances that help the first family cope with time 'off-duty' shows how much presidents and their families are isolated from the rest of us when it comes to day-to-day living, except when the touring public is unknowingly footsteps away from White House VIPs; even when they want to get out into the public, it becomes a pain for the Secret Service and an accommodation for the public. And there is much more, like Obama actually saying the 'situational' words: "I'm a Blue Dog at heart". This is a valuable book full of facts, general information, and a lot of interesting minutiae, some of which appears to have never been revealed before. This book does NOT deserve the unfavorable pre-publication negative hype over a couple of passing, inconsequential incidents that got blown way out of proportion. The final beautifully-written scene of a happy President and First Lady enjoying themselves at his birthday gala is the perfect ending. Highly Recommended. Four and a half INFORMATIVE Stars! (368 pages, with many photographs) (This review is based on a Kindle download in Mac and text-to-speech modes).
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks like it was MICHELLE Obama I should have voted for.. Jan. 29 2012
By Voltaire - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fascinating account of the Obama campaign and first steps in his Presidency. I (and I think most of the electorate) voted for a guy I thought was to the left of Hillary Clinton. That's the way he campaigned -and that's who Michelle Obama is. Unfortunately, Barack Obama has governed well to the right of Richard Nixon, dithering and frittering away his election boost to attempt to woo the unwoo-able right-wing and trying to make Wall Street love him by relying on Wall Street's concierge (the execrable Timothy Geithner) to make his economic "policy".

Hillary Clinton would have known better. Michelle Obama would have known better. God knows, Elizabeth Warren would have. Hmm, I have now identified three future Presidential papabiles - all women.

Much that annoys me about Barack Obama also appears to drive his wife nuts - so I definitely identify with her: his unwillingness to take decisive action (relying on consensus among his bunch of axe-grinding advisers), his arrogance in thinking rhetoric IS action, his inability to share the spotlight with any other superstars (note to self: if Barack Obama doesn't replace tired old pol Joe Biden with a charismatic, potential papabile running mate, I won't be voting at all), his misogyny-lite - hanging with all the jocks...

Barack Obama comes off in this book like a movie superstar who believes his publicist's hype - OK, the media is certainly to blame - they were so busy falling in love on a first date, they were incapable of objectivity where Obama was concerned. This is a pity: Barack Obama could have been a great President if he had bothered to assess himself as realistically as his wife does: he wasn't ready for this role, better to have played supporting parts (in the Senate or the Vice-Presidency) and built the relationships and acquired the experience necessary to deal with the gigantic mess that is the Presidency.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The reader will not find a smoking Gun here July 5 2012
By Herbert L Calhoun - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Books hatched inside the White House typically are supposed to be about salacious insider information -- the proverbial "inside scoop." This one fails short of that standard as the author discovered so little dirt inside the White House on the Obama's that she ended up having to stretch every tidbits of trivia she found -- most of which were so anemic that even Kitty Kelly or the National Enquirer would have turned them down. Watching her stretch them to the breaking point does not leave a good taste in the mouth of the reader. Even the fake fight between Michelle and Robert Gibbs over the first lady's comment to the French President's wife about how oppressive life in the White House museum was, just barely rose to the level of a "real insider" story.

Even though there is usually both an inside and an outside narrative about people in the fish bowl. With the Obama's, it seems that the inside story and the outside stories collapse into one and the same: the Obamas are simply boring, not very interesting people, and evidently that is exactly the way they wanted it to be.

In the absence of any game changing revelations, this author put a great deal of stock into stretching trivia to the breaking point, in order to give the puffed up impression that an accumulation of insignificant tidbits would somehow add up to at least a few meaty inside stories? In my view here they did not. For here there are no meaty stories.

Unfortunately for the author, the Obamas marriage is a happy but uninteresting one. They act basically as caretakers of the office of the presidency just as they intended to do. They never intended to get excited about Washington, DC, and vice versa. Both she and the President value their privacy more than they value the glory of the office, and do not enjoy living in the country's national museum. And who could blame them?

The author poses a series of meaningless questions in the early chapters, to which there are mostly trivial answers. Throughout the book she struggles to gin up melodramas, but that dog doesn't hunt either. In the end this book is one of those "gossipy told tos" that misfires. There is so little meat here that after paying $30.00 for this book, I am actually embarrassed for the author. She obviously relied heavily on an accumulation of in-house gossip from multiple inside sources, and as a result, the book reads exactly like a compilation of trivia, tidbits and other irrelevancies that even the likes of Kitty Kelly would have elected to gladly pass up.

Therefore, the reader will not find a smoking gun about the Obama marriage here, no matter what the National Enquirer says about it being in trouble:

Unfortunately for the author, Barack and Michele Obama are "what you see is what you get" kind of people. Neither of them is planning to change their personal habits, personality, or cramp their styles in the least to give a false impression on being the country's chic political power couple. To me that may be the only thing that is refreshing about the Obamas -- which is more than I can say about this book. Two stars
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