Sunday, December 21, 2008

Book Review: "The American Journey of Barack Obama"

The editors of LIFE magazine issued a particularly timely coffee-table book this fall, The American Journey of Barack Obama. They did so in October, so the text does not indicate the ultimate result of the presidential campaign ... but no real matter, since the book's point is the long, strange trip which brought Obama to the campaign in the first place. The introduction begins this way: "Some lives, no matter an observer's political, philosophical or cultural orientation, so inarguably and objectively fascinating that to gaze upon them - to see the twists and turns, the lucky breaks and the hard knocks, is a riveting please. Barack Obama's is one of those unlikely, preposterous lives."

With short thematic-chronological capsule essays broken up by pages filled with the lavish photographs for which LIFE is justifiably famous, this book examines Obama's biography visually, chronicling his life through pictures of its characters (many of whom, including his Kenyan step-grandmother, his mother, the candidate himself, and his wife and daughters, have exceptional smiles).

Following the photographs are twelve essays about various aspects of Obama's life by various journalists, historians and others: Richard Norton Smith contrasts Obama and Adlai Stevenson, author Bob Greene muses on Obama's now-lost-forever anonymity, and in an essay that brought tears to my eyes (not for the first time in recent months), editor David Shribman described watching his politics-averse daughter be won over by the candidate who spoke to her and to many of us in a way that resonated in a very powerful way.

A well-produced book, a delight to browse and read.