And there we are. You can’t help but sympathize with our host, with the flack, with the curators at the college library. They faced a challenge known to anyone who tries to account for Barack Obama: How do you turn him into a man as interesting and significant as the world-historical figure that so many people, admirers and detractors alike, presume him to be? There’s not a lot of material here. Obama had an unusual though hardly Dickensian childhood complicated by divorce, and at age 33 he wrote an extremely good book about it, the memoir Dreams from My Father. He followed it with an uneventful and weirdly passive career in politics, and he wrote an extremely not-very-good book about it, The Audacity of Hope. Then, lacking any original ideas or platform to speak of, he ran as the first half-black, half-white candidate for president and, miraculously, won. It’s a boffo finish without any wind-up—teeth-shattering climax, but no foreplay.
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