POWER IN WORDS by Mary Frances Berry


The Stories Behind Barack Obama’s Speeches, from the State House to the White House


In his foreword, Sorenson, JFK’s special counsel, suggests that President Obama’s campaign speeches rank him with the oratorical greats, “the first indication that he would rank Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Kennedy.”

While some readers may believe such fulsome praise to be exaggerated, this is an impressive collection of 18 memorable speeches that mark milestones in Obama’s rise to political power. Berry (History/Univ. of Pennsylvania; And Justice for All: The United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Continuing Struggle for Freedom in America) and former Clinton speechwriter Gottheimer (editor: Ripples of Hope: Great American Civil Rights Speeches, 2003) begin with Obama’s speech at a Chicago antiwar rally in 2002, when he voiced his opposition to going to war with Iraq. The book ends with his election-night speech, in which he mentioned Ann Nixon Cooper, a 106-year-old African-American civil-rights fighter who voted for him: “She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that ‘We Shall Overcome’…she knows how America can change. Yes, we can.” While the authors acknowledge the cooperation of “Obama’s clan of speech writers”—a team pulled together beginning with the president’s senatorial campaign and still with him in the White House—for an inside view of how the speeches were assembled, with Obama intimately involved in the process from the first draft to the final product, Berry and Gottheimer bring their own depth of insight to an analysis of each of the speeches and the vision they embody. “Few other contemporary politicians,” they write, “have possessed his gift for writing and delivery.”

A book to savor and return to for subsequent readings.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8070-0104-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2010


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