Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots is not just another Obama book

My name is John Presta and my book titled Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it, is my first book and was released on January 20, 2010. The book has been released in the UK on March 20, 2010. I finally did it. I not only completed a manuscript, but I was able to get it published by the perfect publisher, the Elevator Group.

The book I set out initially to write was a celebration of books, bookselling, and grassroots organizing. And I wanted to be sure it was not just another Obama book. But I must point out that when I started writing my book, there were only a handful of Obama books on the market.

I started writing the book in late 2006 and I had already assumed he would run for President of the United States and win. When I met New Yorker Editor David Remnick, he said my book, "John & Michelle, who knew long before with gratitude, David Remnick." I was also honored when Remnick cited my book in The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama and quoted several passages.

During a time when so much is being written and said about "The Tea Party" and its alleged successes, it is important for us Democrats and progressives to get back to the basics.

The Grassroots.

Start planting more seeds. We have to show what we can do again. As we did before, we must lead from the bottom-up. I am in the process of initiating a "Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots movement," in my own community and hope it will spread throughout the country. Again, I want to lead from the bottom-up. We did it before and it was wildly successful.

What this book does not cover in any kind of depth are people such as David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Mayor Richard Daley, Rahm Emanuel.

Rahm Emanuel is encountered briefly in the book. Emanuel was not a supporter of Obama in 2004 Democratic primary for the United States Senate and was "neutral" during the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary.

The reviews of the book thus far have been encouraging here. And here. And I think this is my favorite here. I wanted the world to know about the achievements of this special group of people: your local independent bookseller. I hoped to bring attention to the great things independent booksellers do for their communities everyday and hope that an increasing number of independent booksellers will tell their stories. I wanted to do for bookselling what Barack Obama has done for politics. The book details the success of two independent booksellers, me and my wife Michelle, how we helped launched the political career of Barack Obama with a hands-on approach. In bookselling, we call it "hand selling." We hand sold Barack Obama to anyone that would listen.

I wanted to inspire interest in books and in bookstores. I point out in my book the importance of several Chicago area bookstores to Barack Obama’s political life and his personal life. It starts with our own store, Reading on Walden Bookstore. There was his community bookstore, 57th Street Books, along with its sister store down the street, Seminary Coop Bookstore. Obama also love to visit Powells Bookstore (of Chicago), just east of 57th Street Books. Obama received the endorsement of Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky at Women and Children First Bookstore in December of 2003. The endorsement was huge for Obama and was likely, as author Malcolm Gladwell would say, the Tipping Point of that campaign.

The back-story of the book is simple, how to overcome obstacles. An obstacle is a barrier worth overcoming. The barriers in Obama's way were plentiful and we worked to remove those barriers. It is about getting up after you have been knocked down. The obscure State Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, lost a Congressional race to an "entrenched incumbent," Congressman Bobby Rush. Obama was knocked down and we were knocked down with him. We felt it as intensely as he felt it.

In the early fall of 1999, we met Dan Shomon, campaign manager at that time for the obscure State Senator from Hyde Park in the Chicago area, Barack Obama. Shomon wanted our support for this man named Obama. Our initial response to Shomon was lukewarm. Because of Shomon’s persistence and tenacity, he was able to convince us to eventually support Obama and support him in a big way. We organized a candidates' forum for the Congressional race against Congressman Bobby Rush. The candidates' forum was a smashing success for Obama. 600 people attended the event and were introduced to Obama. The community came to love Obama. Unfortunately, Obama lost this race to Bobby Rush. He had "lost the battle, but he won the war," in the words of long-time aide Al Kindle.

Obama, in his own words, was "spanked" by Rush, but proceeded to pick himself up the next day because he believed in himself and his message. The book is about how my wife Michelle and I were emotionally effected by this defeat and how we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off and helped Obama in future elections. The obstacle was this haunting defeat. For us it was the elephant in the room.

Immediately after his defeat on March 21, 2000, we ordered a dozen copies (signed) of his book, Dreams from My Father, and placed them on the shelf. And they stayed on the shelf from March 2000 through March of 2004. We would not and could not remove them. On March 17, 2004, the day after Obama won the Democratic primary for United States Senate, the books vanished. They were bought quickly.

There was another elephant in the room. This man Obama, we believed, would one day become President of the United States. Could Obama overcome a crushing defeat in a Congressional race and inexplicably, come back and win a statewide, United States Senate race against some of the most formidable opponents in Illinois politics. Then capture the White House? What are the odds?  

For us it was not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. We would stand by Obama, despite the loss. We stood by him in a tough primary fight in 2004 for a seat in the United States Senate, and this time he won. He personally asked us to support a local statewide candidate in 2006, as a test of his political muscle and political relevance and again he won. In spite of the opposition of the entrenched party leaders. Then in early 2007, he announced for the Presidency. And through a long struggle from lessons he had learned back in 1999, he won the Presidency. I started to write my story during this period. And two years later, a book is born. The book is a recording of American History of the Obama Presidency.

