A brilliantly photographed tribute to the rise of the 44th president.

BARACK BEFORE OBAMA

LIFE BEFORE THE PRESIDENCY

An appealing pictorial biography of the pre-presidential Barack Obama.

In early 2004, Katz joined Obama’s senatorial campaign as a volunteer driver and then photographer and aide. In this well-rendered photographic celebration, he shows the trajectory of Obama from state politician to leader of the free world. The photos are all high quality and cover a vast range of moments, from Obama getting his haircut by his longtime barber near Hyde Park to the presidential hopeful in tears when he learned, two days before the 2008 election, that the grandmother who raised him had just died. Throughout, Katz emphasizes his theme of the “many small moments in Obama’s life when his political career was just gaining traction.” It all began when the budding photographer decided that the unknown Obama needed “more compelling” pictures on his website. The campaign had only 10 staffers and couldn’t pay Katz, but they offered him a volunteer position. So he spent 10 months driving the candidate around the state before becoming his personal aide. Alongside the photos, the author offers illuminating commentary—on the role of the Secret Service, Michelle’s take, the Al Smith dinner, a rally with Bruce Springsteen—and it’s interesting to consider how Katz designed the layout. He made the wise choice to group together many shots, so we have a set with Stevie Wonder and Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey, George Soros, Nelson Mandela, the Bidens, and Leonardo DiCaprio, among many others. Along the way, readers will learn how politicians rise as they connect with celebrities and funders, and the narrative is packed with entertaining vignettes. For example, Oprah didn’t think the Obamas’ Chicago apartment was the right setting for O, The Oprah Magazine, so she took the shoot outdoors. The book also features a foreword by Obama himself.

A brilliantly photographed tribute to the rise of the 44th president.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-302874-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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