The Obamas Hardcover – Jan 10 2012
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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."
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.
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).
At core of the book is, and dare I say the peculiarity, of being black and living in the White House. President Obama was now constantly observed, while the outside world in which he had been so involved seemed to fade away. To quote the British newspaper Telegraph, Barbara Bush had kept 5,000 index cards of new relationships forged during her husband's presidency, but the social life of the Obamas", increasingly restricted to a tight circle of their old friends.
I must concur with Mrs C. Swarfield Amazon UK review when we are told that this narrative is more about the First Lady than about the Husband and wife. Ms Kantor's revelations describes in detail Michelle's attempts to brighten the interior decoration of their private quarters, the inevitable national uproar at the cost, Michelle's appearance and new found fondness for high-end fashion. There were correspondingly her often difficult relationships, with her husband's aides. I came away feeling as if I were promised one thing, only to find I got something else, hence my 3 star rating.
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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