The book explains why were we so heavily recruited by the Obama campaign. Why would a little child, Sofia Clute, call us "Obama’s bookstore." She would say to her dad during that period, "Daddy, take me to Obama’s Bookstore." In our community, we will forever identified with Obama.

We were an ordinary bookstore run by ordinary people that made extraordinary achievements. We believed in ourselves and believed that books are not luxuries but essentials. We believed that books have transformative value and that books teach valuable lessons about life such as being physical health, spiritual health and financial health.

This is the story of how our community involvement led the Barack Obama campaign to our little bookstore. We were reluctant to embrace this obscure State Senator and it was not until Dan Shomon, the Obama’s campaign manager in 2000, mentioned that Obama was an author. He wrote a book titled Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. That got our attention. It mattered little to us that the book had limited commercial success to that point. That is not what great literature is about but it is about the writing. And Obama’s book was well written. The book was a great introduction to this man, Barack Obama. It parallels the life of the book, Dreams from My Father, and the life of the man, Barack Obama.

We reinvested a large part of ourselves into the community and as such our level of community involvement. We further extended that reach beyond the doors of the bookstore and into the streets of the community to help make the community a better place to live for all. Businesses not only should reinvest back into their communities, it is essential.

We discuss our transformation from being just booksellers to community activists. How it all began after a series of break-ins at our store, which motivated us to not sit idly and allow these terrible things to happen to us and more important, to happen to our beloved community.  

The story is about how this bookstore transformed our lives and how the bookstore transformed other people's lives. We give examples of specific books that can help people transform their lives. It is, if you will, a book about books, a biography of books, a short history of books.

The easy part for me was getting it all down in a readable form. The difficult part was finding the right publisher that would stand behind the book and be as enthusiastic as I was about the book and its content.

Again, mission accomplished.

I discovered, through the social networking site www.Linked.com, Sheilah Vance, President and owner of the Elevator Group. Sheilah started her own publishing company in 2005 and knows what it takes to win elections and keep the electorate energized. Sheilah is also learning what it takes to sell books. Sheilah is a former member of Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee and former press secretary to Robert P. Casey, Sr. when he ran his successful campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1986. Sheilah recognized my story in Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots of how everyday people can make a difference that changes the country and the world will let the electorate see that they, too, could be the next Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Sheilah is planning a promotional campaign with buttons and rally signs at book signings, campaign style. This book will be a campaign.

A political campaign.

A political grassroots campaign to sell books. A great campaign would be to make the book number one and outsell Sarah Palin's book. This book has a better message and I actually wrote it myself, although my publisher, Sheilah Vance, did a great job in editing the final manuscript. Help me make this book a bestseller and recapture the narrative from the Republicans and the Tea Party.

Let's help to rally the base of the Democratic Party. Yes, we don't like the health care legislation that was passed. It is just the beginning. Had McCain been elected, we wouldn't be having this health care discussion of a "bad bill." At best, some watered-down, non-binding, "patient's bill of rights." It is what we expect from the party of "no," the Republicans. And be sure to join my facebook page, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots fan page, to get the latest on our movement.

Chicago City Hall Examiner and The Chicago Grassroots Political Examiner.

John is the author of an upcoming book, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it. The book can be ordered from many places, preferably your local independent bookseller at Indie Bound. It can be ordered from another great independent, Powells Bookstore in Portland, OR. Or if you insist, from Amazon.com. Or Barnes and Noble. Or Borders. Or even Sears.

Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots is not just another Obama book

My name is John Presta and my book titled Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it, is my first book and was released on January 20, 2010. The book has been released in the UK on March 20, 2010. I finally did it. I not only completed a manuscript, but I was able to get it published by the perfect publisher, the Elevator Group.

The book I set out initially to write was a celebration of books, bookselling, and grassroots organizing. And I wanted to be sure it was not just another Obama book. But I must point out that when I started writing my book, there were only a handful of Obama books on the market.

I started writing the book in late 2006 and I had already assumed he would run for President of the United States and win. When I met New Yorker Editor David Remnick, he said my book, "John & Michelle, who knew long before with gratitude, David Remnick." I was also honored when Remnick cited my book in The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama and quoted several passages.

During a time when so much is being written and said about "The Tea Party" and its alleged successes, it is important for us Democrats and progressives to get back to the basics.

The Grassroots.

Start planting more seeds. We have to show what we can do again. As we did before, we must lead from the bottom-up. I am in the process of initiating a "Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots movement," in my own community and hope it will spread throughout the country. Again, I want to lead from the bottom-up. We did it before and it was wildly successful.

What this book does not cover in any kind of depth are people such as David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, Mayor Richard Daley, Rahm Emanuel.

