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Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
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A-The Bridge.epsDavid Remnick is the editor of the New Yorker. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his book Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire.

The Topic: Those playing political word-association games may scratch their heads trying to link the title of David Remnick's new book to the sitting president, perhaps thinking instead of Sarah Palin's "bridge to nowhere" or Bill Clinton's "bridge to the 21st century." But once identified, Obama's bridge is, in fact, more significant: Remnick refers to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where protesters were beaten on the infamous "Bloody Sunday" incident during the civil rights movement. According to U.S. Representative John Lewis, Obama represents the other side of that bridge. By building this book on that substantial metaphor, as well as on a huge amount of research, Remnick hopes to make a statement about the meaning of Obama and his election that rises above the politics of the moment.
Knopf. 656 pages. $29.95. ISBN: 9781400043606

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] brilliantly constructed, flawlessly written biography. ... Remnick, who has previously written a fine biography of Muhammad Ali, navigates all of Obama's creative rope-a-dope tactics when confronted with racial prejudice, old-style jealousy and new-style (post–Great Society) urban politics." Douglas Brinkley

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"The Bridge isn't a book of revelations but of contextualization, a biography meant not to shock but to last. ... Instead of being dragged into the minutia of political calculation, Remnick gives Obama's autumn campaign the grandeur the candidate wanted it to have." Kevin Boyle

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"The Bridge is made of ... clean, declarative sentences, prodigious research and hundreds of long, on-the-record interviews, including sessions with Obama himself. ... The Bridge fairly beckons the American reader to consider ‘the life and rise of Barack Obama' as a shared inheritance." Karen R. Long

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In this lengthy book, Remnick examines in detail every aspect of Obama's life before his election as president. ... Yet the book's insights into Obama's character will be very useful for understanding the man's performance as president." Garry Wills

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Although Remnick treats Obama's remarkable first book, Dreams From My Father, as a serious work in the African American tradition of autobiography, he could still interpret more thoroughly just what drove such a young man to write his globe-trotting and yet deeply American story. ... Most of all, Remnick has written a political saga about race, cautionary as it is uplifting." David W. Blight

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"It was refreshing to see Remnick discover new ways to neatly skewer the notion of a post-racial America without ever having to climb on a soapbox. ... Remnick deserves credit for telling Obama's story more completely than others, for lending a reporter's zeal to the task, for not ducking the discussion of race and for peeling back several layers of the onion that is Barack Obama." Gwen Ifill

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It's clear the Pulitzer Prize–winning author shares a fairly liberal world view with his subject, which makes Remnick gloss over such factors as the lack of conservative influences in Obama's political upbringing. But the book's strengths should appeal to readers of all political stripes: a real depth of reporting and the elegant grace of Remnick's literary style." Christopher Ave

Entertainment Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"[Remnick's] 621-page work will serve as a building block for all future works on Obama. But should you read it? That depends on how much detail you have an appetite for." Tina Jordan

Critical Summary

Most reviewers were pleasantly surprised to find that anyone could find anything new to say about the president, since he is one of the most scrutinized people on the planet and has already written two memoirs. But Remnick pulls off The Bridge, in part, through innovative and exhaustive research. Several critics remarked how Remnick's reporting expanded their views of the Obama of Dreams From my Father; others were grateful for the author's elucidation of the president's crucial years in Chicago. But the book's key trait, and what may even find it some readers among skeptics of the president, is Remnick's nuanced reading of how Obama discovered an identity in the struggles of African American history--before he went on to be a part of that history.