Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Bridge

Before I read it, I thought David Remnick’s book The Bridge: The Rise and Life of Barack Obama would be a breath of fresh air. I checked it out from the library at the same time as Marc Thiessen’s Obama-bashing book Courting Disaster and expected the enjoy Remnick’s, if only by comparison. Perhaps I would have had I read The Bridge directly after Courting Disaster. However, in addition to those two books, I had also borrowed A Captain’s Duty, Comeback America, and Between Two Worlds, which left me with lots of other reading material. So when I finally picked up Remnick’s gigantic book, Courting Disaster wasn’t on my mind, leaving me disappointed with The Bridge.

The Bridge, in addition to chronicling Obama’s history, attempts to cover the histories of civil rights, black politicians, Chicago politics, and all of Obama’s ancestors. It does not manage these many subjects elegantly. Instead, the book jumps from one to another, sharing irrelevant information, not even following a simple chronological order. The sections directly dealing with Obama were the book’s strongest, but even those could have used a lot more work; for instance, the sections about Obama’s early life were filled with quotes from anyone who ever had anything to do with him, giving the book a tabloid-esque feel, and randomly inserted into a chapter about the beginning of Obama’s political career was an in-depth book review of Dreams of my Father.

I wouldn’t say that Remnick is a bad writer, and I appreciated that he didn't portray Obama as someone who is all good (or all bad), but The Bridge was in need of another draft. If the book maintained focus on Obama—rather than taking brief forays into other histories—shortened and cut some of its many quotes, and shifted into a clear organizational structure, it wouldn’t be bad. And it would be much shorter, something I wished it were each time I picked up the 600-page book.

I’m giving The Bridge a 2/5. But unlike the last 2 I gave (Get Him to the Greek), The Bridge is at the low end of the spectrum. I certainly don’t recommend it to you.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with David Remnick

Buy the book

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