Rahm Emanuel is encountered briefly in the book. Emanuel was not a supporter of Obama in 2004 Democratic primary for the United States Senate and was "neutral" during the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary.

The reviews of the book thus far have been encouraging here. And here. And I think this is my favorite here. I wanted the world to know about the achievements of this special group of people: your local independent bookseller. I hoped to bring attention to the great things independent booksellers do for their communities everyday and hope that an increasing number of independent booksellers will tell their stories. I wanted to do for bookselling what Barack Obama has done for politics. The book details the success of two independent booksellers, me and my wife Michelle, how we helped launched the political career of Barack Obama with a hands-on approach. In bookselling, we call it "hand selling." We hand sold Barack Obama to anyone that would listen.

I wanted to inspire interest in books and in bookstores. I point out in my book the importance of several Chicago area bookstores to Barack Obama’s political life and his personal life. It starts with our own store, Reading on Walden Bookstore. There was his community bookstore, 57th Street Books, along with its sister store down the street, Seminary Coop Bookstore. Obama also love to visit Powells Bookstore (of Chicago), just east of 57th Street Books. Obama received the endorsement of Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky at Women and Children First Bookstore in December of 2003. The endorsement was huge for Obama and was likely, as author Malcolm Gladwell would say, the Tipping Point of that campaign.

The back-story of the book is simple, how to overcome obstacles. An obstacle is a barrier worth overcoming. The barriers in Obama's way were plentiful and we worked to remove those barriers. It is about getting up after you have been knocked down. The obscure State Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, lost a Congressional race to an "entrenched incumbent," Congressman Bobby Rush. Obama was knocked down and we were knocked down with him. We felt it as intensely as he felt it.

In the early fall of 1999, we met Dan Shomon, campaign manager at that time for the obscure State Senator from Hyde Park in the Chicago area, Barack Obama. Shomon wanted our support for this man named Obama. Our initial response to Shomon was lukewarm. Because of Shomon’s persistence and tenacity, he was able to convince us to eventually support Obama and support him in a big way. We organized a candidates' forum for the Congressional race against Congressman Bobby Rush. The candidates' forum was a smashing success for Obama. 600 people attended the event and were introduced to Obama. The community came to love Obama. Unfortunately, Obama lost this race to Bobby Rush. He had "lost the battle, but he won the war," in the words of long-time aide Al Kindle.

Obama, in his own words, was "spanked" by Rush, but proceeded to pick himself up the next day because he believed in himself and his message. The book is about how my wife Michelle and I were emotionally effected by this defeat and how we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off and helped Obama in future elections. The obstacle was this haunting defeat. For us it was the elephant in the room.

Immediately after his defeat on March 21, 2000, we ordered a dozen copies (signed) of his book, Dreams from My Father, and placed them on the shelf. And they stayed on the shelf from March 2000 through March of 2004. We would not and could not remove them. On March 17, 2004, the day after Obama won the Democratic primary for United States Senate, the books vanished. They were bought quickly.

There was another elephant in the room. This man Obama, we believed, would one day become President of the United States. Could Obama overcome a crushing defeat in a Congressional race and inexplicably, come back and win a statewide, United States Senate race against some of the most formidable opponents in Illinois politics. Then capture the White House? What are the odds?  

For us it was not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. We would stand by Obama, despite the loss. We stood by him in a tough primary fight in 2004 for a seat in the United States Senate, and this time he won. He personally asked us to support a local statewide candidate in 2006, as a test of his political muscle and political relevance and again he won. In spite of the opposition of the entrenched party leaders. Then in early 2007, he announced for the Presidency. And through a long struggle from lessons he had learned back in 1999, he won the Presidency. I started to write my story during this period. And two years later, a book is born. The book is a recording of American History of the Obama Presidency.

The book explains why were we so heavily recruited by the Obama campaign. Why would a little child, Sofia Clute, call us "Obama’s bookstore." She would say to her dad during that period, "Daddy, take me to Obama’s Bookstore." In our community, we will forever identified with Obama.

We were an ordinary bookstore run by ordinary people that made extraordinary achievements. We believed in ourselves and believed that books are not luxuries but essentials. We believed that books have transformative value and that books teach valuable lessons about life such as being physical health, spiritual health and financial health.

This is the story of how our community involvement led the Barack Obama campaign to our little bookstore. We were reluctant to embrace this obscure State Senator and it was not until Dan Shomon, the Obama’s campaign manager in 2000, mentioned that Obama was an author. He wrote a book titled Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. That got our attention. It mattered little to us that the book had limited commercial success to that point. That is not what great literature is about but it is about the writing. And Obama’s book was well written. The book was a great introduction to this man, Barack Obama. It parallels the life of the book, Dreams from My Father, and the life of the man, Barack Obama.

