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Inside Obama's Brain

A book by Sasha Abramsky

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  • May 29, 2010
Sasha Abramsky likes Barack Obama... make that he REALLY likes Barack Obama. He calls Obama "a once-in-a generation political leader." This book is mostly a listing of Obama's good qualities, based on the author's interviews with people who knew Obama and Obama's books and speeches. Let me be clear that I also like Barack Obama, and while I think the author got the big picture right (yes Obama is smart, charismatic and works hard at listening and bringing people together), he is not infallible. He's had an extraordinarily huge helping of problems and crises to deal with early in his Presidency, and he's taken on more issues at once than most Presidents have done. It would be great if he were our Moses, leading us out of the wilderness of terrorist threats, broken health care, and financial disaster, but can anyone actually live up to such an expectation?

Obama does possess the qualities we need in a leader, and, as the author points out, his experience as a community organizer (despite ignorant sneers from the likes of Sarah Palen) has equipped him to listen to the peoples' needs and to work with all the stakeholders involved to seek solutions to our many problems. The trouble is, on the health care issue, the Republicans had no interest in solving the nation's health care problems, only in "breaking Obama." Obama also cozied up to the health insurance industry, hoping they would not mount an attack against reform. But being who they are, when time came to actually pass something, the insurance industry, of course, attacked. So much for bringing everyone together.

But that brings me to what impresses me most about Obama. He doesn't fade, he doesn't crash, he doesn't flinch when things are going badly. When everyone was declaring heath reform dead, Obama convened a public meeting of politicians and those involved to discuss health care options. He let Nancy Pelosi know he was not giving up and neither should she; Pelosi shifted gears and rounded up the votes needed to pass a reform bill. However, what we got left the ignorant right-wingers angry and the utopian left-wingers dissastisfied.

Obama's handling of the financial crisis is hard to guage, since most of us don't understand much about our financial system. But if you believe the experts, the consensus seems to be that Obama's tactics have worked and the economy is beginning a slow movement upward. Of course, that doesn't bring any joy to the millions of Americans still looking for work or losing their home to foreclosure. Even with all the angst over health care and financial meltdown, the really big test of Obama's mettle as President may be the Gulf oil spill. It's not a crisis that can be fixed by Presidential fiat, but the consequences of this horrific event for many thousands of ordinary Americans will be profound. How can the federal government help? Maybe not that much, but the people expect this President to do something.

This book is a pretty good analysis of Obama's character and his way of dealing with issues, but it is hardly an objective look at his Presidency. The author did not get an interview with Obama, and the book was written too early in Obama's Presidency to make any judgements on how he'll be remembered. If you want to know more about how Obama thinks, you might like the book, but it doesn't break any new ground.

I admit that I not only voted for Obama, but the day after he won the election I found myself standing in my kitchen shedding tears, as I thought back to when I was in my 20s, attending college and going to all those Civil Rights rallies, remembering the Freedom Riders, the integration of Little Rock High, the murder of Martin Luther King... and I thought about how many times I'd joined hands with my fellow students and sang "We Shall Overcome" -- and now we had done it! We had overcome. I was so moved by this seismic change in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave that I cried all the way to work that day and had to pull myself together so I could do my job like it was just another day. But of course it wasn't.

However important his election may have been, he needs to prove himself as our President. I am now retired from full time work and will reach Medicare age in just a few months. The President of the United States is an African American man still in his 40s, and his election is something I am amazed to have seen in my lifetime. My 91-year old mother, for whom this turn of events is even more incredible, said to me recently, speaking of Obama: "I look at him and think: Is he really our President?" Well, yes he is. I can only hope I'll live long enough to see how he does the job and how he'll be remembered. Will it be only for being the first African-American President, or will it be for being one of our most outstanding Presidents? Time will tell.

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Theresa Welsh ()
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I'm a book lover, book reviewer and part-time book seller. I'm also a writer and author, with a background in IT work in both the auto and medical industries. I retired from full-time work a year … more
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About this book


This breezy, engaging book does not explicitly attempt biography; instead journalist Abramsky dissects the personality of Barack Obama, examining the qualities—focus, self-confidence and curiosity—that fueled his meteoric rise. The book, the fifth in this series, draws on an impressive number of interviews with Obama's friends and associates—though not one with the president himself—and includes illuminating anecdotes from every phase of the president's life. Case studies of the Iowa caucus, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright controversy and the appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state bring the book's arguments into focus. Abramsky does little to conceal his enthusiasm for Obama, comparing him repeatedly to Lincoln and Kennedy and labeling him a potential once-in-a-generation leader. Skeptics are likely to find the author's praise off-putting (he includes dissenting views but generally dismisses them). None of the book's insights are revelatory—for example, Obama's poise and calm under pressure have been fodder for journalists and talking heads since the primaries began—but supporters are likely to enjoy the book's concision and fresh approach to familiar material.(Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Focus --
Looking inward, reaching outward --
Sense of history --
Self-confidence --
Poise --
Case study: tackling race head on --
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ISBN-10: 1591843022
Author: Sasha Abramsky
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover

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