RENEGADE: THE MAKING OF A PRESIDENT by Richard Wolffe

Book Quote:

“His personal challenge was to be Renegade in more than just his Secret Service code name. He needed to change the nation before the nation’s capital changed him; to lead in his own unconventional style, not to follow the familiar path of presidents past; to bend to the arc of history before unseen hands wrested it from his grasp.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Jana L. Perskie (JUL 04, 2009)

On March 18, 2008, presidential candidate Barak H. Obama spoke to the American people from Philadelphia. He addressed race in a manner that has rarely been discussed in a public forum before. But Barak Obama was a historical candidate running for the presidency of the United States of America in extraordinary times. And he spoke as someone from both inside and outside the African American experience.

Two days after this address, he approached award-winning journalist Richard Wolffe, who had been covering the Obama campaign for Newsweek Magazine ever since the candidate announced his run for the presidency on January 16, 2007. Wolffe, while interviewing Obama, told him that his story was largely unknown, even though he had written a bestselling memoir, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.  Wolffe said, “People want to know who you are. Who are you? That’s the question people are going to ask six months from now, and six years from now.” The candidate agreed with Wolffe’s assessment, and asked the journalist to write a “Theodore White kind of book” about the campaign. Mr. White won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1962 for his book, The Making of the President, 1960, about the campaign between Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy. He then went on to write outstanding books about the 1964,1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns.

Wolffe dismissed the notion of authoring a “Making of a Present-type” book. He said there was already too much press coverage. He told the future president, to my great dismay, that “publishers want partisan screeds nowadays. They don’t want reporting.” Wolffe then went on to say or think, “Teddy White. How archaic. The poor man, (Obama), doesn’t understand the media.” The condescension of the author is outrageous, as he terms obsolete the ever relevant Mr. White, and the “what sells in print naivetee” of Obama. That was a real turn-off for me.

Given the very nature of candidate Barak Obama, his lovely family, the historical significance of an African-American man entering the presidential campaign, with a woman, Hillary Clinton, as his leading contender, his eventual opponent, John McCain, with his own historic and dramatic story, and the unlikely choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice-presidential candidate – a journalist would have to be a total flop to write a bad book about such events. And Richard Wolffe is certainly no slouch.

Drawing on some twenty-four months of coverage and countless interviews with Barak Obama, Wolffe has attempted to answer the “Who is he?” question.

Because of all the media coverage of all the candidates and campaigns, there is little that surprised me in “Renegade,” which, by the way, was the Secret Service’s name for Obama during his candidacy. There are a few new tidbits, especially about events surrounding Hillary Clinton’s appointment as Secretary of State. I did find myself wishing for a Theodore White kind of book, however, with more objective coverage about both Democrat and Republican campaigns, their conventions and platforms, and more gossipy details of infighting, etc., from behind the scenes.

“Renegade gives us a more biased look at the amazing story of Barak Obama’s presidential run and his big win in November 2008. The reader is given a ring-side seat to the candidates long journey – from freshman senator, (99th out of 100 senators in seniority), who had trouble gaining admission to the Democratic convention in 2000 – to President of the United States. What a ride! Yet, there is something lacking here – perhaps the tension and excitement which would have come from a more bipartisan coverage.

I enjoyed the read, but I was a Hillary supporter long before I fell in line and campaigned for Obama. I would have liked to read, at the very least, an Obama & staff summary of why she lost the nomination. What were her biggest mistakes? The biggest mistakes her staff made? I’d like to know why in the world John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate.

There are portions of the book, however, which are quite moving. I learned that the future President Obama is, in fact, a man of moral character, a family man and a brilliant man, with a natural ability to lead and the strength to tackle difficult issues with tremendous energy, and an openness and realistic optimism that inspires.

There are passages like: “His memoir revolved around something and someone not present in his childhood: his African father and his African American identity. Even that was a partial view, obscuring the role of his mother and grandparents: the white family that raised him. He was obviously black, yet he grew up with a white perspective. He was American, yet he grew up with an international perspective. He was a Democrat who sought to understand the Republican perspective. He was a moderate who spoke the language of radical change, and a progressive who spoke in moderate tones.” Now that is wonderful descriptive writing and right on target!

Unfortunately, Mr. Wolffe’s prose does not flow. He is all over the place with his timelines. In one paragraph he writes about an incident which takes place during the campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination, and two paragraphs later he has the now president-elect making cabinet decisions. A few pages along, the reader gets excerpts of Obama debating McCain, and then we are back at the Iowa, and Nevada caucuses. There are few segues which allow the reader to smoothly make the transitions in time and place. I really expected more from this journalist, whom I respect and admire. And I would like to know who edited the book!

So, if you are an Obama fan, as I am, wait for this book to come out in a paperback, or buy it used, or borrow it. Save yourself the money of the hardback copy, because even though the book is interesting, it is not a “Must Read!” I give it 3.5 Stars for the writing and 4 Stars for the content.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 66 readers
PUBLISHER: Crown (June 2, 2009)
REVIEWER: Jana L. Perskie
AMAZON PAGE: Renegade: The Making of a President
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Richard Wolfe
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barak Obama

Bibliography:

With John Authers:

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July 4, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Non-fiction, United States

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