We reinvested a large part of ourselves into the community and as such our level of community involvement. We further extended that reach beyond the doors of the bookstore and into the streets of the community to help make the community a better place to live for all. Businesses not only should reinvest back into their communities, it is essential.

We discuss our transformation from being just booksellers to community activists. How it all began after a series of break-ins at our store, which motivated us to not sit idly and allow these terrible things to happen to us and more important, to happen to our beloved community.  

The story is about how this bookstore transformed our lives and how the bookstore transformed other people's lives. We give examples of specific books that can help people transform their lives. It is, if you will, a book about books, a biography of books, a short history of books.

The easy part for me was getting it all down in a readable form. The difficult part was finding the right publisher that would stand behind the book and be as enthusiastic as I was about the book and its content.

Again, mission accomplished.

I discovered, through the social networking site www.Linked.com, Sheilah Vance, President and owner of the Elevator Group. Sheilah started her own publishing company in 2005 and knows what it takes to win elections and keep the electorate energized. Sheilah is also learning what it takes to sell books. Sheilah is a former member of Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee and former press secretary to Robert P. Casey, Sr. when he ran his successful campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania in 1986. Sheilah recognized my story in Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots of how everyday people can make a difference that changes the country and the world will let the electorate see that they, too, could be the next Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots. Sheilah is planning a promotional campaign with buttons and rally signs at book signings, campaign style. This book will be a campaign.

A political campaign.

A political grassroots campaign to sell books. A great campaign would be to make the book number one and outsell Sarah Palin's book. This book has a better message and I actually wrote it myself, although my publisher, Sheilah Vance, did a great job in editing the final manuscript. Help me make this book a bestseller and recapture the narrative from the Republicans and the Tea Party.

Let's help to rally the base of the Democratic Party. Yes, we don't like the health care legislation that was passed. It is just the beginning. Had McCain been elected, we wouldn't be having this health care discussion of a "bad bill." At best, some watered-down, non-binding, "patient's bill of rights." It is what we expect from the party of "no," the Republicans. And be sure to join my facebook page, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots fan page, to get the latest on our movement.

Chicago City Hall Examiner and The Chicago Grassroots Political Examiner.

John is the author of an upcoming book, Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers did it. The book can be ordered from many places, preferably your local independent bookseller at Indie Bound. It can be ordered from another great independent, Powells Bookstore in Portland, OR. Or if you insist, from Amazon.com. Or Barnes and Noble. Or Borders. Or even Sears.

What if all environmentalists could work together? Introducing Environmental Countdown (Video)

Environmentalists are like worms.

Yep, earthworms. Our individual work breaks down the waste around us and churns out more healthful substances. We each cover a few square inches of our earth, and sometimes a great number of earthworms can transform a much larger patch of land. According to Charles Darwin, no living thing has had such a profound impact on history as has the earthworm.

What humans have that earthworms don't: brain power. And what many humans have that one human doesn't: collective brain power, and potential for coordinated action.

That's why we're launching and spreading the spores for Environmental Countdown. It's been in development more than a year, and with 300+ members has reached maturity. ECountdown is like a central nervous system for the environmental activist body. It allows individual activists to literally see what is happening so the right and left hands can work in concert.

A web portal that can coordinate the munching plan for earthworms? If only earthworms could clap! On this site, grassroots activists and environmental organizations alike can:

- Share videos and pictures documenting your work on environmental causes with everyone else who is dedicated to similar work across the planet
- Team up with other activists for conversation, idea sharing, planning, and action
- Share best practices
- Be inspiration, be inspired
- Get and give resources
- Earthworms that have banded together to form organizations can create their own profiles on the site and ECountdown will host and market your media for you.

In a brilliant example of this portal's power, the US Environmental Protection Agency wants to hear from earthworms like you:

 

Videos such as this one addressing environmental racism have already responded to the call to action. Are you a teacher? Work in the classroom? There's more where this came from.

Really, it's a platform for collaboration for all the earthdwellers that want to improve the health of this patch of ground that we all share. It's free, reliable, and environment-only. It's pro-munching, pro-digestion and open to all earthworms. So come get your dirt, put your own few inches of dirt onto the map, and be a part of this united, global effort to achieve authentic sustainability from the grassroots up. If you have a great environmental video, put it up. Spread the word. A new day is dawning on fresh dirt for environmental impact.

 

 

Book Review: The Bridge by David Remnick

Reprinted from the New York Journal of Books

 “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.” —Congressman John Lewis

David Remnick, Editor-in-Chief of the New Yorker magazine, has stitched together a great book, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

Remnick is also the author of several earlier books, most notably Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire and The King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero. The former deservedly won Remnick the Pulitzer Prize in 1994, and the latter book is the story of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama was particularly resonant for this reviewer, as I am the author of another book concerning Obama’s path to the presidency.

