three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
57-Mar-Apr-2012
By: 
Jodi Kantor
user_rating: 
0

A-The-ObamasJournalist Jodi Kantor launched her career in 1998 by leaving Harvard Law School for a position at Slate.com. In 2002, she joined the staff of the New York Times, where she became the Arts & Leisure editor and later the Washington correspondent assigned to cover the Obamas during the 2008 presidential campaign. The Obamas is her first book.

The Topic: Despite Michelle Obama's assertion that "the strengths and challenges of our marriage don't change because we move to a different address," Barack and Michelle Obama's relationship has shaped--and been shaped by--life in the White House. Barack's successful bid for the U.S. presidency obliged Michelle, who had left her position at the University of Chicago Medical Center to devote herself to her husband's campaign, to shelve her own career and confine herself to the outmoded, pseudo-Victorian role of First Lady. Driven by her principles, however, she has had an undeniable impact on her husband's views and policies. While the Obamas have struggled to adapt to life in a goldfish bowl, notes Kantor, theirs is "a friction-filled marriage that [has] proved strong nonetheless."
Little, Brown and Company. 368 pages. $29.99. ISBN: 9780316097855

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars"Her thoughtful new book is fluidly written, with a canny sense for the way political marriages can be useful prisms to see into ambition, power, gender and the contradictions of public life. The Obamas is interesting but not revelatory." Karen R. Long

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars"This is ... a portrait of a remarkable marriage, one with plenty of friction and contradictions. ... There's plenty of juicy gossip here too, as Kantor punctures an administration adage that there seldom is any conflict in the West Wing, just rigorous intellectual debate befitting a White House run by a former constitutional law professor." Kerry Luft

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars"In lesser hands The Obamas would be an act of astonishing overreach, but Ms. Kantor ... has earned the voice of authority. ... The Obamas is full of gossipy tidbits that fuel a narrative about their marriage and how it has shaped the presidency." Connie Schultz

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars"The challenge for anybody who writes about the Obamas is that they are hard-working, disciplined people with highly effective habits who have purged their White House and marriage of obvious drama. ... There is none of the Southern Gothic, living-large Clinton White House, none of the excesses of the younger Bush. At the same time, I would have liked this book to give a fuller sense of what kind of moral impact Michelle has had." Liza Mundy

USA Today 3 of 5 Stars"Readers expecting controversy will be disappointed. The book--a political dissection of a marriage and a chronological account of the rocky political education of the president and first lady--promises more than it delivers." Bob Minzesheimer

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2.5 of 5 Stars"There is a case to be made for a book on how the first couple's relationship affects the presidency and the country, but this is not that book. Ms. Kantor, industrious reporter though she may be, tries to ramp up the conflict, but much of the story feels padded and laborious." Mackenzie Carpenter

Entertainment Weekly 2 of 5 Stars"Sure, the stories are titillating, and you'll gulp them down like salted peanuts: Michelle once wore $515 sneakers while stuffing bags at a food bank! She micromanages every aspect of her husband's decisions! ... You come away with the distinct feeling that Kantor, having failed to deliver a book about the Obamas' marriage, has employed a sort of diversionary tactic, implying that many of the Obama administration's failings lie at the First Lady's feet." Tina Jordan

Critical Summary

Despite some chatty tidbits--Michelle's fondness for designer clothes, for example, and a lavish, Hollywood star–studded Halloween party thrown at the White house--the Obamas' residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW has been tame compared to those of past presidencies, and therein lies Kantor's greatest obstacle. While critics generally praised this introspective and elegantly written survey of the first family's life, readers expecting a juicy tell-all will come away disappointed. The Obamas granted Kantor a single interview in 2009, and, though Kantor makes the most of it, Entertainment Weekly and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette criticized the obvious padding and some questionable conclusions. Overall, however, The Obamas is a balanced and respectful behind-the-scenes peak that readers, provided they know what to expect, should enjoy.