I hardly ever read two books or more at the same time but with ‘The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama’ by David Remnick I had to make an exception. It is a beast of a book and I would never have finished it if I hadn’t been reading some fiction alongside it over the last few weeks. As I mentioned in my post about political biographies, almost all books about political figures are extremely weighty tomes which are crammed with more detail than you will ever need to know. ‘The Bridge’ is no different but even though it definitely isn’t aimed at the casual reader, it is still a highly readable account of Barack Obama’s truly extraordinary life and path to the White House.
‘The Bridge’ is as much about the history of the civil rights movement and the politics of race in the United States as it is about Obama himself. For example, there are lengthy passages in the book about the ‘airlift’ of Kenyan students to Western universities in the 1960s, politics in Chicago and other background topics not directly about Obama in the beginning of the book – the event of his birth isn’t actually covered until page 55. As with lots of political biographies, the most interesting sections are the ones covering Obama’s childhood and the run-up to the election. For me, the middle section about his early career definitely dragged. This was the point when I really started to wish that political biographies were a more manageable length – while I want to read something with more substance than a Wikipedia summary, reading a 600 page tome often requires an awful lot of commitment and I’ll admit I did skim a few passages here and there. However, Remnick’s journalistic style of writing is accessible to read even if he does get bogged down in detail and over-extensive quotes.
Readers wanting a comprehensive overview of Obama’s presidency are not going to find it here as the book ends with the 2008 election. However, ‘The Bridge’ is a timely reminder in the run-up to this year’s presidential election of how and more importantly why Barack Obama was elected in 2008. Whatever you think of Obama’s record in office, it’s hard to deny that his election was a huge milestone for the United States and the journey he took to get there is hugely inspiring.