In The Bridge, Remnick constructs sentences that are gripping and compelling. His research of his subject is also top notch, in part because he secured interviews that eluded others. Ben Smith of Politico complained he tried to get Bill Ayers and others who attended an event when Obama was running for Illinois State Senate, to discuss the event at Ayers’s home. The 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin attempted and failed to make an issue of Obama’s relationship of Ayers and futilely referred to Obama “palling around with terrorists.” But it took Remnick to actually get the interviews necessary for a clear narrative.

“When I first wrote about that gathering at Ayers’s and Bernadine Dohrn’s house that helped launch his political career, it took days to get two people who had been there to confirm the event happened. But the same people—including Ayers —are far more comfortable talking to the editor of the New Yorker after the election has passed and, ironically, telling a story that helps confirm Obama’s centrist past and give the lie to some of the more strident depictions of him today.”

A strength of Remnick’s book is that he interviewed many to whom others lacked access, in large part due to his tenacity, and dare I say, audacity. While not on the scene for many of the events described, Remnick’s access and analysis enabled him to masterfully recreate them. And like other great historians such as Doris Kearns Goodwin in the Team of Rivals, David McCullough in Truman, and Stephen Ambrose in Undaunted Courage, Remnick puts you there.

The Bridge is a must read for anyone fascinated by American History, or by Barack Obama. At this point in time, there there are a growing number of Obama books, but precious few that cover Obama’s rise from early childhood to his emergence into manhood. Indeed, The Bridge is the most comprehensive work to date. Most know and have read about Obama’s controversial relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and many may have seen interviews with two of Obama's close friends and aides, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. But Remnick also details the roles of lesser-known Obama associates such as Jerry Kellman, Bettylu Saltzman, Ron Davis, Al Kindle, Toni Preckwinkle, Will Burns, and many with an important role at seminal moments in Obama’s life.

Remnick interviewed all of these people and reveals much that has never before been public; this intelligence will no doubt be often cited as primary source for historians writing about this Presidency hundreds of years from now. Obama has a chance to achieve that same greatness as Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt because achieving greatness is not possible without the nation being in crisis. As Lincoln and FDR before him, Obama was elected at a time of crisis. With the banking system on the verge of collapse and an increasingly unpopular war being fought in Iraq, Obama immediately took control and inspired confidence. Remnick tells the story in an engaging way.

The Bridge makes clear that Obama has no intention of becoming just another ordinary President, but wants and needs to be remembered as somebody who made a difference.

As evidence of this and Obama’s striving to excel, this boundless energy is taking shape in the early days of the Obama Presidency. The stock market, as an economic barometer of the future, is telling us that things are getting better and it may one day be referred to as the “Obama rally.” And the evidence is clear that the bleeding in employment has subsided with the March 2010 labor report showing an additional 136,000 jobs added to the economy with many economists predicting a sea change in this direction. The passage of an economic stimulus package is reaping many of these employment benefits, as will the historic passage of the most significant legislation since the passage of Medicare: the health care reform bill.

The Obama Presidency is on its way. Barack Obama is the ultimate student. When he came into the United States Senate, he was reading Master of the Senate by Robert Caro to gain insight into the workings of the Senate. Obama then devoured books about Franklin Roosevelt when it became obvious to him he would be elected in late 2008 and applied what he had learned about how Roosevelt dealt with the Depression in his decision-making as President.

And during the health care debate in Congress, Obama found his inner LBJ, who had a way of dealing with Congress that Obama studied and absorbed through books about President Johnson.

Don Hewitt, the producer of 60 Minutes, often admonished his reporters in four words, “Tell me a story.” This book, The Bridge, indeed tells us all a story. Some of the content perhaps we had heard before. But there are surprises, and the book will fascinate those eager to know more. In short, Remnick answers the most basic question, but one not answered until now: Where did Barack Obama come from and what makes him tick?

The story of Barack Obama begins with his childhood in Hawaii, and later his move to Indonesia and then back to Hawaii. Then to his college days, including a short stint in the Eagle Rock community of Los Angeles at Occidental College, and onto New York City to attend Columbia College and graduate. He then found his way to Chicago through Jerry Kellman. In Chicago he worked several different jobs, all low-paying, but for the young Obama, gratifying. Then to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Harvard Law school, where he not only attended but also excelled and made an impact. And then back to Chicago for a bigger impact. Met Michelle Robinson. Married. Wrote a book that he thought sure would be a bestseller. It was, but not until much later than planned or expected.

