A book that offers a worthwhile reflection on racial relations in America but a hagiographic interpretation of Obama’s...

Witness to Greatness


A self-described admirer of President Barack Obama makes the case for his greatness.

Whatever judgment one ultimately makes of Obama’s presidency, it is certainly one of historical significance, not the least because he’s the first African-American to occupy the Oval Office. Debut author Nwasokwa argues, as the book’s title suggests, that Obama can already be judged a great president on meritocratic grounds as well. Nwasokwa presents a detailed history of Obama’s rising political fortunes, beginning with his emergence into the spotlight at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Shortly after, despite his own admittedly brief resume in Washington, D.C., Obama ran for the highest office in the land. The author gives a remarkably granular account of his subject’s implausible electoral success, surely an underdog against a powerfully entrenched establishment candidate, including a provocative discussion of the controversy involving Obama’s spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Nwasokwa’s treatment then largely revolves around what he considers to be the major achievements of Obama’s tenure, focusing on his economic stimulus programs and the passage of health care reform legislation. The author liberally sprinkles in autobiographical asides in the book, sometimes discussing his own experiences as an African-American in the United States. These are some of the finest sections of this volume, and Nwasokwa thoughtfully considers the historical contradictions that beset the United States, a country of great opportunity and generosity but also persistent racism and social inequity. The prose often lacks discipline, providing pagelong paragraphs overloaded with information that too often tax the reader. But the principal failing of the study is that the author’s fawning adoration makes it impossible for him to capture the complexity of Obama’s often controversial presidency. Nwasokwa glosses over the criticisms of the president’s major policy achievements, even those forwarded from the political left. For example, despite nuanced debates even within Obama’s own party regarding his stewardship of the economy from the recession, the author concludes that all of the president’s reforms “succeeded beyond expectation.” While there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to “savor and honor” Obama’s leadership, such adoration renders both objectivity and the appreciation of dissent impossible.

A book that offers a worthwhile reflection on racial relations in America but a hagiographic interpretation of Obama’s presidency. 

Pub Date: March 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5144-5271-4

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2016

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.


Maya Angelou is a natural writer with an inordinate sense of life and she has written an exceptional autobiographical narrative which retrieves her first sixteen years from "the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood."

Her story is told in scenes, ineluctably moving scenes, from the time when she and her brother were sent by her fancy living parents to Stamps, Arkansas, and a grandmother who had the local Store. Displaced they were and "If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat." But alternating with all the pain and terror (her rape at the age of eight when in St. Louis With her mother) and humiliation (a brief spell in the kitchen of a white woman who refused to remember her name) and fear (of a lynching—and the time they buried afflicted Uncle Willie under a blanket of vegetables) as well as all the unanswered and unanswerable questions, there are affirmative memories and moments: her charming brother Bailey; her own "unshakable God"; a revival meeting in a tent; her 8th grade graduation; and at the end, when she's sixteen, the birth of a baby. Times When as she says "It seemed that the peace of a day's ending was an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect."

However charily one should apply the word, a beautiful book, an unconditionally involving memoir for our time or any time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1969

ISBN: 0375507892

Page Count: 235

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1969

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