Through this all, David Remnick places us there with Barack Obama and the people he met and interacted with on this journey. The book is a great mixture of personal detail of Obama’s life from a large variety of sources, including dozens of books. We meet friends, relatives, allies, acquaintances, and others that either had a direct or indirect influence on his life. The Bridge tells the tale of how Obama lost the 2000 Congressional race to Bobby Rush. And is if that were not humiliating enough, Obama could not gain entrance into the 2000 Democratic convention, and could barely pay for the trip because he had maxed out his credit card as a result of his ill-fated Congressional race. And then in the 2004 Democratic convention, Obama started on this road rock-stardom in giving a memorable speech that launched him onto the national stage. By 2008, when Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee for President, he owned the 2008 Democratic convention.

The book also relates many other interesting and never before revealed details, such as the admonishment of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley about Obama’s running against Bobby Rush. “Why did you do that?” Daley asked. I could just imagine Daley telling Obama that it was “Silly, silly, silly.” But not so silly in the larger context of Obama's life and history. Because had Obama won, it would have changed history. Had Obama not run, it would have changed history.

The Bridge, while groundbreaking, does not delve deeply enough into the grassroots efforts of the 2004 Senate campaign, which had its seeds planted in the 2000 Congressional campaign. These seeds were firmly planted on March 7, 2000, at a candidates’ forum held in the Beverly community of Chicago at Bethany Union Church. This forum was Obama’s “Coming Out” party—his first venture outside of Hyde Park. He mesmerized 600 voters, many of whom became lifetime supporters and grassroots volunteers. This event was one of the very few bright spots of the 2000 campaign, and was all the more significant because it is here that Obama met and enlisted many of his grassroots supporters and organizers. A newspaper columnist from the then Daily Southtown, Phil Kadner, passed off the event as being dull and ineffective in his March 8, 2000 column, but grudgingly acknowledged Obama’s impact:

“Talking to a handful of residents after the meeting, I would say that Obama was the most effective in pleading his case.
“‘I think Obama would be the most likely to sway opinions in Congress because he’s more eloquent,’” said one woman, pretty much summarizing Obama in his closing remarks.”

Obama confronted Kadner several years later and challenged Kadner’s views about that night. Kadner defended himself, and both men agreed to disagree—a common theme with Obama and his would-be detractors.

Remnick also passes off as “modest” the seeds of the “netroots” that formed in the summer of 2003 when volunteers outside of the inner circle of the campaign got involved with “meetup.com” and “Yahoo Groups for Obama.” It was these seeds that spread and grew throughout the campaign and were instrumental in recruiting volunteers throughout the state of Illinois and beyond. Further exploration of this period would have made for an even richer account of Obama’s rise.

Remnick found the title of his book in a quote by civil rights activist, author, and Congressman John Lewis who, during the most difficult days of the Civil Rights movement, led a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge straight into a blockade set up by Alabama state troopers and the ensuing violent assault of these so-called officers of the law. The day before Obama’s Inauguration, which marked what would have been Martin Luther King’s eightieth birthday, Lewis told a visitor at his office in the Cannon House Office Building, “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.”

The Bridge is rich in both factual detail and in its prose. Readers will find in this author’s voice both warmth and depth. At the end of “The Prologue: The Joshua Generation,” Remnick tells a touching story of the reenactment of the march across The Bridge in 2007. It reveals the compassionate and empathetic side of Obama that he acknowledges came from his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.

“Unlike the ritual re-enactments of the Battle of Selma, the reenactments of the crossing of the Pettus Bridge involved no mock violence. The skirmishes were limited to the jostling of photographers trying to get a picture of the Clintons and Obama. Would they stand together and link arms? They would not. But they did share the front row with Lewis and Lowery and younger politicians like Arturo Davis. Along the way, Obama encountered Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil-rights icon in his mid-eighties, who had battled Bull Connor in Birmingham and survived beatings, bombings, and years of slanderous attack. Shuttlesworth had recently had a brain tumor removed, but he refused to miss the commemoration. On the bridge, he chatted awhile with Obama. And then Obama, who had read so much about the movement, who had dreamed about it, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeve, popped a piece of Nicorette gum in his mouth, and helped push the wheelchair of Fred Shuttlesworth, across the bridge to the other side.”

As John Lewis said, it was Obama who was on the other side of the bridge, pushing those in need and followed by a large crowd of people of all races, beliefs, and creeds. Why did John Lewis cross the bridge? To get to the other side and find Barack Obama. In a larger sense, John Lewis found hope and change and what they were really fighting for all these many years: freedom.

John Presta is the author of Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers Did It. He is also a regular contributor to the political blog, The Daily Kos, and is a columnist at the Chicago Examiner as the Chicago City Hall Examiner and the Chicago Grassoots Examiner.

Book Review: The Bridge by David Remnick

Reprinted from the New York Journal of Books

 “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.” —Congressman John Lewis

David Remnick, Editor-in-Chief of the New Yorker magazine, has stitched together a great book, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

Remnick is also the author of several earlier books, most notably Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire and The King of the World: Muhammad Ali and the Rise of an American Hero. The former deservedly won Remnick the Pulitzer Prize in 1994, and the latter book is the story of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama was particularly resonant for this reviewer, as I am the author of another book concerning Obama’s path to the presidency.

In The Bridge, Remnick constructs sentences that are gripping and compelling. His research of his subject is also top notch, in part because he secured interviews that eluded others. Ben Smith of Politico complained he tried to get Bill Ayers and others who attended an event when Obama was running for Illinois State Senate, to discuss the event at Ayers’s home. The 2008 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin attempted and failed to make an issue of Obama’s relationship of Ayers and futilely referred to Obama “palling around with terrorists.” But it took Remnick to actually get the interviews necessary for a clear narrative.

“When I first wrote about that gathering at Ayers’s and Bernadine Dohrn’s house that helped launch his political career, it took days to get two people who had been there to confirm the event happened. But the same people—including Ayers —are far more comfortable talking to the editor of the New Yorker after the election has passed and, ironically, telling a story that helps confirm Obama’s centrist past and give the lie to some of the more strident depictions of him today.”

A strength of Remnick’s book is that he interviewed many to whom others lacked access, in large part due to his tenacity, and dare I say, audacity. While not on the scene for many of the events described, Remnick’s access and analysis enabled him to masterfully recreate them. And like other great historians such as Doris Kearns Goodwin in the Team of Rivals, David McCullough in Truman, and Stephen Ambrose in Undaunted Courage, Remnick puts you there.

The Bridge is a must read for anyone fascinated by American History, or by Barack Obama. At this point in time, there there are a growing number of Obama books, but precious few that cover Obama’s rise from early childhood to his emergence into manhood. Indeed, The Bridge is the most comprehensive work to date. Most know and have read about Obama’s controversial relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and many may have seen interviews with two of Obama's close friends and aides, David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. But Remnick also details the roles of lesser-known Obama associates such as Jerry Kellman, Bettylu Saltzman, Ron Davis, Al Kindle, Toni Preckwinkle, Will Burns, and many with an important role at seminal moments in Obama’s life.

Remnick interviewed all of these people and reveals much that has never before been public; this intelligence will no doubt be often cited as primary source for historians writing about this Presidency hundreds of years from now. Obama has a chance to achieve that same greatness as Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt because achieving greatness is not possible without the nation being in crisis. As Lincoln and FDR before him, Obama was elected at a time of crisis. With the banking system on the verge of collapse and an increasingly unpopular war being fought in Iraq, Obama immediately took control and inspired confidence. Remnick tells the story in an engaging way.

The Bridge makes clear that Obama has no intention of becoming just another ordinary President, but wants and needs to be remembered as somebody who made a difference.

As evidence of this and Obama’s striving to excel, this boundless energy is taking shape in the early days of the Obama Presidency. The stock market, as an economic barometer of the future, is telling us that things are getting better and it may one day be referred to as the “Obama rally.” And the evidence is clear that the bleeding in employment has subsided with the March 2010 labor report showing an additional 136,000 jobs added to the economy with many economists predicting a sea change in this direction. The passage of an economic stimulus package is reaping many of these employment benefits, as will the historic passage of the most significant legislation since the passage of Medicare: the health care reform bill.

The Obama Presidency is on its way. Barack Obama is the ultimate student. When he came into the United States Senate, he was reading Master of the Senate by Robert Caro to gain insight into the workings of the Senate. Obama then devoured books about Franklin Roosevelt when it became obvious to him he would be elected in late 2008 and applied what he had learned about how Roosevelt dealt with the Depression in his decision-making as President.

And during the health care debate in Congress, Obama found his inner LBJ, who had a way of dealing with Congress that Obama studied and absorbed through books about President Johnson.

Don Hewitt, the producer of 60 Minutes, often admonished his reporters in four words, “Tell me a story.” This book, The Bridge, indeed tells us all a story. Some of the content perhaps we had heard before. But there are surprises, and the book will fascinate those eager to know more. In short, Remnick answers the most basic question, but one not answered until now: Where did Barack Obama come from and what makes him tick?

The story of Barack Obama begins with his childhood in Hawaii, and later his move to Indonesia and then back to Hawaii. Then to his college days, including a short stint in the Eagle Rock community of Los Angeles at Occidental College, and onto New York City to attend Columbia College and graduate. He then found his way to Chicago through Jerry Kellman. In Chicago he worked several different jobs, all low-paying, but for the young Obama, gratifying. Then to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Harvard Law school, where he not only attended but also excelled and made an impact. And then back to Chicago for a bigger impact. Met Michelle Robinson. Married. Wrote a book that he thought sure would be a bestseller. It was, but not until much later than planned or expected.

Through this all, David Remnick places us there with Barack Obama and the people he met and interacted with on this journey. The book is a great mixture of personal detail of Obama’s life from a large variety of sources, including dozens of books. We meet friends, relatives, allies, acquaintances, and others that either had a direct or indirect influence on his life. The Bridge tells the tale of how Obama lost the 2000 Congressional race to Bobby Rush. And is if that were not humiliating enough, Obama could not gain entrance into the 2000 Democratic convention, and could barely pay for the trip because he had maxed out his credit card as a result of his ill-fated Congressional race. And then in the 2004 Democratic convention, Obama started on this road rock-stardom in giving a memorable speech that launched him onto the national stage. By 2008, when Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee for President, he owned the 2008 Democratic convention.

The book also relates many other interesting and never before revealed details, such as the admonishment of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley about Obama’s running against Bobby Rush. “Why did you do that?” Daley asked. I could just imagine Daley telling Obama that it was “Silly, silly, silly.” But not so silly in the larger context of Obama's life and history. Because had Obama won, it would have changed history. Had Obama not run, it would have changed history.

The Bridge, while groundbreaking, does not delve deeply enough into the grassroots efforts of the 2004 Senate campaign, which had its seeds planted in the 2000 Congressional campaign. These seeds were firmly planted on March 7, 2000, at a candidates’ forum held in the Beverly community of Chicago at Bethany Union Church. This forum was Obama’s “Coming Out” party—his first venture outside of Hyde Park. He mesmerized 600 voters, many of whom became lifetime supporters and grassroots volunteers. This event was one of the very few bright spots of the 2000 campaign, and was all the more significant because it is here that Obama met and enlisted many of his grassroots supporters and organizers. A newspaper columnist from the then Daily Southtown, Phil Kadner, passed off the event as being dull and ineffective in his March 8, 2000 column, but grudgingly acknowledged Obama’s impact:

“Talking to a handful of residents after the meeting, I would say that Obama was the most effective in pleading his case.
“‘I think Obama would be the most likely to sway opinions in Congress because he’s more eloquent,’” said one woman, pretty much summarizing Obama in his closing remarks.”

Obama confronted Kadner several years later and challenged Kadner’s views about that night. Kadner defended himself, and both men agreed to disagree—a common theme with Obama and his would-be detractors.

Remnick also passes off as “modest” the seeds of the “netroots” that formed in the summer of 2003 when volunteers outside of the inner circle of the campaign got involved with “meetup.com” and “Yahoo Groups for Obama.” It was these seeds that spread and grew throughout the campaign and were instrumental in recruiting volunteers throughout the state of Illinois and beyond. Further exploration of this period would have made for an even richer account of Obama’s rise.

Remnick found the title of his book in a quote by civil rights activist, author, and Congressman John Lewis who, during the most difficult days of the Civil Rights movement, led a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge straight into a blockade set up by Alabama state troopers and the ensuing violent assault of these so-called officers of the law. The day before Obama’s Inauguration, which marked what would have been Martin Luther King’s eightieth birthday, Lewis told a visitor at his office in the Cannon House Office Building, “Barack Obama is what comes at the end of that bridge in Selma.”

The Bridge is rich in both factual detail and in its prose. Readers will find in this author’s voice both warmth and depth. At the end of “The Prologue: The Joshua Generation,” Remnick tells a touching story of the reenactment of the march across The Bridge in 2007. It reveals the compassionate and empathetic side of Obama that he acknowledges came from his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham.

“Unlike the ritual re-enactments of the Battle of Selma, the reenactments of the crossing of the Pettus Bridge involved no mock violence. The skirmishes were limited to the jostling of photographers trying to get a picture of the Clintons and Obama. Would they stand together and link arms? They would not. But they did share the front row with Lewis and Lowery and younger politicians like Arturo Davis. Along the way, Obama encountered Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, a civil-rights icon in his mid-eighties, who had battled Bull Connor in Birmingham and survived beatings, bombings, and years of slanderous attack. Shuttlesworth had recently had a brain tumor removed, but he refused to miss the commemoration. On the bridge, he chatted awhile with Obama. And then Obama, who had read so much about the movement, who had dreamed about it, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeve, popped a piece of Nicorette gum in his mouth, and helped push the wheelchair of Fred Shuttlesworth, across the bridge to the other side.”

As John Lewis said, it was Obama who was on the other side of the bridge, pushing those in need and followed by a large crowd of people of all races, beliefs, and creeds. Why did John Lewis cross the bridge? To get to the other side and find Barack Obama. In a larger sense, John Lewis found hope and change and what they were really fighting for all these many years: freedom.

John Presta is the author of Mr. and Mrs. Grassroots: How Barack Obama, Two Bookstore Owners, and 300 Volunteers Did It. He is also a regular contributor to the political blog, The Daily Kos, and is a columnist at the Chicago Examiner as the Chicago City Hall Examiner and the Chicago Grassoots Examiner.

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